Right-wing religious extremism is the only excuse Republicans have in opposing abortion

Right-wing religious extremism is the only excuse Republicans have in opposing abortion
Mitch McConnell, MSNBC

The Senate is going to take a vote today to codify Roe. Preview coverage has it pretty much right. The bill won’t pass, not in the form anyway, that was sent over by the House. But passage isn’t the point.

The point is showing who among the Republicans – and who among the GOP-adjacent Democrats – will go on record as being against the enshrinement in statutory law of privacy rights, equal standing in society, individual liberty and abortion. Where do senators stand?

When that becomes clear, the Democrats will turn to the American people to decide what should happen next. If you want Roe to be federal law, vote for a Democrat. If you don’t, vote for a Republican.

(I don’t see a third way. Five Republican justices on the Supreme Court will almost certainly strike down Roe. According to a report by Politico, they are not considering other draft opinions. Alito’s opinion, which hints at voiding other civil liberties in the future, is likely the final one.)

Given the debate over abortion will have passed through the court and the Senate on its way to the midterms in this fall, perhaps now’s a good time to rethink abortion in terms that seem to have been left behind.

Liberals and other champions of abortion used to deploy a vocabulary that was appropriate in the years before 1973, when Roe was decided.

That vocabulary was religious, even cross-denominational. Abortion’s most likely opponents were canonical Catholics. Otherwise, most people most of the time saw abortion as part of religious liberty. Here’s what the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service said in 1973:

If the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law. Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

Remember, abortion did not become a religious issue until the late 1970s when GOP operatives realized that it was an effective vehicle for achieving unrelated political goals. For instance, reducing business taxes and regulation but mostly for getting the federal government off private religious schools built on a foundation of white supremacy.

Since then, the debate over abortion has been increasingly distilled so that on one side, you had religious believers in “the sanctity of life” while on the other, you had secular believers in the ultimate moral agency of women. A religious argument for abortion was prominent before Roe. Afterward, that movement turned to other injustices.

It’s a good time to revive the spirit of that movement. Its focus might be on a question most abortion champions don’t bother answering.

IS an embryo a child? Really? I mean, seriously?

Abortion champions would rather talk about privacy and the freedom to choose. They would rather leave religion out of the debate, because the other side has so thoroughly colonized that terrain. I get that.

But I also think most people most of the time don’t know much about politics, much less a nuclear issue like abortion. Most people avoid conflict. They don’t try to understand it fully. Instead, they rely on instinct. Instinct is informed by a variety of religious experiences.

As long as Roe is law, there’s no need for a religious counterpoint. Things are going to be different in June, though. If you want voters in the midterms to decide whether Roe should be federal law, it would be useful, even necessary, to undermine the dominating religious view.

Is an embryo a child?

No, an embryo is an embryo.

An embryo is no more a child than a tire is a car, a room is a house, a politician is a government. It’s no more a child than the big toe on your left foot is you. A part of a thing is not the same thing as the whole of a thing. Asking us to believe that an embryo is a child is asking us to inhabit a reality that’s upside down, backwards and prolapsed.

To be sure, religions often ask us to inhabit such realities.

But what kind of religion asks us to do that?

Not a moral one.

Not a religion steeped in tradition or scripture or the common law. Traditionally, scripturally and legally, life began at some point on a spectrum between the child’s first kick to the child’s first breath.

Asking us to believe an embryo is a child is a newfangled idea – which is to say, an idea fully fabricated for political expediency – that used to have currency, and still does, for a specific strain of Christianity.

Asking us to believe an embryo is a child is asking us to be Catholic. (Most lay Catholics support a women’s ultimate moral agency, though.)

At this point in the argument, things can go two ways. One, it’s now about religion, specifically a good religion versus a bad religion. Abortion wouldn’t be the cause of conflict. It’s a symptom of it.

Two, it’s about taking seriously an amoral, ahistorical and illogical religious argument. Should we? Should we continue respecting a bad religion? Or should we fight it vigorously on equally religious grounds?

As I said, I get it. Most champions of abortion would rather talk about privacy and the freedom to choose. They would rather cede religion to the religious. In doing so, however, I think they make a strategist error.

They allow the press corps, no stranger to misogyny, to depict the liberal view of abortion as being the same as the conservative view.

The rights of one person (a woman) are equal to the rights of another “person” (an embryo). This is the framing most people most of the time encounter. Naturally, they privilege “the baby” over “the bad mother.”

We need to upend that frame – as well as preempt future attempts b y Republicans to endow embryos with “personhood.” In addition to a choice should come a religious argument reviving the spirit of the old multi-faith movement for the advancement of aborton rights.

The strongest asset among anti-abortionists is the belief that an embryo is a person only a religious movement can save from death.

There is no counter to that in secular terms. Indeed, the more we focus on a woman’s right to choose, the more selfish she appears to be among most people most of the time who will vote on Roe’s fate.

The only counter is religious. Those asking us to believe an embryo is a person are radicals from a bad religion unmoored from history, scripture and law. They ask us to believe nonsense. A good religion is not crazy-making. It stands on the rock of truth, justice and faith.

It understands an embryo is an embryo.

A baby is a baby.

And bullshit is bullshit.

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