Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Abortion and Christian Terrorism

When the word terrorism is used, the association is immediately drawn with militant Muslim individuals who kill people in the furtherance of some combined religious and political goal.  A common definition of terrorism would be the following.

“The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”

If one wished to focus on religious motivations, a comparable definition of “religious terrorism” would be this.

“The use of violence and intimidation, especially against nonbelievers, in the pursuit of religious aims.”

Murdering a person is clearly an act of violence; putting another person’s life at risk is also a form of violence and intimidation.

Islam is thought of as a violent religion because it tends to apply its exacting laws and extreme punishments to believers and non-believers alike wherever it has political power.  All religions that have gained political power behave the same way, although the implementation of law and punishment can be more subtle.  Most European nations had state religions at one point, and some still do.  However, in nearly all cases the resultant religious rule was so unpopular that any political power the religions had has essentially been eliminated. 

When the United States was founded it was decided that a state religion was unacceptable because the multiple versions of Christianity in place hated each other so much it was best to not invite violence by showing any preference.  Not having experienced living under a religion-dominated society, many in the United States think it would be a good idea.  These people are consumed by the desire to force others, nonbelievers, to live according to their rules.  This is exactly what Islam does.  Could it be that our Christian-dominated society is also capable of religious terrorism against its citizens?  The answer is yes.

Incitement to violence and intimidation against homosexual and transgender people is produced by some versions of Christianity in this country, and they are busy exporting their views around the world.  Here the focus will be on abortion and the consequences of “pro-life” activism.

Marcia Angell provides a concise summary of the chronology of the pro- and antiabortion chronology in a New York Review of Books article The Abortion Battlefield.

“Women have always been subject to male domination, sometimes almost completely. Even in as enlightened a country as the United States, men created the laws under which women lived well into the twentieth century, and they ensured that women had an inferior status.”

All writers who are pro-choice with respect to abortion believe that the pro-life movement is mainly aimed at controlling women and their sexuality.

“Not surprisingly, controlling sexuality and reproduction was central to keeping women in their place. For most of the country’s history, motherhood was considered women’s highest calling. They were expected to submit to their husbands sexually, and marital rape did not become a crime in all states until 1993. Abortion was illegal in most of the country for most of its history. Desperate women would take various folk remedies to end a pregnancy, try to end it themselves with some contrived implement, or find an illegal abortionist—all risky. There are no reliable figures for how many women died from illegal abortions but almost certainly there were many.”

Relief for some women came with the availability of birth control pills in the 1960s.  However, the number of unwanted pregnancies remained high and the number of women who were killed or injured in the attempt to terminate their pregnancy was still large.  The carnage was so great that even some religious leaders believed that access to safe medical abortions was necessary.

“In 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, took the next step. It found by a 7–2 majority that women had a constitutional right to end a pregnancy. The right was close to absolute in the first trimester, could be regulated by the states in the second trimester only to protect the woman’s health, and in the third trimester could be further regulated or even banned to protect ‘potential life,’ unless the woman’s health or life were at stake. Legal abortions rapidly became common. According to the Guttmacher Institute (a research institution that gathers data on reproductive health in the US), about 3 percent of women in the United States had legal abortions in 1980 (one of the peak years), and it was later estimated that roughly a third of American women would obtain an abortion at some time in their lives.”

The initial “pro-life” activism came mainly from Catholics who referred to all life as deserving of reverence and protection.  This included being against war and capital punishment.  Later on, as other denominations entered the fray, the “life” of interest was only the unborn embryo or fetus residing in a pregnant woman. 

“By the 1980s, the antiabortion movement had undergone another major shift. It became dominated not by Catholics but, over time, by evangelical Protestants, and its methods increasingly included direct confrontations at abortion clinics to block access. The movement also became increasingly associated with the right wing of the Republican Party, which as far back as the Eisenhower administration had set out to win over religious and social conservatives. The 1980 Republican platform called for a constitutional amendment to protect the life of the unborn, and the new president, Ronald Reagan, who, like Trump, had once favored abortion, now, like Trump, opposed it.”

“In 1986 an evangelical Protestant minister, Randall Terry, started an organization called Operation Rescue, which advocated stopping abortions by nearly any means possible, including firebombing clinics and harassing and threatening clinic doctors and staff and their families. There were more than 60,000 arrests at Operation Rescue actions, according to [Karissa] Haugeberg [an author], and the organization went bankrupt within a few years because of the mounting number of lawsuits. But the turn toward violence continued.”

The violence would include murders and bombings, clearly acts of religiously-motivated terrorism aimed at preventing a legal activity.

“The total count between 1978 and 2015, writes Haugeberg, was eleven murders (nine of them physicians), twenty-six attempted murders, 185 arsons, forty-two bombings, and 1,534 vandalizations of clinics.”

The greatest current focus of antiabortion activists is the creation of legal obstacles to the operation of clinics where abortions are available, and/or impeding access to such clinics by pregnant women. 

“….particularly since Republicans have gained control of most state governments, states have rushed to pass new laws that treat pregnant women like errant children. According to Haugeberg, ‘Between the 2010 midterm elections and 2015, states adopted 231 new restrictions on abortion’.”

Clearly, murder and bombings are acts of terrorism.  But what about the effort to forbid a woman the ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy?  Forcing a person to experience injury or death as a result of imposed religious beliefs should be considered terrorism as well.

