Tag Archives: abortion

How Do You Spell Despicable?

One of the most telling accusations against self-proclaimed “pro life” activists is that they aren’t really pro life, they are pro birth. If they were really concerned about protecting life, they would support feeding hungry children, and oppose everything from dangerous pollution to gun violence to the death penalty. Instead, their concerns magically vanish once the fetus emerges from the womb.

A report from the Guardian underscores that observation.

At least 10 US states have siphoned millions of dollars from federal block grants, meant to provide aid to their neediest families, to pay for the operations of ideological anti-abortion clinics.

These overwhelmingly Republican-led states used money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (Tanf), better known as welfare or direct cash aid, to fund the activities of anti-abortion clinics associated with the evangelical right. The clinics work to dissuade women from obtaining abortions.

In all cases, the states used these funds even as Covid-19 caused the worst economic upheaval in nearly a century, left one in four families without enough to eat, and resulted in mass layoffs that had a disproportionate effect on low-income and racial minority Americans.

Among the states that have diverted dollars from feeding hungry children in order to line “pro life” pockets are Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Despicable is too nice a word.

These 10 states funneled the money through “Alternatives to Abortion” programs, part of state budgets established by conservative legislatures and often run through state health departments. They not only send millions in federal welfare funds, but also state taxpayer dollars to such centers.

The article details other measures imposed by the states that effectively prevent TANF and other social welfare funds from reaching their intended beneficiaries. A number of those measures are demonstrably racist, but they all begin with the assumption that poverty is evidence of moral failure; the resulting legislation is thus punitive, rather than ameliorative.

Back in 2017, I reported on a survey that found religion to be a significant predictor of how Americans perceive poverty. Christians, especially white evangelical Christians, are much more likely than non-Christians to view poverty as the result of individual moral deficit.

The article cites Missouri as an example of the results of that view:

“We’ve created a new class of Missourians,” Glenn Koenen, a hunger adviser with the left-leaning group Empower Missouri, said at the time the reforms were passed. “We now have legislated that some of our neighbors are too poor to get help from anti-poverty programs.”

Between 1 January 2016, when the reform went into effect, and April 2021, more than 71% of beneficiaries dropped off Missouri’s program. That included 28,643 children and 16,942 families.

Missouri then spent funds not paid to families on other programs, among them the Alternatives to Abortion program. Since 2017, it has sent $26m to anti-abortion clinics, according to state budgets. The average monthly benefit for a Missouri family is $256.

Evidently, the Missouri legislature was perfectly okay with punishing 28,643 children for their parents’ perceived moral deficiencies.

The article proceeds to document the medically-inaccurate “facts” and outright lies routinely told by these “Crisis pregnancy” centers to the women who visit them, and it reports on the religious indoctrination to which they must submit in order to get the minimal help–diapers and milk, for instance–that the centers offer. It also points out that nationally there are far more such centers than there are abortion providers– more than 2,500 ideologically focused, anti-abortion clinics, compared with just 800 abortion providers.

There are a lot of adjectives we might use to describe a refusal to feed and clothe living children in order to force women to give birth. Pro-life is definitely not one of them.

I Guess Consistency IS The Hobgoblin Of Little Minds…

Surprise! Indiana’s pathetic Attorney General evidently has come around to a view long expressed by civil libertarians and Planned Parenthood.

Rokita has joined members of the General Assembly in defending citizens’ right to control their own bodies. According to multiple media sources, he has issued a (non-binding) opinion in support of that position, which was admirably articulated by Martinsville Representative Peggy Mayfield:

Hoosiers should have the right to make healthcare decisions that best suit their families, their personal medical circumstances, and a broad interpretation of their religious beliefs – a concept that we’re disappointed to see Indiana University has rejected.”

The genesis of this remarkable turnaround–not just by our desperate-for-attention AG, but from a number of firmly anti-choice legislators–was Indiana University’s decision to require students and employees to be vaccinated in order to return to in-person instruction. In an opinion that most lawyers–and several members of the General Assembly–described as “a reach,” Rokita is claiming that a  bill passed during the last legislative session prohibits the University from doing so.

