How to Use the Bible against Abortion Protestors

It’s time to confront conception obsessed Bible-believers on their own terms, with language they understand.

Imaabortion-obama-jesusgine if we turned the Bible and Christianity’s highest values back on the Religious Right. This Saturday, February 11, the most conception-obsessed members of the Religious Right will be gathering at Evangelical and Catholic churches, loading teenagers into busses and cars, and surrounding Planned Parenthood with protest signs. Some will pray and sing church songs or shout Bible quotes or carry pictures of the Virgin Mary. But most will carry signs that say things like “abortion stops a beating heart” [so does oyster-eating] or “aren’t you glad your mother didn’t have an abortion?” [Yes; glad also that she didn’t have a headache that night] or “it’s a baby” [an acorn is an oak tree?] or “one life ended, one destroyed” [actually, factually not]. Some may carry “fetal squish” pictures—not  images of common early abortions but of the rare fetus that dies or is aborted late in gestation. In other words, they will try to sway the rest of us by speaking our language—the language of science, human rights and secular ethical values; and they will appeal to our moral emotions: compassion, love of life, and disgust.

Those of us who cherish the freedom to choose our own lives and families—and to live by our own moral values—could learn a thing or two from the more sophisticated of these protestors, both what they say and what they want to hide.

  1. They want us to think that it’s not about religion. Despite the smattering of non-religious opponents, it is. Ignoring this means we constantly fight a defensive battle on our turf, not theirs. Key take-away: Define this as a fight about theology, which is what it is. Use theological terms that are Christianity’s insider jargon and quote the Bible.
  2. They want us to think that they are on the side of women, that their stance against abortion comes from a deep place of love and concern. It doesn’t. Their conception obsession is deeply rooted in misogyny, and concern for women is a thin veneer. Here is what the anti-abortion movement would look like if it were driven by love. Key take-away: Expose the deep underlying religiously-motivated disdain for women. Quote degrading Bible verses, church fathers and modern pastors.
  3. By trademarking the term “pro-life,” abortion foes try to stake out the highest of the moral high ground. They don’t have it. Their crass indifference to the lives around them—to the wellbeing of both vulnerable people and even the whole web of life—shows their self-appointed title as defenders of “life” to be total bullshit. Key take-away: Shine a light on self-righteous hypocrisy. Expose the Religious Right’s indifference to Christianity’s own highest values, including compassion and reverence for life.

I said that abortion foes try to speak to us in language we understand, by appealing to our sources of authority, science and conscience. When we appeal to people who are on our side or neutral or secular, we should do the same. We must work to end abortion shame and stigma, to convey that abortion is normal and that family planning as a whole—including abortion until it becomes obsolete (we are headed that direction)—is a positive social good.

But when it comes to confronting and neutralizing abortion protests, we should attack the home turf of the abortion foes, not defend our own turf. We should speak in language of the protesters and convey that their position is a threat to their own core values. (Remember, this is what they do to move us.)

At the same time, they are playing to a broader audience, and we can, too. To outsiders, we can neutralize the tradition of incessant clinic protest by framing it as a theological dispute (most people want to keep theology out of healthcare), that is driven by archaic, ugly gender scripts (no thanks!), and that is being played out by people who have little moral credibility (everyone hates a mean-spirited, self-righteous hypocrite).

Here are a few examples of what the counter-protest signs might look like. *Some may make sense only to Christians and former Christians. **Thank you to all the former Bible-believers who offered suggestions on Facebook. ***If you have ideas of your own as you read the list, please add them in the comment section.

Define this as an insider dispute about theology

  • God aborts 60%. Who are you to judge the Almighty?
  • Fact checked: The Lord says he’s ok with it
  • God prescribes abortion potion – Numbers 5:22-27
  • Kill fetus, get fined – Kill woman, get death –Exodus 21:22-23
  • Infant becomes person after birth – Leviticus 27:6
  • Fetus fetish is idolatry
  • This is what bibliolatry does to people →
  • Conception obsession is a religious cult
  • Don’t say you follow Jesus if stopping abortion trumps love, truth, peacemaking, compassion, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor . . .
  • Life begins at ejaculation – Ask Onan
  • If the baby goes to heaven And the doctor goes to hell If the woman gets forgiveness What’s the problem pray tell!?
  • The Bible doesn’t define when life becomes “a living soul.” Don’t put your words in God’s mouth

