The Gun and the Fetus

The Gun and the Fetus

A few weeks ago on this blog I hazarded the bizarre notion that soon, right wingers would be patting themselves on the back for making abortion illegal for an additional reason than those they usually give, the new one being that it would please other right wingers terrified of “replacement theory.”

You know, the paranoid conspiracy trope gnashing its pointed little teeth that refugees are coming to this country, particularly across the southern border, to “replace us.” African Americans are also apparently plotting to replace whites, not only with jobs but by raping “our” women. Black and Brown people are trying to wipe “us” off the face of the earth. The whole thing is funded by Jews. It’s a lethal lie, and I linked it with anti-abortion militants as sort of an extreme thought experiment, although the linking of these two ultra-right issues, even in fantasy, was terrifying.

Well, imagine my shock when, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest, Hungary, CPAC head Matt Schlapp said that stopping abortion could also help those worried about replacement.

Now first of all, let’s look at where CPAC was holding its conference: in an authoritarian country that has repeatedly tried to demolish women’s rights, including those regarding abortion rights. Schlapp continued, “If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, well, some of that problem is solved.” By “us” Schlapp does not mean you and me, or most Americans for that matter. He means white Christians–and Christianity does seem to be the problem.

Jews don’t oppose abortion; they believe life begins with birth. So do Muslims. So do Buddhists (well, they would if they cared). Atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers: not a problem. No, I’m afraid we’re back to Christians, specifically white Christians, some of the same folks who run those horribly deceptive crisis pregnancy centers, and cherish those A-R 15 combat rifles. I won’t spend much time denouncing the Southern Baptists because this past week they’ve had problems of their own due to 20 years of cover-up for odious sexual crimes ranging from child sexual abuse to sexual harassment to violent rape. No, for this we need to go back to THE Church, the Roman Catholics who began it all or would like to claim they did. (Besides, they constitute a religio-political majority of the Supreme Court bench—excepting Justice Sotomayor, who thinks for herself, like any wise Latina.)

But first, let’s note some more connections.

The United States constitutes only four percent of the world’s population, yet this population owns almost 50 percent of the world’s guns. The linkage is unavoidable: between a death culture that supports the National Rifle Association in making this the most armed country per capita on earth, and that same culture’s breathtaking hypocrisy claiming it is for “life” in its rampage to end all abortions in the nation.

For example, Texas has the most permissive gun laws in the country–and also initiated the first law that empowered civilians to turn in women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies, doing so by being literal bounty hunters, for handsome cash rewards. Connect. Only a week or so ago there was a massacre in the African American community, when 10 people who were simply shopping for groceries in a supermarket were gunned down and more injured, by an 18-year-old male white supremacist in Buffalo, New York. Oh, and there were security guards armed and present; so much for that NRA excuse, because the killer was wearing body armor. Another 18-year-old male, this past week in Uvalde, Texas–he was wearing body armor, too–slaughtered 18 children, 4th graders, and two adult teachers. OK, so never mind the sane rationale of making combat assault weapons illegal or at least tracing them through background checks (wild eyed radical concept), how about making bullets illegal or making body armor illegal or at least requiring that body armor for civilians be licensed?

I’m hardly the first to observe that abortion opponents reserve their reverence for life to locating it in the fetal form: the minute anything gets born from that form, requiring attention, food, shelter, warmth, affection, education, or indeed anything else—forget about it. Yet women are supposed to mindlessly produce, like an assembly line, endless babies to do the bidding of men in power, for industry or in wartime, or to serve those who in turn do that bidding. We are supposed to do so willingly, even cheerfully, or at the very least dutifully.

This cannot be said too often. We cannot repeat this too frequently. We cannot revisit this subject enough. It is the nexus, the very heart of women’s oppression — her rights as a human being, her rights as a citizen, her rights over her own body. Reproductive freedom is a basic human right. A woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is her human right.

