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The Republican War on Women

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.


Abortion is an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. My purpose here (even though I am pro-choice) is not to argue this issue one way or another. Ultimately, it is a question of religious belief. My concern right now is the way that belief is being implemented and enforced.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the real agenda of the most virulent elements of the anti-abortion movement, who right now are in the ascendancy, is not the sacredness of human life. It is misogyny.

As a man, I find this a difficult topic to write about. I cannot know first-hand what women experience. But I do have some idea, from women I am speaking with and from simple observation, how misogyny not only continues to be a problem, but like so much other antisocial behavior granted legitimacy during the Trump administration and beyond, it is taking more overt forms and vying for social sanction. I am indebted to my women friends, and especially to my wife and my sister, for helping me focus on these issues more clearly, and for everything that follows in this article.

Already women suffering life-threatening emergencies resulting from their pregnancies have been facing treatment delays and denials. Here are some examples:(1)

People’s private lives are no longer their own. In Texas pharmacists are questioning patients about miscarriage medications, suspecting they may be used for abortions. Some physicians are reporting that anti-abortion colleagues look over their shoulders to find any evidence of illegal abortion activity. Some states have laws encouraging vigilantism, allowing anyone to sue anyone suspected of helping a woman obtain an illegal abortion. We are encouraging suspicion and turning neighbors against each other. There are even efforts to track women’s movements out of their home states to seek abortions in states where it is perfectly legal. The movement in this country toward authoritarianism and a surveillance state is increasing its momentum.

It is true that some (not all) laws have exceptions for the life of the mother. But it remains unclear exactly when such an exception becomes operative. In how much danger must a woman be in order for a physician to determine that leaving her untreated will threaten her life? If the physicians act too quickly they may put their licenses or even their freedom in jeopardy. In effect, they must play a game of chicken with the deformed fetus to see who gets off the road first, with the woman’s life in the balance. Even in states with exceptions for the life of the mother, some women are being forced to wait until the signs of damage to their health become unmistakable and too late to prevent. Inevitably some of these women will die. The state now second-guesses the judgments of professional physicians in ways it never did before.

Many states do not even have an exception for rape. Clearly their laws were written by men. It is difficult to imagine anything more traumatic than being raped. Forcing any rape victim to live with a resulting pregnancy against her will should be unconscionable. And yet many would make even a child rape victim carry the pregnancy to term. Call that “sacred cruelty.”

In Ohio a 10-year-old pregnant rape victim was refused an abortion because the law permitted no exceptions after six weeks. She had to seek treatment in neighboring Indiana.(2) At first Republicans denied the story, calling it a hoax and ridiculing anyone who took it seriously. Then when the story was verified, they tried to shift attention to the fact that the rapist was undocumented, trying to make the discussion about illegal immigration rather than child abuse. Not only did this child rape victim not have rights, for them she was not even real. Instead of treating her with compassion, they attempted to erase her existence.

It gets even worse. It turns out that pregnancy poses a grave physical danger to young girls, even as old as 15. A child’s pelvis is too small for even a small fetus to pass through. The fetus exerts considerable pressure on the bladder and urethra, possibly causing the tissue to rupture, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease and even permanent organ damage. Labor in such young girls can last several days, after which the fetus usually does not survive. Add to this the emotional trauma of the child’s missing school and suffering disruption of her intellectual and social development.(3) The Republican stand on this, as on many other issues, is truly barbaric.

As if this were not enough suffering, the physician is now facing an investigation by the Indiana Attorney General for the crime of helping this child survive a traumatic, highly dangerous, and possibly life-threatening situation.(4) This is what "pro-life" has become: an authoritarian state enforcing its questionable values through cruelty and intimidation.

The new laws would force women in poverty, who cannot even afford to care for the children they already have, to take on new financial burdens. Promises of support are proving empty. The states with the most draconian anti-abortion laws are also the states with the weakest safety nets, the states who refused Medicaid expansion as some kind of socialist cabal. Instead, many conservatives content themselves with preaching about “personal responsibility,” totally insensitive to the pressures these women often face from their husbands or boyfriends. The “pro-life” movement is hypocritical to its core, abandoning these babies and their mothers once the child is born.

So is the Republican Party really pro-life?

The only time one hears “pro-life” from Republicans is when it comes to controlling women’s behavior. This, it would appear, is the actual motivation. It is more about punishing women than helping newborn babies to thrive. Now any pregnant woman living in a red state becomes a potential suspect. If she suffers a miscarriage, she might well not get the benefit of the doubt. There actually seems something vindictive about the way anti-abortion laws are being enforced.

Given Republicans’ track record of lack of support for poor families and for babies once they are born, not to mention Republican promotion of gun proliferation throughout the United States, it is clear that the sacredness of human life is not their priority. Any claim to the contrary is transparent hypocrisy. Rather, the true priority appears to be turning this country into a theocracy.

This became apparent in a recent Supreme Court decision undermining the separation of church and state. An assistant coach in Kitsap County, Washington had the habit of inviting players to join him at the 50-yard line for Christian prayer after football games. When the school fired him for violating school policy as well as the First Amendment, the coach turned the incident into a media circus, inflaming tensions on both sides.

