Abortion: Religion-Based Bigotry Versus the World of Facts

Last updated on February 9th, 2013 at 07:17 pm

It must be wonderfully liberating, like Trent Franks, Darrell Issa, and other Republicans, to live life fact-free. Imagine what it must be like to free yourself of your liberal, Enlightenment-based addiction to science and facts, and be able to believe whatever you want just because you want to believe it.

Trent Franks, who represents Arizona religious bigots, now says he personally represents D.C. as well. He says that D.C. needs a 20-week “fetal pain” abortion ban so fetuses don’t feel that pain science says they don’t feel (probably to go along with that missile defense plan to defend us from missiles that don’t exist).

You can almost hear Franks’ tortured reasoning: “Are you seriously telling me that obstetricians and gynecologists know more about fetuses than a God-fearing Republican legislator? Why, that’s nothing less than an attack on religious freedom! How dare you!”

Franks, like Darrel Issa, another Republican entirely free of the constraints of a fact-based world, feels it best if women (like scientists and actual doctors who specialize in vaginas) just remain silent while men talk about their vaginas.

As RH Reality Check reported yesterday, “On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will be reviewing a ban on any abortion after 20 weeks, but Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District, will not be allowed to testify, despite the fact that she would be the one who represents the women who would be affected by the bill if it passes.”

You can bet her opinion would have been a lot more valuable if she had been a man with a penis who hates abortion. Instead, all she is the woman elected by her district to represent them, as opposed to Trent Franks, who had decided that being elected by religious bigots in Arizona means he represents D.C. as well.

(You might begin to understand the horrific existence of D.C.’s residents at this point, men, women, and children who live a life of taxation without representation.)

Issa, you remember, stated that Sandra Fluke could not offer her testimony to a hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the new Administration rules on Conscience Clause exceptions in health care because, he said, health care is a religious issue and Fluke was only a woman with a vagina, not a clergy member without one. What could she possibly have to contribute to a discussion about her own vagina, after all? That is a matter for priests to decide.

National Right To Life supports this liberation from the world of facts – and the pesky constraints of democracy as well – because like conservative Christians for the past 2000 years they believe that they know best and are willing (even if you’re not) to do what is best for you: “Congress needs make rules for D.C. if it isn’t willing to make them themselves, because the ‘forefathers hate abortion.'”

“Our nation was created when the original group of sovereign states came together and formed a federated republic. Article I of the U.S. Constitution established that the national seat of government would be placed forever not within any state, but in a special Federal District — and that the Congress would ‘exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District.” But what would the Framers of our Constitution say if they returned today and learned, to their horror, that well-developed unborn babies are legally being put to death, in terrible pain, virtually within the shadow of the U.S. Capitol and the White House?

Alright, alright, I know all you liberals are going to instantly dig up your collected writings of each and every Founding Father and prove now that no Founding Father ever said a word about banning abortion and in fact, didn’t talk about abortion any more than did Jesus. But that’s beside the point. The Founding Fathers hated abortion! Didn’t you listen to National Right to Life?

(David Barton  once claimed without proving it of course, that the Founding Fathers intended to ban abortion – significantly, they didn’t – see below.)

Of course with your pesky liberal addiction to facts you’re saying at this point that necessarily well-developed babies would have to be viable – that is able to exist outside the womb – and that a 20-week-old fetus cannot, and that a well-developed baby would have to be able to feel pain to qualify as well-developed and that 20-week-old fetusus’ can’t feel pain. But now you’re just being difficult.

So democracy has to take a back seat to doing what a bunch of dead guys who never said anything about it supposedly want us to do about an issue that wasn’t an issue to these eighteenth century products of the Enlightenment because they weren’t, like modern Republicans, obsessed with women’s vaginas.

You can search, like I did, the collected writings of Thomas Jefferson – some 19,000 letters and other documents – and see for yourself that he makes no mention of vaginas and abortion except for a brief discussion in Notes on the State of Virginia. Under Query 6: Minerals (of all things!) he says:

They [Native Americans] raise fewer children than we do. The causes of this are to be found, not in a difference of nature, but of circumstance. The women very frequently attending the men in their parties of war and of hunting, child-bearing becomes extremely inconvenient to them. It is said, therefore, that they have learnt the practice of procuring abortion by the use of some vegetable; and that it even extends to prevent conception for a considerable time after.

