I am a longtime pro-choice physician and abortion provider who, as a psychiatrist before training in obstetrics and gynecology, strongly supported the legalization of abortion long before I even imagined that I might one day become a provider of abortion care myself. I provide abortions out of a deep sense of moral conviction and compassion that some cannot, or obstinately will not, comprehend or respect. For almost four decades abortion care providers and women seeking safe abortion care in my state of Texas and nationwide have been, and increasingly continue to be, under siege, tragically punctuated by extreme violence in the form of such illegal, inhumane, barbaric, and decidedly un-American atrocities as bombings and murder, by heavily propagandized fundamentalist Christian bullies, domestic terrorists, who know and understand little or nothing about legal professional abortion care and the pressing need for it but have swallowed whole without a pinch of open-minded critical thought the blatantly fraudulent, deceptive, and gullibly believed propaganda of the so-called "pro-life” movement and yet are convinced that they know it all and are absolutely right in all of their misinformed, belief-driven opinions and that their beliefs must be forced upon all by unconscionably cruel and coercive restrictive laws. Scarier still is the fact that people who believe like these have managed through their ideological manipulations and sanctimonious claims to religious purity to gain political influence sufficient to dominate the Republican Party, resulting in medically ridiculous and harmful regulations and restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking abortions and making unobtainable by many women and teenage girls their rights not to be forced by law to suffer through unwanted or even life and health endangering pregnancies.
LET’S GET REAL: EXTREME RELIGION STOPS A THINKING BRAIN
AND KILLS WOMEN AND TEENAGE GIRLS
REPUBLICANS, TEA PARTIERS, SANCTIMONIOUS BULLIES, AND THE
AMERICAN “CHRISTIAN TALIBAN”
This misguided assault on the lives, health, freedom, and well-being of women and teenage girls has already created terrible tragedies for many that are extravagantly worsened and expanded every time a Republican-dominated state legislature convenes. And, in a mind-numbing paradox, the majority of these extreme right wing Republican so-called “pro-lifers” support the legality of every citizen owning semi-automatic firearms with high capacity ammunition magazines. THAT is “pro-life?” I don’t think so!
If you doubt that there is a Republican “war on women” you are grievously mistaken. The wagers of this “war” are even striving to outlaw medications and devices used for contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, callously oblivious to the suffering and restrictions on their lives to which this would subject women. However, this “war on women” is nothing new, nor is it confined to the beliefs of extreme Christians. It is a continuation of the ages old persecution of women in a variety of extreme religious traditions, some of which are more openly engaged in and thus more visible, such as the public executions and “honor killings” practiced by fanatical Muslims, which closely resemble the brutal torture and gruesome public executions of at least tens of thousands of women (some estimates range into millions) judged to be guilty of the imaginary “sin” of “witchcraft” by the not so distantly past centuries of the Holy Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church in which women are still callously oppressed by this institution strictly ruled by authoritarian celibate men, albeit now in a less direct and obvious manner that is less abhorrent to the relatively more educated and enlightened modern populace of today’s highly developed nations. In most of the modern western world it exists today as a slow, relentless, long acting violence against women, hidden by veils of denial and obfuscation supported and reinforced by cherry-picked bits of traditional extreme religious doctrine from long, long ago.
"America's greatest buildings were destroyed, and we thank God for that." "The hijackers will rest in paradise where they will be heroes forever." "I am God's soldier, and God knows that." "This is the day of reckoning. You must stand up and be counted and defend your faith." "It is our duty to God to destroy the infidels." - Osam bin Laden
Has anyone not noticed the similarity of this fanatical religious rhetoric from Osama bin Laden, and the sanctimonious ideology behind it, to the motivations and statements from our most vocal domestic terrorists, the violent, sometimes even murderous, religious fanatics of the so-called "pro-life" movement? Any who haven’t noticed need to wake up!
I was approached recently outside of a clinic by an especially crude and rude anti-abortion protester who yelled the "Falwellian/Robertson doctrine" at me: "God destroyed those buildings on 9/11 and all those precious lives to punish America for allowing you to kill babies!" I replied, "The men who hijacked those airliners were motivated by crazed religious fanaticism. Who's the crazed religious fanatic here – me or you?" It went right over his head.
Our foreign enemies, the religious fanatics who distort and pervert the faith of Islam to spuriously support their totalitarian goals, are a mirror in which our domestic Christian terrorists can see themselves if they will only look.
The so-called "pro-life" movement is to Christianity what al-Qaeda and the Taliban are to Islam.