Expose deep underlying misogyny

  • Wife is man’s property – Exodus 20:17
  • Girl babies twice as unclean as boys – Leviticus 12:1-8
  • Women should keep silent – 1 Cor. 14:34
  • Sell raped daughter to rapist – Deut. 22:28-29
  • Female? Cover your head or cut off your hair – I Cor. 11:6 [with picture of hijab]
  • Women will be saved through childbearing – 1 Tim. 2:15
  • Women make men dirty – Rev 14:4
  • Woman is a temple built over a sewer – Tertullian
  • Woman, you are the gate to hell – Tertullian
  • Man alone is the image of God – Saint Augustine
  • I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. –Saint Augustine
  • Woman has a faulty and defective nature – Saint Albertus Magnus
  • The production of woman comes from a defect – Thomas Acquinas
  • Women were made to be either wives or prostitutes – Martin Luther
  • The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection – John Dod, Puritan
  • Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed – LDS Apostle Herber Kimball
  • Every single book in your Bible was written by a man – Mark Driscoll

Shine a light on self-righteous (religious) hypocrisy

  • Pro-guns, pro-greed, pro-Trump = “pro-life” Hmmm. Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites! Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites
  • ”Pro-life” Trump Hypocrites =“False prophets, ravening wolves” – Jesus
  • Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! — Jesus
  • Pharisees →
  • Take the log out of your own eye –Jesus
  • Judge not that ye be not judged – Jesus
  • [picture of immigrant child] – Let the children come unto me—Jesus
  • Jesus focused on real people
  • Pro-fetus, against Child Protection
  • Pro-fetus, oppose rights for children
  • Pro-fetus, defend parent right to hit kids
  • Pro-fetus, against UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • I was hungry and you did not feed me – Jesus If a man says ‘I love God’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar- 1 John 4:20
  • Jesus supported healthcare for women
  • Jesus cared for women, no matter what [echoes Planned Parenthood motto]
  • The screwed-up priorities of “pro-life” Christians kill real children
  • Trump Voter? Don’t talk to me about choosing life
  • Voted for Trump? Maybe that’s not the voice of God you are hearing

Planned Parenthood doesn’t organize counter-protests, because they don’t want to escalate conflict and because they have a job to do providing contraceptives, cancer screenings, STI tests, abortions and other basic healthcare for their patients. They have no desire to get involved in theological disputes. But I think it’s time for the rest of America, meaning religious moderates and non-religious Americans, to go on the offense against the Religious Right. For decades now—really, ever since Roe v Wade–we’ve been playing way too nice.

At some point in the future, pregnancy almost always will happen by mutual consent of two people who want to co-create a child. But we’re not there yet, in large part because patriarchal religious conservatives have opposed sexual health literacy and better birth control every step of the way. Right now, we could make elective abortion virtually obsolete if the Religious Right had any interest in doing so. They don’t. That means, for now, the only way that young men and women can live the lives of their choosing and form the families of their choosing and stack the odds in favor of flourishing children—is to have access to abortion so they can end ill-conceived pregnancies.

The Left has been squishy and apologetic about abortion care—leaving providers unprotected, and allowing brave, prudent young women to be shamed for making the best decisions they could under difficult circumstances. We’ve let the Religious Right bully all of us, including moderate Christians, into doubting our own moral convictions.

Sometimes, the only way to stop a bully is to hit back. In the spirit of courageous, unflinching, nonviolent resistance, we need to figure out together what that means. So, don’t forget to share your thoughts.

Oh, and if you decide to counter-protest on Saturday, remember that while you are taking a stand on behalf of women and families, Planned Parenthood employees will be serving them. Don’t interfere with traffic, stay away from the entry, keep off private property, and silently let your sign do the talking for you. Don’t distract from the ugly behavior of the Religious Right by engaging in ugly behavior of your own. You are a role model for any children and teens who have been dragged along; be the change fundamentalist parents don’t want their kids to see in the world.

Originally posted at ValerieTarico.com

Peeling Back the Polished Pro-Woman Surface of Prolife™ Rhetoric

anti-abortion-protesterProlife leaders trying to convince the world that they are actually pro-woman have failed to convince even their own followers.