I will leave the legal arguments to practicing lawyers (noting only that IU is advised by some pretty excellent legal experts and that I have never heard Rokita described as a particularly skilled lawyer) , but I can’t restrain myself from focusing on the unbelievable hypocrisy displayed by that quoted position and Rokita’s pious support for the “fundamental liberties” protected by the Bill of Rights.

The statement that Hoosiers should have the right to make healthcare decisions that best suit their families and religious beliefs is, without a doubt, correct. It is precisely the point of the pro-choice position, which I will note is not a “pro-abortion” position. The issue is not what decision is made–it is who has the authority to make it.

In both cases–pregnancy termination and vaccination–the decision should rest with the individual involved.

That does not mean that institutions like IU cannot act to protect the lives and health of their students and employees; it means that individuals who choose not to be vaccinated and who do not fall within permitted exceptions to IU’s policy may choose not to attend–just as women who make a personal medical choice inconsistent with the teachings of a particular religious institution may find themselves unwelcome there.

In neither case should state or federal government agencies or legislative bodies get involved. They certainly may not make those decisions for those individuals.

What is particularly ludicrous about this sudden concern for an individual’s right to control of his or her own body– coming as it does from rabidly “pro life” folks– is that it is so inconsistent with their willingness to trample those same constitutional protections in order to appeal to constituencies displaying absolutely no regard for the protection of personal autonomy.

Ironically, Indiana University’s decision to require vaccinations is self-evidently a “pro life” decision. The University is following the science and acting to protect the life and health of the University community. (Of course, the people they are protecting have already been born, which evidently makes a difference…)

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” the point he was making was that only small-minded people refuse to rethink their prior beliefs.

Perhaps Indiana’s Attorney General isn’t as small-minded as he has seemed? Perhaps he is re-evaluating and rethinking his belief that government should get to decide what  citizens–including female citizens– can do with their bodies?

Or, on the other hand, perhaps he is simply too dim to recognize the inconsistency of the various positions he chooses to take in the course of his constant political pandering.

 

 

A New (Moral) Moral Majority?

My first discussions about sex with my sons as they were entering their teenage years were complicated by my effort to balance arguments for delay and responsibility with an admonition that sexual activity is an aspect of an individual’s general moral behavior.

I wanted them to understand that moral people don’t “use” others for sexual or other gratification. Moral people don’t lie about their feelings or intentions to get something they want. Treating other people the way you want others to treat you is an imperative that includes but is not limited to your behaviors below the waist.

I thought about those conversations when I read an article from the Guardian about “pro-life” voters for Biden, because single-issue voters have always mystified me, in much the same way I’m mystified by people who define morality solely in terms of sexual purity.

Candidate A may be a rotten human being who vilifies his opponents, is intent upon using public office to line his pockets, and espouses numerous policies with which they disagree–but they’ll put all of those concerns aside if Candidate A is “with them” on just one issue. Maybe that issue is abortion, maybe it’s taxes–whatever it is, I’ve never understood narrowing the definition of morality to exclude all but that favored issue.

I was thus pleased to see that at least some “pro life” voters have also concluded that moral behavior–and thus the casting of a moral vote–encompasses more than a single issue. Christianity Today recently reported that Ohio’s Right to Life executive director resigned rather than support Trump in 2020, and the linked article was written by a clearly pious graduate of Liberty University.

What’s so pro-life about forced hysterectomies?” It’s an obvious follow-up question after the revelation that the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trumpforced unwanted reproductive medical procedures on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detainees. And with some rank-and-file anti-abortion workers resigning rather than stomach supporting Trump, it lays open the question of whether the movement, even with its judicial success and the possibility of one more appointment to the supreme court, can survive the damage Trump has inflicted.

During the last election, the desire to overturn Roe v Wade had some holding their noses and voting for Trump. Four years later, the problems of standing with such a deeply immoral president, a string of horrific policy actions and a small but significant change in the voting patterns of religious conservatives all may be combining to hasten the diminishment of the movement even as it reaches a coveted milestone.

In 2008, the author of the article spent some 200 hours interviewing young evangelicals who were leaving the church. He found that the primary reason was the disconnect they saw between the teaching of scripture and the politics of the religious right–politics that bear little resemblance, in their view, to the issues Jesus cared about. What happened to those parts of scripture that demand justice for workers, people of all races and migrant  children at the border?