I am a committed, proud, defiant abortion provider, and, believe me, defiance is an asset in the sociopolitical climate in which I practice abortion care. I have often been asked why I provide abortion care, sometimes ragefully and accompanied by threats of violence by opponents of legal abortion in an atmosphere they have created in which colleagues and friends of mine have been not only maliciously defamed, but ruthlessly assassinated, and clinics bombed and burned, by perpetrators who claimed to be acting in the name of Jesus. First, let me assure you that it is not that I love embryos and fetuses less, but that I love women and teenage girls much more, although I must confess that, while I respect, support, and share any woman’s delight in a wanted pregnancy, I really have no feeling for insentient fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses in the wombs of women and teenage girls who do not want them there. The nature of fetal existence inside the body of a woman or girl is a profoundly unique and unparalleled situation in which the religious or political beliefs of others should have no right to intrude unless invited by the woman or girl herself. Her body should be under her jurisdiction and nobody else’s business. It should be her call. Not mine. Not yours. Not Rick Perry’s.
I respect and feel deep compassion for the sovereignty of any conscious human female over her own body and all that exists therein and feel no compassion for insentient embryos and fetuses that she doesn’t want there, whatever her own reasons, regarding her as the world’s foremost authority on her own best interests and realizing that she cannot fully pursue the personal freedom and human rights upon which this nation was founded unless her own authority and individual responsibility over herself and her own body is respected by our society and our laws.
There is perhaps no area of human behavior in which clear rational thought and understanding of factual reality is more obscured by obstinate prejudice, self-serving judgmental attitudes, and intransigent, willful ignorance supported only by emotionally charged irrational belief and misinformed and uninformed opinion and in which the consequences of this failure to face and accept evidence-based truth, reason, and understanding are more catastrophically and mercilessly cruel than in matters concerning sexuality and reproduction, even among many physicians and other highly educated people who have had every opportunity to learn better.
Regardless of how strongly you believe that you know what you merely believe, you merely believe it, and you might be very wrong.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” - Stephen HawkingThere is much that needs saying (and hearing by open, rational, awake, and honest minds not ruled by blind, self-serving political ambition) to illuminate the issues surrounding human sexuality, contraception, and abortion rights and to counter the tsunami of blatantly false, misleading, and inflammatory propaganda that has for many years, from launch pads in narrow-minded and rigidly legalistic religious belief systems, flooded the halls of government, courts of law, popular media, and the internet. To these perpetrators of blatant fraud “freedom” means their unconstrained license to tyrannize and oppress those who believe differently in a complete perversion and rejection of the meaning of freedom upon which this nation was founded. Far too many, still, in the 21st century, hold to the facetious maxim, “ignorance is bliss” (that is, the ignorance of comforting myth-based ideologies insufficiently challenged by rational skepticism, such as extreme religious belief clumsily masquerading as factual knowledge) though often believing that they not only are not ignorant, but know it all, are absolutely right in all of their extreme opinions and beliefs, are fiercely resistant to reconsidering any of them, and persist in plunging through their lives uninformed or misinformed, proud of it, and even aggressively defending and championing their ignorance and prejudice, oblivious to the swaths of pain, suffering and destruction they create in their wakes, feeling righteous about it, and ruthlessly striving to inflict their cruel beliefs through force of law upon entire diverse populations composed of many varieties of believers, as well as non-believers.
Consider the pain and suffering and quite often partial or complete destruction of a conscious, feeling woman or teenage girl stricken with an unwanted pregnancy, which is often to her not, as those religious extremists who strive to have laws inflict their personal religious beliefs on everyone insist, a “precious gift from God” or a “wondrous divine miracle,” but a stressful catastrophe of devastating and incapacitating magnitude with profound repercussions for the rest of her life. She should have the moral freedom to release herself from this catastrophe in her life. But callous, sanctimonious Republican politicians have risen to power in many states by pandering to the heavily propagandized callous, sanctimonious coalitions of closed-minded religious believers whose votes are governed by what they believe to be their “sacred duty to God” to establish laws to force all others in this great pluralistic society of ours to comply with their religious beliefs – in stark contradiction to Supreme Court precedent and to the principles upon which this nation was founded. They incredibly define their freedom to be the “freedom” to deny freedom to others who believe differently, and they speciously cloak this fallacy under the “sheep’s clothing” of religious doctrine that they believe to be sacrosanct. This despite the fact that there is not one single mention in the holy book of their religion that abortion should be prohibited or condemned.
That’s right. There is nothing in the bible to indicate that abortion is prohibited by God or should be illegal. Nothing.