For years now, the professional class of abortion foes has been working to polish the Prolife brand, claiming that they are not mere fetal fetishists but actually protectors of women, who are being exploited by profit-hungry abortion doctors. They bolster their pro-woman positioning with false claims that abortion causes cancer (it doesn’t), or sterility (it doesn’t), or death (it’s a hundred times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term), or that women regret their abortions and suffer depression (as with any major life decision, some do; but most experience relief).

Even ignoring the disinformation, just beneath the thin layer of chivalry lies a toxic stew of religion, sexism, and judgmental certitude. Religious right politicians seeking to regulate abortion out of existence with bogus safety laws may have memorized their lines, but rank-and-file believers keep saying what they really think.

The Comment Thread Conundrum

Like most writers, I send articles to a variety of outlets, but I also cross-post to my own website, where religious conservatives and abortion foes not infrequently send me an unedited earful. (Do the people ranting or even making threats not realize that I have editorial control at my own site?) I don’t always publish such comments, but I do keep them, in part because they so clearly illustrate the dark underbelly of religious conservatism and its obsession with controlling sex and reproduction.

Consider a few of the recent tidbits:

  • “These clinics are greedy and if a woman leaves there is no profit for them. Most of these women could meet a mother that desperately wants a child and would provide their baby with a great life, but these women are too self-absorbed to care about that. These women don’t want anyone knowing they were pregnant and gave their baby up, they would rather murder their child to save face.”
  • “Sorry but nothing justifies abortion that’s why god condemns premarital sex in the first place because of its consequences if everybody obeyed gods rules instead of doing what they want there would not be any unwanted pregnancies or children being born out of wedlock or any other things I doubt that the majority of abortions are of women use birth control and the birth control failed that’s why the bible says that are going to see good as something bad and the bad as something good that’s why the world is so messed up today because the wicked one is misleading the entire earth.”
  • “You are nothing but a wicked woman who loves to murder babies. You are a Satanist, a Devil worshipper. I pray for you to trust in Jesus and be saved, Valerie. I pity you because you will one day face a HOLY GOD named the LORD JESUS CHRIST who created those babies and those children who you advocate for the mass murder of. To support abortion, aka, baby slaughter, baby murder, is to be complicit in it. God can forgive you if you will trust in His eternal Son the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood atonement alone, Valerie.”
  • “Abortion should be illegal and the participants charged with murder and punished.”
  • “Shooting an abortionist is as “wrong” as shooting a sniper on the roof of a school, you do what you have to do to save the lives of children, both born and unborn.”

Once Set in Motion . . . .

Prolife™ leaders may cringe and seek to distance themselves from comments like these, or from the prayer circles and rosaries and gauntlet of hell-threats outside of abortion clinics—or worse, from stochastic terrorism like the murders at Colorado’s Planned Parenthood. But ordinary Evangelicals and conservative Catholics really can’t be blamed for their difficulty in getting the branding right.

Many have been taught from childhood that every fetus is a teeny weeny baby, and that God values each from the moment of conception. Scientifically or statistically this may be implausible, but it’s black and white, beyond question like other points of theology. Some abortion opponents—most—retain an intuitive sense that the difference between an embryo and a child is morally consequential. But others simply follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion: An abortion provider is a sniper on a school roof. A woman aborting a pregnancy might as well be drowning her preschooler in a bathtub. The only possible explanation is that those who disagree lack morals or are in the thrall of Satan.

The Fruit of the Prolife Spirit

One of the New Testament writers made the mistake of saying that Christians would be known by their “fruit,” meaning their actions and the consequences of those actions. If this is the case, the motives and morality of ProLifeTM Christians are laid bare not only by their own ugly words and behavior but by the fruit of their relentless, obsessive campaign to obstruct abortion access while simultaneously denying prospective parents the information and contraceptives needed to time their pregnancies. Pro-woman? Guess again.

  • Over 200 women in the U.S.—and over 200,000 globally—dead each year from an unsought pregnancy.
  • Millions more with permanent changes to health or mental health.
  • Pregnant teens and young women forced to drop out of school, floundering for years or decades instead of flourishing.
  • Fragile families locked into deeper poverty by mistimed and unwanted fertility.

Underlying all of this is the foundational assumption that women don’t know what is best for them and their families, can’t know what is best, can’t be trusted as autonomous moral agents—which is why God put men in charge. Women were made for childbearing. The Bible says so!

