Sweet Home Alabama

So much has already been written (and so much outrage expressed) over the twenty five white male Republicans who passed a Bill in Alabama outlawing abortions, that it hardly seems there could be any more to say. However, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the real implications of the Alabama “secession”. This is certainly not the first time a Constitutional Right has come under assault by cultural/religious norms. Slavery, denying the women the right to vote, even the genocidal policies of Manifest Destiny were all justified by religious and cultural norms of the day. Our history has always been one of evolving our understanding Constitutional Rights as a rational and secular proposition that rises above the provincial concerns of religions. Without that secular framework we could have never moved toward a fuller realization of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The entire abortion rights debate is exactly what the Founding Fathers feared the most when forming the Constitution: the intrusion of religious beliefs on secular rights.

From a secular perspective, there is no doubt (in law as well as tradition) that any individual, male or female, has the right to control their own destiny, let alone their body. People who oppose abortions are very often well-motivated from a sense of compassion rooted in religious dogma: they define the problem in terms of their religious beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with compassion for any human being, including the women who make the heart-rending decision. The problem I have with the “pro-life” movement is that their compassion for the child is outweighed by their disdain for the woman and her right to make decisions for her own self – a fundamental premise of our Republic.

If women do not have a right to control their own bodies, then there are no “inalienable rights” at all. To reject the right of any woman to make her own decisions on her life and health is to reject every right we used to call inalienable. Without the guarantee of those inalienable rights we become vulnerable to the destructive pressures of other religious intrusions, and our Democracy regresses back to the imperfect disparity between the lofty ideals of the Founding Fathers and their neglect of the institution of slavery or not extending rights to any woman. Or worse yet, we devolve into a Christian version of the Islamic State where individual liberty is obliterated by someone else’s faith. Couldn’t we hear the echoes of the slave-masters of ante-bellum Alabama in the blanket paternalistic denial of rights for all women? A rapist would have more rights to the child in Alabama than their victim or her doctor. If this is “pro-life” then it is cruel, unforgiving and not the imitation of a god we are told is quite the opposite.

Religion does have a role in the debate over abortions as a choice, but not as a right. People of faith acting in good faith must realize their calling is to convert the individual, not to force their choice on that individual. Abortion can remain a “sin” and a “right” at the same time: but like all “sins” they are a choice to do wrong. Most Christian traditions value the primacy of conscience and free will as the ultimate guide for any action. Their almost exclusive focus on punishing a woman from making the choice to abort a pregnancy rather than making a society that welcomes any child born, is less compassion than a motivation rooted in forcing their religious laws on all of society. “Pro-life” advocates say it is a matter of justice – defending the vulnerable who cannot defend themselves. If Evangelical leaders were as consistent in their defense of immigrant children at the border, then their argument would seem more authentic, but the bottom line is that the true injustice is that our society does not value every human being the way they deserve. But, for a lot of believers and certainly all of the men in the Alabama Legislature it’s a lot easier to feel loving by jailing women and their doctors.

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