There might be passages that might seem to indicate that maybe it is not acceptable, according to the bible which many believe to be the inerrant word of God while most don’t, but dragging that meaning out of even those passages is quite a stretch, and our American constitutional law, while influenced by the bible as well as many other legal traditions, is not derived from the bible. Many offenses of relatively trivial nature are specified in considerable detail in the bible: Don't eat the flesh of cloven-hoofed animals; don't keep graven images (e.g., the ubiquitous little gold crosses worn as jewelry which are graven images of the scaffolds of brutal torture and capital punishment used to accomplish crucifixion, such as that of Jesus, in the ancient Roman Empire); don't let cattle graze with other kinds of cattle; don't have a variety of crops on the same field; don't wear clothes made of more than one fabric; don't cut your hair or shave; any person who curses his mother or father must be put to death; if a man cheats on his wife, or vice versa, both the man and the woman must die. All of those prohibitions and their draconian punishments are clearly spelled out in the bible. When even relatively inconsequential things are forbidden in scripture and required to be harshly punished there appears to be little mincing of words on the subject, and whether or not to bring a pregnancy to term is a pretty important decision regardless of whether approved or disapproved, so I would think that if either God or the human authors of scripture had thought it was an important moral issue some one of them would have said so explicitly. Not even one of them did, and the primary text of the Judeo-Christian faiths is completely silent on the subject except to note in passing that it was considered in the specific instance of miscarriage resulting from physical assault on a pregnant woman to merit merely a fine (Exodus 21:22, 23). Furthermore, there is no record of Jesus uttering a single word about abortion. Not one.
Under these circumstances, arguments against abortion obviously must be considered outside the context of biblical scripture simply because there is absolutely no basis for them in the bible.
“He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” – attributed to Jesus of Nazareth (and, so goes the story, no stone was thrown)It is women and teenage girls who merit our compassion, not insentient fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses that possess no consciousness of their own existence. These embryo humans-potentially-to-be cannot think or suffer or feel pain, pleasure, or anything else. We know that they do not have sufficient brain development and functionality for consciousness until well beyond twenty-four weeks of pregnancy. There is no reason to distinguish them from the uncountable millions of early embryos lost onto used tampons and pads as the results of early miscarriages. But the women and teenage girls are a very different story. They are our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our friends, our lovers. They think and feel. And we should think highly of them and feel deeply for them and honor and support their right to the freedom to control their own bodies.
“No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg to escape.” - Frederica Mathewes-Green, a prominent Eastern Orthodox “pro-life” advocate for religious reasons, who nevertheless expresses sincere compassionate understanding of women’s plights and motivations and addresses them with honesty and respect.How long has it been since you were a young single mother and supporter of one or more young children, with little or no support from extended family, only minimally educated, inexperienced and unskilled relative to the job market, providing for yourself and your young child(ren) as best you can by holding onto the best low-wage job(s) for which you were qualified and found available to you, and knew you would lose that job if you were forced to take time off – or were pregnant? How long has it been since you then responded to a troubling suspicion, perhaps originating from a late period or nausea that made it all but impossible for you to go to work every day, by testing your urine? How long has it been since that test came up positive for you, confirming your worst fear that you were pregnant? I see women in such straits daily, some better off and some even worse off, in my work. Who are you to judge them? Who are you to restrict their human rights, to condemn them, and to criminalize them? Who are you to want to force them to give up what options they have, maybe losing their jobs or even losing custody of their children, in order to conform to your moral beliefs? These are the women who would be most hurt, and who are now being hurt, by restrictions or legal prohibitions against safe, professional abortion care. Women of greater affluence simply do what they did before abortion was legalized in the U.S. They again use the airlines to travel across the country or even half way around the world to get abortions.
I recently performed a first trimester abortion on a 21 (yes, 21) year old economically and socially disadvantaged single mother who already had six children. I have rarely seen more desperation and weariness in anyone’s eyes – or such relief in her eyes that she was spared from going through another pregnancy and having another child to care for with her meager resources. If you believe this is an extreme example you are very wrong. Such “extreme” examples are commonplace.
Whether to get an abortion is a decision that's very easy to judge when you're not in the position of having to make it for yourself or in support of someone you personally know and care about - and when you are confronted with so vast and withering a mind-numbing assault of emotionalized misinformation and fanatical desire to ideologically indoctrinate, dominate, and control as is afoot today, courtesy of the so-called “pro-life” movement.