Not Gender Justice, Not Social Justice

If there’s one thing that can be said for the ancient texts gathered in the Bible, it is that many of them have a strong social justice message. Prolife leaders, recognizing this, often claim that they are advocating justice for the most vulnerable members of society, which includes children and racial minorities as well as women. They relentlessly link abortion with genocide or with the misguided eugenics push of the early 20th Century, proclaiming for example that Black babies are in particular danger of being aborted. (Poor Black women do abort somewhat more than white women but also carry more pregnancies forward because of a higher rate of pregnancy.)

In reality, families living at the hardscrabble edges of life are those most negatively affected by the Religious Right’s obstruction of family planning services.

I was in Singapore when my husband and I discovered that my first trimester pregnancy was infected with Toxoplasmosis. The consequences can be much like Zika, so we decided to abort and start over; and we received supportive, competent abortion care from a Singaporean doctor trained in Canada. Had timely care not been available in Singapore, we could have gone wherever we needed. Our privileged reality is inconceivable for most couples or women facing an ill-timed or unhealthy pregnancy.

Abortions have always been more available to upper and middle class couples than families struggling to get by. Knowing that they can’t control women of means, the Religious Right has doubled down on poor women who rely on public healthcare services, denying them insurance coverage and forcing on them long distance travel and childcare costs that [abortion foes hope will] become insurmountable barriers. In the Pacific Northwest, poor women in need of abortion turn to complete strangers for financial support via a program known as the CAIR Project, one of several “underground railroads” providing housing, transportation and funding for women in need.

Nationally, advocates for poor women and families are fighting through the coordinated campaign All* Above All to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which for 40 years has stripped abortion coverage out of Medicaid. Women of color—long denied the full right to manage their own fertility and disproportionately impacted by this restriction—are taking the lead.

Pro Woman, Pro Family, Pro Child

Not all women and men want children, but for all of us decisions about parenthood are among the most important and life-shaping choices we will ever make.

As parents, we all want to stack the odds in favor of our children flourishing. Those who can, seek prenatal and pediatric care, and provide nutritious food, and read stories, and help with homework, and get up bleary-eyed and go to work, and sock away a little financial buffer. Even men and women whose lives are destitute or desperate, or who are plagued with illness or mental illness, want what is best for their kids.

Religious rhetoric aside, we all know that parenting begins before conception, not at some magical moment when a sperm penetrates an egg. We know that the timing and circumstances of birth can shape the course of a child’s life. Mindful of our own limits, most of us try to time and limit our pregnancies, and we sometimes end them, so that we can bring our kids into the world under the best possible conditions available to us, with enough bounty to thrive.

Real pro-life passion is more than just lipstick on a pig in a clerical collar. It means thinking about what makes life so precious to all of us, regardless of our religion or circumstances. It means doing what we can to create genuine reproductive empowerment so that perhaps, someday, all children will come into loving families who are ready to welcome them with open arms.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

No Guns Allowed at GOP Convention

No guns allowedLibtard policies” put good guys—stripped of their guns–at risk.

If the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun—or better yet, lots of good guys with guns—then it goes without saying that the contentious GOP convention should be prickling with weapons: rock hard glocks, pen-sized pistols, and a whole array of AKs strapped across the backs of brave men who are ready to spray anything that moves with a shower of lead.

With threats on all sides, from Muslims and Blacks to feminists and federal wildlife agents, the only way to make America safer again is more guns. So we are told after each mass shooting. Surely the GOP wouldn’t hold their convention in a place that fails to allow the kind of enhanced security that is so dear to conservative hearts, so core to the Republican political agenda, and so necessary to keep Americans safe.

Four months ago, a Second Amendment activist or troll going by the moniker Hyperationalist realized that Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, site of the GOP convention, bans firearms on the premises. It’s the equivalent of the Democrats holding their convention at a place that bans collective bargaining for its workers, and Hyperationalist was outraged. He created a Change.com petition, quoting the NRA about the dangers of “gun-free zones” and demanding that Quicken Loans Arena change their policy, at least for the convention.