The coach’s prayers were not simply a matter of private devotion. Students testified about being pressured to participate and to ask the other team’s players and coaches to participate as well. Nevertheless, ruling against precedent, the Supreme Court decided that the coach was within his rights. This should have been a signature case for the First Amendment right not to be subject to religious coercion. Instead, in total disregard of the Constitution, the court used it to promote the program of the Christian right. Attempts to legalize sectarian prayer in schools will most likely be next, bringing back the pressure on students to conform with activities in which they may not believe. This peer pressure has consequences. It can affect not only one’s social standing, but, in the case of the football players, also their professional aspirations.(5)

These are signs we are headed toward a theocracy, the “Christian nation” that the Christian right wants to impose. It will be based not on the teachings of Jesus Christ - which the Christian right abandoned long ago - but on power and coercion. No wonder the Christian right wholeheartedly supports the Republican Party’s anti-democratic, anti-constitutional, authoritarian streak. We are facing a serious threat to our democracy, and it is hiding behind a Christian cross.

Evangelical Christianity has dominated religious discourse in this country and has become increasingly powerful. As I understand it, “evangelical” means “evangelizing,” which means “proselytizing.” It is the notion that to be saved, to be loved by God you must become one of us. So we will get you to believe what we believe, or failing that, we will make you behave the way we behave. This is all contrary to the spirit of Christ. Jesus, carrying forward the Hebrew Bible’s teaching to love the stranger, instructed us to reach out to those outside our group, to those who are different, even to those who don’t share our beliefs, to love them and let them know God loves them too. Instead, Christianity created another in-group, with outsiders cast out into the darkness. When this theology acquires political power, it becomes dangerous. And today, especially now, its political power is on the rise.

I know I will be criticized for criticizing evangelicals. Fine. If what I have described is not what self-professed evangelicals mean when they call themselves “evangelical,” then it is up to them to clarify the meaning of that term for the rest of us. Because that is exactly what “evangelical” means in common parlance. Even as a child I remember Christian missionaries trying to terrorize me with hell if I did not believe, and I have had many such encounters since. Christianity has not acquired a reputation for tolerance. Among non-Christians, the image of Christianity is not good. A recent survey found that while Christians think of themselves as compassionate and loving, non-Christians tend to think of Christians as judgmental, self-righteous, and hypocritical.(6) This means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves.

Evangelicals are not bad people. They are good people with a bad theology. Christian theology since the New Testament has failed, and we are experiencing the results of that failure now in the United States. Christianity needs a new Reformation, one that will make it more faithful to scripture and bring it closer to Jesus’s teachings. I hope a new generation of Christian theologians will arise who will undertake this task.

I cannot conclude this essay without mentioning that the political left also does not have a spotless record. Nonevangelical churches have allowed those on the right to usurp the image of American Christianity, and are not sufficiently vocal in opposing them. We should have said more when a Republican administration was tearing children away from their parents. We need to say more about the conservative push to turn this country back into the Wild West with guns everywhere. We need to call out appeals to racism made for the purpose of dividing us and consolidating political power - many churches have already been doing this. We need to resist attempts to remove the study of our nation's racial history from our schools. We must not permit books to be banned in the name of Christian values. We cannot allow the image of American Christianity to be hijacked by its most extreme faction.

Returning to the theme of misogyny, we find it now reflected in certain liberal speech mannerisms. No longer can we refer to “pregnant women.” Instead, we often hear euphemistic labels like “pregnant people,” “birthing persons,” “menstruators,” and even “bodies with uteruses/vaginas.” I know women who don’t want to call themselves any of these. They want to be called “women,” because that is what they are. I hear them, and I support them. Using those circumlocutions is demeaning to women. It erases women, especially pregnant women, from social discourse precisely at a time when pregnant women have become targets. I understand why people do this, but recognizing the needs of the trans community should not require making “woman” a dirty word. Surely people can be accommodated without mutilating the English language. One group’s needs should not be set against the needs of another, particularly at a time when women’s lives are imperiled.

Abetted by the Supreme Court, religion has become a threat to our democracy. Let us recognize this, and let us not fight hatred with hatred, but instead take on the challenge of revitalizing religious life in America in a way that affirms the lives of all its citizens.

Notes

(1) Frances Stead Sellers and Fenit Nirappil, “Confusion Post-Roe Spurs Delays, Denials for Some Lifesaving Pregnancy Care,” Washington Post, July 16, 2022.

(2) Brian Stelter, “Some Media Outlets Backtrack as Authorities Confirm Story About 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Who Sought Abortion,” CNN.com, July 14, 2022.

(3) Stephanie Nolen, “What Pregnancy and Childbirth Do to the Bodies of Young Girls,” New York Times, July 18, 2022.

(4) Timothy Bella, “Doctor in 10-Year-Old Rape VictimíS Abortion Faces AG Inquiry, Threats,” Washington Post, July 27, 2022.

(5) Pamela Paul, “In the Face of Fact, the Supreme Court Chose Faith,” New York Times, July 17, 2022.

(6) Rebecca Paveley, “American Christians seen as ’hypocritical’ and ’judgemental’, study suggests,” Church Times, March 18, 2022.

July 2022