We’ve seen it creeping, or should I say marching brazenly, in anticipation of the recently leaked Supreme Court decision by Justice Samuel Alito. Copying parts of the Texas law that prohibited most abortions in that state, the Idaho legislature approved a bill banning the procedure after six weeks. Connect. Then the Florida legislature voted to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. And now the Oklahoma legislature has passed a bill boasting that it will be the most restrictive in the nation, prohibiting nearly all abortions starting at fertilization, and allowing private individuals to sue providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion. This is the bounty hunter law that imitates Texas but goes further by banning the procedure after 6 weeks – when most women don’t even realize that they’re pregnant. The bill defines the tissue as “a human fetus or embryo in any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.” It makes exceptions for cases of rape and incest but only if those crimes have already been reported to law enforcement: tell me what rape or incest survivor is ready to do that? No other state currently prohibits abortion starting at fertilization. The Oklahoma legislation tries to do so by employing illegal tactics the courts have nevertheless permitted: civilian enforcement. Civilian enforcement laws have a major chilling effect among providers and even pill distributors, who can tend to stop their work from fear of being sued. Those who sue successfully will be given awards of at least $10,000 and compensatory damages, including for “emotional distress.” Only connect.

So now let’s pan back to look at the national situation. The typical patient: is already a mother, in her late 20s, attended some college, has a low income, is unmarried, in her first six weeks of pregnancy, having her first abortion, and lives in a blue state. The latest estimate from the distinguished Guttmacher Institute, found that 25 percent of women will have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years–that’s one quarter of all American women. Six in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers and half of them have two or more children, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six in 10 women who have an abortion are having one for the first time; another quarter have had one previous procedure; less than a fifth have had two or more. It is simply not the case that abortion is some thing large numbers of people turn to as a form of birth control. Much of the political debate about abortion in America focuses on procedures performed late in pregnancy, but the overwhelming majority of them occur in the first trimester: 43 percent of all abortions occur in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and 92 percent in the first 13 weeks.

And here is the crux of the suffering: about half of women who had an abortion in 2014 were below the poverty line, with another quarter very close to poverty. Guttmacher surveys show low income women have been a hugely growing share of patients in recent decades. The Turnaway Study, a research project that tracks the thousand women seeking abortions in the US over the course of five years, found that women denied an abortion have an almost four times greater chance of living below the federal poverty line than those who are not denied the procedure, as well as an increased risk of serious health problems, and their children are more likely to grow up in an abusive environment.

Ah, but surely such impoverished, sickly, abused children are more likely to grow up in a brutalized environment that will foster them being cut down by law enforcement for wielding . . . what else? An easily obtainable gun, in a holdup, or a shotgun in a school, or even an AR-15, in an anguished cry of despair.

That’s how it works. That’s how it’s meant to work. Only connect.

Peek into the corners of Alito’s draft decision. He repeatedly quotes a man he describes as a great legal authority, Sir Matthew Hale. Hale is best known for his “history of the pleas of the crown,” a treatise published posthumously in 1736 that became enormously popular in English and American legal circles. His pronouncements became the bedrock of American law for generations, and their influence persists: we’re still living in Hale’s world. Of course, he wasn’t writing for women, who were excluded from legal professions and the judiciary. But he had a lot to say about women.

He said that the law should distrust women who reported having been raped because rape was “an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved and harder to be defended by the party accused, though never so innocent.” He also wrote what became the most frequently cited defense of the doctrine that shielded a husband from prosecution if he raped his wife. Hale said a woman’s agreement to marry meant she had placed her body under her husband’s permanent dominion and “the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up into this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.” As late as the 1970s, no state would prosecute a husband for raping his wife, and at least 21 states still treat marital rape more leniently than rape outside of marriage, by criminalizing a narrower range of conduct, issuing lesser penalties, or creating special obstacles to prosecution. Alito has furthermore misrepresented the actual historical record: the common law that governed America in its first decades and beyond did not regulate abortion before “quickening” –e.g. fetal movement– which can happen as late as 25 weeks into a pregnancy. Alito also says that Hale “described abortion of a quick child who died in the womb as a great crime” while he glosses over the key part of that passage. Hale actually wrote that abortion was a crime “if a woman be quick or great with child.” Note the “if.” Alito’s reliance on Hale and his buddies, with no acknowledgement of their fervid loyalties to legalized male supremacy, explains how the men who cited Hale as they constructed the early American legal order refused to give women the right to vote or enjoy full citizenship. But let’s cut right to the chase: Hale believed women could be both property and liars; his judgeship included presiding over a witchcraft trial where he sentenced two women to death. You would think it’s time we stopped quoting Matthew Hale.