This is a direct affront to the Second Amendment and puts all attendees at risk. As the National Rifle Association has made clear, “gun-free zones” such as the Quicken Loans Arena are “the worst and most dangerous of all lies.” The NRA, our leading defender of gun rights, has also correctly pointed out that “gun free zones… tell every insane killer in America… (the) safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.” (March 4, 2016 and Dec. 21, 2012)

Although it was unclear at the time whether the petition was the work of an aggrieved gun lover or a public safety advocate trying to make a point, it quickly gathered 55,000 signatures from folks on both sides of the aisle. If the point of the petition was to advance an expansive interpretation of Second Amendment rights, it failed. Republicans who show up at the convention next week with weapons will be stripped at the door of their arsenals, no matter how large or small.

In a July 14 letter to supporters, Hyperationalist conceded:

Apparently in Crooked Hitlary Clinton’s “politically correct” libtard America, some people would rather not be surrounded by high-powered semi-automatic assault weapons with high-capacity cartridges—and so the oppressive policies of Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s regime remain in place.

If the point of the petition was to show the public that Republican rhetoric about more guns making us all safer is utter bullshit, then it succeeded wildly, because the contrast between what Republican policy makers say they believe and actually believe couldn’t be on brighter display.

Republican leaders know full well that a convention hall teaming with mutually antagonistic adrenalin-jacked open- and concealed-carriers could be the safety equivalent of a convention hall decorated with gas cans and matchboxes. They may sell their souls for NRA dollars—they may be willing to sacrifice the 33,000 Americans a year who die from guns (interactive graphic here from Nate Silver), but they’re too hypocritical to actually put their own bodies on the line. Confronted with the prospect of their own mortality, they know that the right to life trumps the right to bear arms, even if they’re too candy ass to say it.

These are the people who have been demanding that guns be allowed on college campuses, in hospitals, in churches, in public parks . . . everywhere but the halls of Congress and the RNC. They have proposed that kindergartens would be safer if the teachers were all armed. They have fought for the right of suspects on the terrorism-watch and no-fly lists to stockpile firepower.

But they couldn’t bother to take on Quicken Loans or move their convention elsewhere because, in reality, they want the kind of safety they’re unwilling to grant to rest of us. They want to know that if someone around them is struck by a fit of rage or temporary insanity, or falls into a black hole of paranoia and decides he is surrounded by the hordes of evil, or wants to suicide in front of a bank of cameras, or aspires to go down in history as a hero or anti-hero—he’s going to have to pull off mass murder with his bare hands. They want to know that, to the best of professional standards, the crowd of strangers around them is unarmed, because they know that most bad guys with guns are good guys with guns until the moment they point at an innocent person and pull the trigger.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

Jerry Falwell’s Endorsement of Trump Reveals Who He Worships—And It Ain’t Jesus

If believing oneself to be the Only Begotten Son of God makes one a follower of Jesus, then maybe Trump qualifies. Either way, Jerry Falwell has a truth problem.

On Tuesday, January 26, Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, endorsed Donald Trump for President, saying that Trump is “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” The endorsement is no surprise: Falwell had previously likened Trump to his own father and even to Jesus himself, saying “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.”

Is Trump a faithful follower of Jesus?

Set aside for the moment the fact that he’s biblically illiterate. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify him. In fact, research suggests that atheists typically perform better on tests of religious knowledge than Christians do. So, maybe the fact that Trump can’t name a favorite verse, can’t decide whether the Old Testament or New is more important, and doesn’t know how to pronounce 2 Corinthians, is just a way of establishing credibility among the faithful. Same reason he uses a 4th grade vocabulary. Clever guy, that Trump.

But let’s take a look at what Falwell said about the Great Commandment.

What is the Great Commandment?

Falwell’s effusive words reference a story from the book of Matthew. In it, the Pharisees, who are the religious authorities of the time, ask Jesus which is the greatest of all the commandments in the Torah. Levitical law recommends capital punishment for 30 different felonies, so some legitimate moral confusion could arise: Is sassing your parents really as bad sex before marriage, being a witch, or committing murder? And faced with an offense, what’s a decent person to do? In the words of the now-famous “Dr. Laura Letter,”

“I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?”

As I said, the long list of Levitical crimes and punishments can be confusing, but in Matthew’s story, the Pharisees are just trying to trick Jesus into saying one sin is worse than the rest so that they can show he’s a bad Jew. But Jesus slips the noose by answering that the whole of the Torah can be summed up in two principles: 1. Love God with all your heart; 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The way you know you’re doing well on Commandment 1 is if you’re doing well on Commandment 2.