I performed an early first trimester abortion on a college senior some years ago. She had been seen a number of times among protesters at my clinic, and prior to her abortion procedure she had told a clinic counselor that she was the president of her campus so-called "pro-life" organization, a club dedicated to misinforming, shaming, insulting, harassing, intimidating, scaring, and even threatening women and teenage girls seeking to live by their own values and beliefs, and even seeking the recriminalization of abortion care. Think about that. That must mean that she was one of their most committed hardline agitators against legal and safe professional abortion care for several years - until she got pregnant herself. Then she was in the clinic having an abortion within a week of her positive pregnancy test. She had “explained” to the counselor that hers was a “special case” – that the reason she had chosen to have an abortion was to preserve her credibility among her peers and the public at large, rationalizing that through her image of unblemished faith and untarnished activism she could nobly save more “babies” and continue to provide an instructive example of blissful sexual abstinence by having secret sex and a secret abortion herself, in her mind sacrificing one “baby” (actually only a tiny mindless embryo), hers, for the hoped-for benefit of many, and, besides, she needed to begin graduate school, failing to comprehend that the many she was hoping to benefit were but the sum of many “special cases,” the vast majority of which entailed reasons just as cogent, and more so, than hers.
After I completed her abortion, I matter-of-factly asked her what she was now going to do about her affiliation with that “pro-life” club. Startled, she startled me by gasping, sitting abruptly upright on the procedure table, and with an expression of stark terror, blurting out in a tremulous and troubled voice "You're not going to tell them are you?" I assured her that of course we were not going to tell anyone, hopefully relieving her of that worry on top of all the other worries and fears burdening her at that troubled time in her life. She likely returned to her now unequivocally hypocritical role of being the top anti-abortion activist on her campus - unalterably and aggressively opposed to safe, legal abortion care for every woman in the world - except herself.
“Some 47,000 women per year are estimated to lose their lives from the complications of unsafe abortion, almost all of which could have been prevented through better access to sexuality education, fertility awareness, contraception, and especially safe abortion services.” – World Health Organization, 2008Doesn’t this estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO) merit attention and serious consideration? WHO has estimated that about 47,000 women and teenage girls in those countries where abortion care is illegal die every year from injuries and infections caused by often well-intentioned but untrained, ill-equipped, and inexperienced criminal abortionists. Many more are seriously injured and maimed for life.
Can forcing women to resort to such callous death-dealing barbarism sanely be called “pro-life?” NO! Is it reminiscent of the Holy Inquisition of the historic Roman Catholic Church? YES! Of another brand of religious extremism known as the Taliban? YES!
Women and teenage girls should have the human right to the freedom to pursue their own hopes, dreams, and ambitions, and thus their lives, without being forced to lose all that they desire to be by laws that require them to comply with the dictates of the religious beliefs and ideologies of others. Women with unwanted pregnancies have always done whatever it takes to obtain abortions, whatever the risks, and they always will. The blood-drenched past of legal prohibition of abortion should have taught us all that the damage to the lives, health, and well-being of conscious women and teenage girls is much too high a price to pay for restricting or criminalizing abortion in a futile attempt to save the lives of insentient embryos and fetuses inside the bodily domain of desperately unwilling hosts who would again in great numbers obtain dangerous illegal abortions if safe legal abortions were restricted or prohibited by law. Many would die. Many others would be seriously injured and maimed for life. All would be subjected to terrible pain and anguish. This is not guesswork. We know this from the experience in this nation prior to Roe v. Wade, as well as from the terrible tragedies of tens of thousands of women and teenage girls who now die each year from incompetent criminal abortions in those backward countries in which abortion is still illegal. Think about that. We’ve been there, done that. To go back is unconscionable.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George SantayanaAs we have been trying to remind the public for many years, many women and teenage girls have always had abortions and always will, regardless of considerations of legality and of safety or of someone else’s moral judgment. Restricting or outlawing abortion never has and never will “stop” abortion. It will not “make abortion a thing of the past,” as Governor Perry suggested. It will make abortion dangerous and deadly for women and teenage girls.
I’m well aware that so-called “pro-lifers” claim that abortion care provided legally and openly by trained professionals is “dangerous” to women, but I am also aware that this is just one of the many blatant untruths they proclaim and even pretend to document. As with all medical and surgical treatments and interventions abortion has risks of possible complications. However, it is well established that legal and open professional abortion care carries considerably less risk and is thus considerably safer than its only alternative, continued pregnancy and childbirth.The political and legal - and moral – choice before us is not between abortion and no abortion. It is between very safe legal abortion and very dangerous illegal abortion.
WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?