The essay makes it clear that these young evangelicals are still anti-abortion. But they have enlarged their definition of morality. As the author concludes:

We need to foster ways for faithful evangelicals to act faithfully, to reclaim the moral narrative and provide space to advocate for the election of leaders who reflect a full set of Christian values that will help our nation heal. This is why I am lending my voice to the New Moral Majority and participating in actions to reclaim our sacred story. In the past few weeks, frustrated by the reality that children are still being separated from their families and placed into detention, over 450 faith leaders called upon Trump to change course. To learn now that mothers of the separated children have been forced to have hysterectomies is news that sends shockwaves through communities of faith. It’s the type of government intervention in the family planning process that is not only fundamentally immoral, but against every freedom we claim to protect for all those made in the image of God.

I once asked a younger evangelical who grew up in a Republican and anti-abortion household why he has chosen a life of service among the urban poor. He said: “They blew it, man. Our parents and their generation. They cared more about power than people. We needed to do something new.” Indeed.

Those of us who believe that government should not have the power to compel a woman’s  reproductive choices can work with–and find common ground on other issues of life and death with– a genuinely moral “moral majority” that refuses to limit its definition of “morality” to a single issue.

 

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.

 

 

The Non-Abstract Effects Of Gerrymandering

It’s hard not to be bitter in the wake of the Supreme Court’s intellectually dishonest refusal to protect the legitimacy of democratic governance.

For one thing, over the past couple of years, as I have delved more deeply into the research, I’ve discovered that gerrymandering–aka partisan redistricting–does more than skew election results. A lot more.

I’ve previously pointed out that here in Indiana, where partisan redistricting has carved up metropolitan areas and subordinated urban populations to rural ones, gerrymandering has given us distribution formulas favoring rural areas over cities when divvying up dollars for roads and schools, among other inequities.

And a recent article in The Guardian has connected gerrymandering to the recent spate of radical abortion laws.

Fifty-four thousand votes out of nearly 4 million. That’s what separated Stacey Abrams from Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, a sign of how closely contested this once reliably red, southern state has become.

Earlier this month, however, Georgia’s legislature responded to the state’s closely divided political climate not with thoughtful compromise but by passing one of the most restrictive abortion bansin the United States.

An April poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 70% of Georgians support the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion. The new state ban is opposedby 48% of Georgians and supported by only 43%. So why would the legislature enact such an extreme measure?

For that matter, why would Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and other states establish similar “fetal heartbeat” laws that are far more restrictive than their constituents support?

One important answer is gerrymandering: redistricting voting districts to give the party in power an edge – making it almost impossible for the other side to win a majority of seats, even with a majority of votes. Sophisticated geo-mapping software and voluminous voter data turned this ancient art into a hi-tech science when the US redistricted after the 2010 census.

Give credit where it’s due: the GOP has been far more adept at using these new tools than the Democrats (probably because Republicans recognize that they are increasingly a minority party and must cheat if they are going to win).

As the Guardian reports, gerrymandering has allowed the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. Gerrymandering thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.

Despite lacking any mandate for an extreme agenda in a closely divided nation, Republican lawmakers have pushed through new voting restrictions, anti-labor laws, the emergency manager bill that led to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and now, these strict abortion bans. Electorally, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it.

The article outlined evidence of extreme gerrymandering in several states where legislatures have passed laws not supported by voters.

In Ohio, the article pointed to “zero evidence” that voters hold extreme opinions on abortion, and noted that polls show more voters opposed to that state’s new “heartbeat” bill than supportive of it. A University of Chicago study showed that barely half the total vote in Ohio gave Republicans more than 63% of the seats– simply because the maps were “surgically designed” to ensure that few seats would be competitive.

There’s a lot more data, and I encourage you to click through and read the entire article. But (as I have repeated endlessly) the bottom line is simple: the only way to overcome the unfair advantage Republicans have built for themselves is massive turnout. As I posted yesterday, unusually high turnout in the 2018 elections was enough in many districts to overcome built-in advantages as high as 5-8 points.

We need to remind discouraged voters that gerrymandering is based upon prior voting behavior. If people who rarely or never vote show up at the polls, a significant number of supposedly safe seats can change hands.

It has never been more important to get out the vote. America’s future–and that of our children and grandchildren–depends upon it.