Love your neighbor as yourself? That’s a high bar for a guy whose narcissistic personality disorder is so florid that experts have broken the normal professional taboo against diagnosing a public figure. Clinical psychologist and professor George Simon told the press,

“He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics. Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”

Epic Fail

Ok, ok, so love your neighbor as yourself is a stratospherically-high bar for a narcissist, rather like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Some would argue that it’s an impossible (or unhealthy) bar even for those of us without personality disorders. How about some of the other teachings that have made Jesus a figure of inspiration for the last 2000 years?

Jesus says blessed are the meek (Matthew 5:5). Trump boasts that he’s so popular that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Jesus advocates nonviolence (Matthew 5:39). Trump vows to use brute force against America’s enemies, and then take their assets to pay for the war. “To the victor belong the spoils.” He promises to strengthen the military so that it’s “so big and so strong and so great” that “nobody’s going to mess with us.” At Liberty University, he championed gun ownership, telling Christian college students, “We’ve got to have the right to protect ourselves.”

Jesus says not to call other people names (Matthew 5:22). Trump has made headlines with his public insults of (among others)  Fox reporter Megan Kelly, disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski, competing presidential candidates, and the people of Iowa.

Jesus says give all your money to the poor and come follow me (Luke 18:22). Trump’s tax returns show him to be one of America’s least charitable billionaires, “a miser, not an ‘ardent philanthropist’.”

Jesus spends his time among the poor, living as one of them (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Trump’s opulent Manhattan penthouse and Palm Beach estate rival the quarters of Marie Antoinette.

Jesus heals the sick (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Trump vows to take away an insurance program that has made healthcare accessible to 10 million Americans.

Jesus welcomes the downtrodden. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Trump envisions an “artistically beautiful” wall of steel rebar and hardened concrete along the southern border of the United States. “I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Jesus says not to shirk taxes, even if you don’t agree with the government (Mark 12:13-17). While promising to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, Trump pledges to cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations.

Jesus heals a woman who practices a despised minority religion, affirming her faith (Matthew 15:21-28). Trump intends to create a database of Muslims in America and suspend further immigration.

Jesus teaches that sometimes a “Samaritan,” a member of a despised minority, can show us how to live and love better (Luke 10:25-37). Trump proposes halting immigration from war-torn Syria and shipping 11 million Latin Americans back to the countries they came from.

Jesus willingly endures the criticism of his detractors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Offended at being asked hard, critical questions by conservative Fox journalist Megan Kelly, Trump announced he would refuse to participate in any debate where she was a moderator.

Falwell might have gotten away with likening Trump to Jehovah–the petty, racist, sexist, war-mongering, temper-tantruming God of the Old Testament who seeks constant adoration. But Jesus is a different character.  If believing oneself the Only Begotten Son of God makes one a follower of Jesus, then maybe Trump qualifies. Otherwise, the two have as little in common as Napoleon and Gandhi.

Either way, Jerry Falwell has a serious truthiness issue—which in biblical terms raises questions about who he really worships. In the Bible, one of the core attributes of God is truth, while Satan is described as the Father of Lies—one who can even appear as a divine messenger.

Needless to say, a liar, whether human or supernatural, can appear as a divine messenger only to those who believe in such things. Perhaps that is why few people other than conservative Christians have been swayed by Falwell’s adoration of a man who so obviously is Not Like Jesus.

If Liberty University students are paying attention, Falwell’s endorsement of Trump may help some of them realize why so many former Bible believers now stand on the outside, refusing to take our guidance from self-proclaimed messengers of God and instead assessing presidential candidates and university presidents alike through the lens of our own reason and conscience.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

The Sex-Negative Message in the Virgin Birth—It’s Worth a Family Conversation

The birth story of baby Jesus celebrates the promise of new life, but for girls it also sends a harmful message. How can we acknowledge this without spoiling the rest?

Most Americans, even many who are not very religious, look forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate warmth, friendship, generosity and good cheer. Familiar festivities weave together stories and traditions from many cultures, which makes it easy to find something for everyone. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer at the Christmas story itself.

The birth story of the baby Jesus is heartwarming and iconic—the promise of new life and new hope in a time of darkness. It has inspired centuries of maternal art and is the best loved of all Bible stories. It also has a darker subtext, especially for someone like me—the mother of two daughters.