It turns out that pregnancy is a serious medical condition.  Consider this fact.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, c. [about] 4 million women who give birth in the US annually, over 50,000 a year, experience ‘dangerous and even life-threatening complications’.”

NPR and ProPublica recently evaluated the maternal deaths in the United States and reported some startling results in U.S. Has The Worst Rate Of Maternal Deaths In The Developed World.  This chart of the maternal death rate per 100,000 live births over time for various developed nations was provided.

For some reason, the maternal mortality rate is much higher than in any of the other wealthy nations listed, and it is increasing over time rather than decreasing as it is in other countries.  In 2015 the death rate was 26.4 per 100,000 live births.

This source tells us that there are approximately 650,000 abortions reported annually to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in recent years.  Using these numbers, if the antiabortion movement actually succeeded in forcing 650,000 women to carry to term an unwanted child, 172 women would die and 8125 would be subjected to “dangerous and even life-threatening complications.”

The act of forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to full term rather than have a safe abortion means that a significant number of them will die or suffer bodily harm in the process.  This is the result of a few classes of Christians insisting that all people must live according to their beliefs.  This is Christians performing acts of terrorism.

Return to the above chart on mortality data and note that the increase in the United States seems to track the increase in measures to limit access to abortions.  Could there be a correlation?  Note also that Ireland, a nation that prohibits abortions almost completely, has a falling mortality rate.  It turns out that Irish women have ready access to an abortion; they must merely take an inexpensive trip to the UK where they are readily available.  Such trips are perfectly legal and accepted in Ireland.  The well-covered referendum that was recently voted on will likely increase the probability that Irish women may be able to get an abortion within Ireland, but it will not have much of an effect on the number of women obtaining them.  That leaves the United States as about the only country successfully trying to eliminate access to a medical abortion and leaves open the question of a mortality correlation with antiabortion efforts.

When NPR and ProPublica performed their evaluation of maternal mortality, they focused on what happens to women while giving birth in a hospital.  Their conclusions seem to fit the simple explanation that no one on the various medical teams seems to worry much about the mother or plan in a systematic way for any complications that might occur around the time of birth or soon after.  There is much more concern for preparations for any difficulty the infant might encounter at birth.

Katha Pollitt provides some perspective on why pregnancies can be dangerous in her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

“The risks of producing a baby include ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, bacterial vaginosis, preeclampsia, anemia, urinary tract infections, placental abruption, hyperemesis gravidarum (the constant and severe nausea that killed Charlotte Brontë), depression, postpartum psychosis, and PTSD—to say nothing of morning sickness, heartburn, backache, stretch marks, episiotomy or caesarian scarring, decreased marital happiness, and lowered lifetime income.”

Women who have ready access to quality medical care before, during and after birth are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.  That is the experience in the nations where mortality continues to fall.  In the rush to limit access to abortion have pro-lifers also limited access to more general medical care for women and thus increased the probability of maternal mortality?

Lawrence Wright suggests there is a relevant bit of data that emerged from the abortion wars in Texas.  He explored the idiosyncrasies of Texas politics in an article in The New Yorker: America’s Future Is Texas.

“That year [2011], the Republican state legislature turned its attention instead to defunding women’s-health programs. ‘This is a war on birth control and abortions,’ Representative Wayne Christian, a Tea Party stalwart from East Texas, admitted. ‘That’s what family planning is supposed to be about’.”

“The long-term goal of cultural conservatives is to cut off access to abortion in Texas, to end state subsidies for birth control, and to gut state funding for Planned Parenthood—which, in 2011, served sixty per cent of the health needs of low-income women in the state. The legislators slashed the family-planning budget from $111.5 million to $37.9 million. Eighty-two family-planning clinics subsequently shut down.”
“Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation, and, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, about seventeen per cent of Texan women and girls live in poverty. After the family-planning budget was cut, there was a disproportionate rise in births covered by Medicaid, because so many women no longer had access to birth control. By defunding Planned Parenthood, the legislature also blocked many women from getting scans for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.”

In 2011, the governor signed into law a bill requiring women seeking an abortion would have to undergo a highly intrusive sonogram 24 hours before the procedure could be performed.

“When the Senate approved the bill, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, declared, ‘This is a great day for Texas. This is a great day for women’s health’.”

“Between 2010 and 2014, the proportion of women who died in childbirth in Texas doubled, from 18.6 per hundred thousand live births to 35.8—the worst in the nation and higher than the rate in many developing countries. These figures represent six hundred dead women.”

“….a report in the September, 2016, issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology noted, ‘In the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a two year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely’.”

Correlation does not prove causation, but the data is suggestive, and some analysis of the possible causes seems necessary.

“The mystery might be cleared up if Governor Abbott released records about how these women died. In 2011, when he was attorney general, he issued an opinion stating that information about the deceased would be withheld, supposedly to prevent fraud.”

Katha Pollitt also provides relevant correlations in her book.

“Among American states, there’s a correlation between white religiosity, Republican Party power, restrictions on abortion, and the status of women.  The ten states where women’s status is highest (measured by economic security, leadership, and health) are strongly Democratic, with strong secular cultures (in order: Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, California, Delaware, Connecticut, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Washington).  The ten states where women’s status is lowest are solidly Republican, with churches wielding a lot of political and cultural power (Georgia, Indiana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Utah, and Louisiana).”

If antiabortionists wish to treat their women like crap, and their women are willing to put up with that, so be it.  But they should not be allowed to harm the other women of the world!

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