On this week’s podcast, I cover the internet flare-up over the blogger Angie the Anti-Theist blogging, tweeting, and creating YouTube videos about her RU-486-induced abortion. I included a lot of clips from her sharp, often funny videos chronicling her experience and the online response from anti-choicers, but didn’t really have time to talk about one issue brought up in this video but rarely — and shockingly — discussed in most of the coverage of this event. And that is the giant religious gulf between Angie and her attackers. See, Angie’s an atheist, and her attackers were mostly and probably all either fundamentalist Christians or hardcore Catholics, and most didn’t know or didn’t care that Angie didn’t buy into their religious dogma. And this gap demonstrated a little-discussed but fundamental part of the debate over reproductive rights. Yes, they are about women’s rights and sexual liberation, but they are fundamentally about freedom of religion, and the attack on abortion rights is part of larger assault on freedom of religion from the Christian right.
Not that many anti-choicers will admit this, of course. They’re generally smart enough to realize that making laws based on their beliefs about ensoulment of zygotes would be a direct violation of the standard interpretation of the First Amendment. (Though behind the scenes, many in the religious right argue that the First Amendment doesn’t actually create a separation between church and state.) So, instead they try to graft cockamamie pseudo-scientific arguments on to their religious beliefs, arguing that a fetus’s unique DNA makes it a separate person. It sounds science-y! Good enough, right? Except, if you actually buy that argument, then you have to buy that identical twins are the same person — they have the same DNA, after all.
But this is far from the most comical aspect of anti-choice attempts to graft “science” on to their arguments. My current favorite involves an argument I had with a prominent anti-choice activist, who was insisting that I, the science-loving atheist, was ignoring the scientific “proof” that embryos are people. Curious, I asked her what she — the newly minted expert in biology — thought about the theory of evolution. She weaved and dodged and claimed that there were many competing theories about the origins of life, a blatantly false claim if you’re using the word “theory” to mean “scientific theory.” There is only one accepted scientific theory, which is biological modification. All other “theories” are actually religious dogma disguised as science — much like anti-choice “scientific” arguments!
Clearly the argument about when a fetus becomes a person is complicated and individualistic — you say conception, I say sentience, some say not until it’s born. Ideally, the government would stay out of it until the fetus enters the social contract by, you know, being born and actually becoming a separate person from its mother.
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Why does this matter? For a couple of reasons. One is that avoiding the topic of religion in the reproductive rights debate has allowed anti-choicers to position themselves in a more sympathetic light than they deserve with the larger public. How often do you hear them described as people with deeply felt moral convictions? What if they were instead described as people of deeply felt religious convictions? If so, then those convictions would still be respected by the public at large, but they would be respected as an individual choice, and not respected if you tried to force someone else to live under your dogma.
Banning abortion should have the same social esteem as forcing women to wear the hijab, forcing kids to say the rosary in school, or banning non-kosher food from restaurants — and outrageous violation of the right to choose your own religious beliefs. We need to stop ignoring all the praying and the Jesus at anti-choice demonstrations and take their religiosity for what it is.
Throwing women’s rights to the wolves in order to appease people with a theocratic bent will not stop them, either. The encroachments on women’s rights have instead emboldened the religious right to act in a more overtly theocratic manner. If you doubt this, you should read this alarming story from the Texas Observer about a group called Repent Amarillo that has started a harassment campaign against the city’s swinger community in order to bully them out of their private sexual choices. And they’ve made it clear they won’t stop there — they’ve also targeted pro-gay theater groups, gay clubs, porn shops, strip clubs, and even a coffeehouse deemed a bit too intellectual and a nature center that’s Earth-hugging aesthetic offends them. Repent Amarillo’s tactics — protesting the club, taking pictures of people going in, going to swingers’ homes and harassing them, getting swingers fired from their jobs, and constantly issuing pointless complaints about often-imaginary building code violations — should seem immediately familiar. That’s because they’re ripping their strategies right out of the anti-choice handbook.
They’re getting away with laying waste to the public peace and ruining the lives of people who haven’t done anything to hurt anyone else, too. Why? Because the groundwork laid by anti-choicers has made this kind of harassment campaign from theocrats easy to pull off. If it wasn’t for anti-choicers working their butts off to make religious harassment and terrorism socially acceptable, Repent Amarillo probably would have faced a crackdown by now. But we live in a society where candidates for major political offices won’t call murderous anti-choicers “terrorists”, and where people who stalk and harass you get to do so legally as long as the don’t technically trespass on private property and they’re screaming about Jesus. Even the few public officials in Amarillo brave enough to protect their citizens against this Christian Taliban find their hands are tied by years of precedent giving wide berth to religious fanatics, precedent established by the anti-choice movement.
Sadly, people who shrugged off the threat posed by the anti-choice movement to the right to live by your own religious convictions may find out that the intended targets of the theocrats aren’t just those other people — those doctors you don’t know and those anonymous women getting abortions — but you and everyone else you know who doesn’t live life by the rules the religious right has written for you.