In the story, an angel appears to a virgin girl, announcing that she will conceive a baby boy. Her fiancé Joseph decides to stick with her only because her baby bump is of divine origins. The author of Luke makes a point of telling us that he refrains from sex with her till after the baby Jesus is born. All of this emphasis on Mary’s sexual history, or rather lack thereof, sends a message that can be shaming and harmful: Only an unbedded, unsullied, unused female—a virgin—could be good enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.

Virginity Equals Purity

Girls who have sex are soiled. That may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we see a picture of Madonna and child or hear a Christmas carol, but the message is clear all the same, and the fact that it is subtext may make it all the more insidious for young women.

Mind you, Christianity is not the only religion that has assigned such extraordinary status to the pristine vagina or, conversely, treated female sexuality as something lesser or tainted. For example, Buddha’s mother Maya, called the “best of all women,” becomes pregnant after a god in a dream enters her womb from the side. Adding insult to injury, Buddhism tells us that a

“Bodisat leaves his mother’s womb erect and unsoiled, like a preacher descending from a pulpit or a man from a ladder, erect, stretching out his hands and feet, unsoiled by any impurities from contact with his mother’s womb, pure and fair, and shining like a gem placed on fine muslin of Benares.” — Mahapadana-sutra, Digha ii. 12

In the Ancient Near East, the birthplace of Christianity, some cultures saw the woman’s body as a vessel for a baby, which grew from the seed of a man or sometimes a supernatural being, much as a seed might grow in the earth. In this way of thinking, heroes and powerful men must have come from divine seed, and claims of a sexless conception underscored their supernatural origins. The Pharaoh Amenhotep III, Perseus, Romulus . . . even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great all were the subject of miraculous birth claims.

Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe

The enormous value that patriarchal cultures and religions place on female virginity has roots in biology. We’ve all heard the saying, “Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe.” From time immemorial men have sought to control female sexuality to ensure that the children in which they invest their time, money and life energy are their own; and also to maximize their own offspring. Male animals of some other species do the same. For example, when a new male lion comes into a pride, he may kill all of the cubs from the previous male, which brings the females into heat so that he himself can mate them.

Man’s Instincts Become God’s Edicts

In the tribal, herding cultures of the Near East a young woman’s sexuality—her ability to produce purebred offspring of known origin—was an asset that belonged to her father. In the Hebrew Bible’s legal code, a rapist can be forced to purchase the goods he has damaged and to then keep her as a wife. A girl who voluntarily destroys this family asset by having sex before her wedding is to be stoned—the same penalty that persists in Islam today.

A woman’s reproductive capacity is also valuable booty of war. In the battle between the Israelites and Midianites, for example, God’s messenger instructs that the Israelites are to kill all of the women who have been with a man but to keep the virgin girls for themselves. (These and other horrible references here.)

Culture and religion transform biological urges into legally binding prescriptions from God himself. Once that happens, patterns that may have started for practical or biological reasons take on a momentum of their own, and we see this in the history of the Virgin Mary.

The Sexless Union of Israel and Rome

The earliest sects of Christianity disagreed with each other about when and how Jesus became uniquely divine. Some believed that he was adopted by God at the time of his baptism or resurrection. But as Christianity, with its Hebrew roots, adapted to the cultures of the Roman Empire, the story of a supernatural, sexless birth won out. It beautifully merged the god-man tradition of the Empire with Judaism’s obsessive and multifaceted focus on purity—pure bloodlines, pure foods, unblemished bodies, monotheism, unblended fabrics, and, of course, virginity.

The Roman Catholic Church took the last of these new heights, turning Mary into a perpetual virgin for life and then for all of eternity, and eventually making vows of sexual abstinence a requirement of monastic life and the priesthood.

Actress Julia Sweeney, in her funny, tender monologue, Letting Go of God, describes an encounter with two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. Finding herself incredulous at some their beliefs, she pictures door-to-door Catholics enthusiastically endorsing the faith of her childhood:

If someone came to my door and I was hearing Catholic theology and dogma for the first time, and they said, “We believe that God impregnated a very young girl without the use of intercourse, and the fact that she was a virgin is maniacally important to us . . .” I would have thought that was equally ridiculous. I’m just so used to that story.