Only connect. We live in a time when, although Roman Catholic countries like Argentina, Mexico, Ireland, and Colombia — which even has a Concordat with the Roman Catholic Church – have legalized abortion, the United States seems to be rapidly going backwards. I’ve noted some of the following in this blog before, but I’m afraid it bears repeating. Such things cannot be said too often–and besides, these were the early Christians weighing in on the subject.

The Church’s opposition to abortion was not always so absolute—a fact few people know. It began its poisonous work when Augustine made celibacy an ideal and argued that the only justification for sex was to conceive a child. The 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” is purely Augustinian; his theology has dominated the Church for two millennia, so the Church pretends that its position on pregnancy termination has been based on a “right to life” and has remained unchanged for 2000 years. Poppycock. In fact, it has varied continually over the course of history, with no unanimous opinion on the subject at any one time.

In 400 C.E., Augustine wrote that early abortion required penance only for any sexual aspect of a sin, not as homicide; 800 years later, Thomas Aquinas substantially agreed. (The Church made them both saints.) Between 1198 and 1216, Pope Innocent III ruled abortion as “not irregular” if the fetus was not “vivified” or ”animated”; animation was then considered 80 days for a female and 40 days for a male; male fetuses apparently could develop faster then slow-poke female ones. (Oddly, it has never been explained how anyone in the 12th century could tell sex differences in the womb.) Pope Sixtus V forbade all abortions in 1588, but in 1591 Pope Gregory XIV rescinded that order, and reestablished permission to abort, this time equalizing things: up to 40 days for either a male or a female fetus. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence (also sanctified), was a 15th century Dominican who wrote a major treatise on abortion, in which he taught that early abortion to save a woman’s life was moral. Thomas Sanchez a 17th century Jesuit, noted that all his Catholic theologian contemporaries justified abortion to save the life of the woman.

It was as late as 1869—only about a century and a half ago—that Pope Pious IX ruled all abortion murder and defined it as excommunicable. This was done under pressure from Napoleon III, who was gravely concerned that the birth rate was dropping in France, which then might face a serious depletion of soldiers for wars and for colonization. Pius IX, for his part, had longed to pass a doctrine of papal infallibility—but had faced opposition from within the Church as well as from external kings. But Napoleon was an emperor. So they struck a deal.

Interestingly, however, and also contrary to popular belief, the prohibition of abortion is not governed by claims of papal infallibility. This leaves far more room for discussion than is usually assumed. Some Jesuit historians have been honest about this history. Catholics around the world, meanwhile, largely support the use of contraceptives and make the bishops very nervous because they fear it’s a slippery slope from then on. (In fact, the Catholic Church has considered lifting its ban on contraception in the past. In 1964, Pope Paul VI convened a Commission on the issue and a majority of members, including 60 of 64 theologians and nine of 15 Cardinals, recommended repealing the ban on contraception–but Paul issued an encyclical affirming it.) Moreover, a mechanism already exists for the Church to change its prohibition on contraceptive use in a theologically sound, well established, even face-saving manner. It’s called “sensus fidelium,” or “sense of the faithful,” and it holds that a widespread agreement among clergy and the faithful on an issue indicates truth. Pope Francis himself sometimes seems almost sympathetic, saying publicly that Joe Biden is a good Catholic despite the Bishops Conference denouncing Biden for his backing of abortion rights, and criticizing the clergy’s “obsession” with abortion and homosexuality instead of concentrating on the soul. But, alas, I dream. . . .

Meanwhile, I’ll try not to run screaming into the streets after reading lines like these from the Washington Post: “Before massacre, Uvalde Texas gunman frequently threatened teen girls online. He threatened to kidnap, rape, or kill. But the girls said their reports were ignored and that his kind of angry misogyny was just “how online is.” Connect.

Meanwhile, impose red-flag restrictions for wannabe gun owners? Connect!

Meanwhile, please press your legislators to require that body armor necessitate at least a license for civilians. Connect!.

Meanwhile, please donate to local abortion funds in the 13 states with trigger laws—now, ASAP, pronto: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Only connect!

Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile. So long as they continue the onslaught, we must repeat ourselves. We cannot fall silent, or fail to make the connections, or speak such truths too often.

I’ll go on if you will. . .