Here is the perfect opportunity to damn abortion (and birth control) in all its manifestations but he passes right over it as a simple statement of (*gasp) fact. No religion-based prejudices here on the part of Jefferson the scientist. No condemnation of the Indians for their barbarism in slaughtering “unborn babies”.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

Abortion was frequently practiced in North America during the period from 1600 to 1900. Many tribal societies knew how to induce abortions. They used a variety of methods including the use of black root and cedar root as abortifacient agents. During the colonial period, the legality of abortion varied from colony to colony and reflected the attitude of the European country which controlled the specific colony. In the British colonies abortions were legal if they were performed prior to quickening. In the French colonies abortions were frequently performed despite the fact that they were considered to be illegal. In the Spanish and Portuguese colonies abortion was illegal. From 1776 until the mid-1800s abortion was viewed as socially unacceptable; however, abortions were not illegal in most states.

Quickening is the point at which a woman feels movement of the fetus, during the middle of the pregnancy, generally by 20 weeks. This is the point at which life began for James Wilson, one of the signers of the Constitution, and a man conservatives love to quote for this reason, citing his “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals“. They’re less likely to mention that he sold himself to land speculators, becoming in the words of one author “an odious corporate attorney while a member of the Supreme Court, was hounded by creditors and almost impeached for helping those land speculators through his position, ending his life on the run not only from creditors but his wife, who found him hiding in a tavern. No wonder he is a Republican hero.

Great. So when we do get science from the Republicans its 18th century science…

But if, as was once believed, life begins when the fetus moves (thus the above-mentioned laws), then clearly life does not begin before quickening and the argument against contraception and even abortion before 20 weeks or so, fall flat. But fundamentalists want it both ways. They want to use the above as evidence that even our Founders opposed abortion (and we’ll leave aside for the moment the fact that our Founders lacked 21st century medical knowledge and were not obstetricians or gynecologists) and that therefore abortion ought to be illegal even though abortions were not illegal in most states.

If eighteenth century minds were exposed to modern science they would know the following, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation. After 24 weeks there is continuing development and elaboration of intracortical networks such that noxious stimuli in newborn preterm infants produce cortical responses. Such connections to the cortex are necessary for pain experience but not sufficient, as experience of external stimuli requires consciousness.

Pesky science says fetuses can’t feel pain before 24 weeks because they have not developed connections from the periphery to the cortex and that furthermore, even once these connections are established, consciousness, which is lacking in a fetus, “there is increasing evidence that the fetus never experiences a state of true wakefulness in utero and is kept, by the presence of its chemical environment, in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.”

But we don’t like this; we need fetuses to feel pain so we can push our anti-choice agenda so we will just say that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks despite the utter impossibility of this being true.

And getting back to that pesky Founding Fathers issue: You would think that if abortion (along with the Ten Commandments) was such an issue for the Founding Fathers that they would have banned it in the Constitution. Instead, the Constitution says nothing about abortion and nothing about the Ten Commandments. But these, again, are pesky facts.

You can choose to read Thomas Jefferson’s writings, including the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom to find out how Jefferson felt about people like National Right to Life pushing their religion on people and not letting those people even vote on it or you can just choose to pretend that Jefferson was rabidly anti-abortion. You know how Republicans feel: they embrace the 2000-year-old Christian cry of “Do not ask questions: just believe!”

If you do choose fact over belief, just know this: Jefferson (and the other Founding Fathers) may not have said a word about abortion and religiously mandated fetal pain at 20 weeks but they did have a lot to say about people like Darrell Issa, Trent Franks, and National Right to Life, who push narrow religious agendas.

In the Virginia Statute, Jefferson, who was very much dedicated to science, wrote:

That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The claim that fetuses are fully developed human beings at 20 weeks is a religious opinion or belief, not backed up by science. We may not know how Jefferson would have felt about abortion bans because he doesn’t talk about it, but he does mention that he is very happy that the clergy’s hopes for “obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States” has come to nothing because “the returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes.”

In fact, opposition to abortion is religion-based, a violation we are told again and again of “God’s Law”. The Constitution may not guarantee the “right” to abortions but it most certainly forbids the legislation of particular religious viewpoints (in Establishment Clause).

(Just for the record, my Norse ancestors believed life began not at fertilization, not at quickening, and not even at birth, but at naming; that it was with the naming of the child that the soul entered the body and life began. Until a baby was named, it was not a living human being. In the name of religious freedom, if conservatives actually did believe in religious freedom (they don’t, except for their own), this point of view would have as much validity as theirs since this, again, is a religious belief about life, and not scientific.)

A final pesky fact: Jefferson, who is addressing Dr. Rush in the above-mentioned letter (Sept 23, 1800) announced that he has sworn “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the minds of man” and he is very clear here what sort of tyranny he is talking about: religious tyranny, the same sort now threatening D.C. and every other neighborhood in the United States.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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