Aphrodesia or Death

“Maniacally important” may be a quirky Julia Sweeney turn of phrase, but it contains an oversized grain of truth. The Catholic pantheon of saints and martyrs is peopled with females who, with Mary as their model of virtuous womanhood, valued their virginity (and their chaste yet semi-sexual devotion to Jesus) more than their lives: St. Agatha, in an attempt to break her virtuous resolve, was handed over to Aphrodesia, “an abominable woman, who, together with her daughters, publicly professed immodesty.” St. Lucy, “was yet very young when she offered to God the flower of her virginity.” St. Barbara’s “father, carrying out her death sentence, beheaded her himself, and in turn, legend says, was consumed by a fire from heaven;” and St. Ursula, was martyred on a prenuptial pilgrimage with 11,000 other virgins!

The glories of female virginity have spawned tributes ranging from paintings to pilgrimages and poetry to place names. Christopher Columbus christened the Virgin Islands in honor of St. Ursula and her untouched entourage, while the State of Virginia was named after England’s Elizabeth, “The Virgin Queen.” Virginia remains a popular girl’s name in the U.S., along with a host of variants such as Ginny, Ginger, Gina, Lagina, and Gigi. All of these mean chaste, fresh and maidenly—virginal.

Promise Rings and Purity Balls

Protestant Christianity is a rebel offspring of the Vatican, and even though the Protestant reformers rejected the cult of Mary, Catholicism’s supreme value on female chastity was deeply imbedded in their DNA, where it persists to this day. Among the more quixotic manifestations are purity balls and promise rings through which a young girl can pledge her maidenhead to her father for safekeeping until such time as he should hand it over to a mutually agreeable young man.

The image of a girl in a white dress dancing with her daddy, like a beautiful painting of Madonna and child, may evoke a feeling of sweet nostalgia. But rituals and icons like these are artistic residual of the ancient Near Eastern culture in which women (along with children and slaves and livestock) were literally possessions of men. As writer Jessica Valenti outlines in her book, The Purity Myth, they are the bright surface of a dark, deep cultural current that denies and shames women’s sexuality.

A woman used is a woman soiled. A woman raped is a woman ruined. A girl who explores her body with a boy is a licked lollypop. A divorced woman shouldn’t get married in white. Only an unbedded and so unsullied female—a virgin—could be pure enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.

Beyond Virginity

How can sex-positive people who also enjoy Christmas affirm what it means to be fully female, including the physical pleasures of the female body, not merely its reproductive potential? How can all of us teach our daughters that their bodies are wholesome and beautiful, whether or not they have been molested or assaulted or have had sexual experiences of their own choosing? How can we help to break down the harmful virgin-whore dichotomy, with the only alternative being asexual motherhood?

Some Christian theologians have returned to emphasizing the earliest Christ birth narratives, in which Jesus came into the world in the normal way. Two Church fathers, Origin and Justin Martyr, mention sects of Christians who believed Jesus was the natural son of Mary and Joseph. The Apostle Paul and even the writer of Luke appear to have held this perspective, and the virgin birth is now thought to be a late addition to the gospel narratives.

Episcopal priest, Chloe Breyer summarizes the long history of Christian debate over the virgin birth in her article, “The Earthly Father.” Even after virgin birth stories emerged, a countervailing illegitimacy tradition persisted for centuries. By the time the Bible congealed in the fourth century, such perspectives were considered heretical, but they have been revived in recent years. Such arguments admittedly go against the current, but they show that belief in a virgin birth—with all that implies about female sexuality—is not necessary to Christianity or to appreciating many kinds of symbolism in Christmas story.

Progressive Christians, do not treat the Bible as the literally perfect word of God but instead understand it as a human-made set of documents containing moral and spiritual insights (and failings) of our ancestors. Secularists, though they may not prize the Bible, understand all sacred texts in this way, which allows us to glean through, keeping the parts that fit and treating the rest as a window into human history and psychology.

For those who share this mindset, whether or not they retain some belief in the supernatural, the Christmas story and season offer valuable opportunities to open up conversation with young people about many aspects of humanity’s long moral arc, including perspectives on the female body. Simply leaving youth to internalize negative messages about sexuality or waiting for them to bring up awkward topics is asking them to do our job. The wise parent or aunt or friend tunes in to readiness and explores ideas and values as opportunities arise. Perhaps one of your gifts during this holiday season could be the gift of a conversation.

Originally published at Valerie Tarico.com

Republican Talking Heads Claim Talk has no Power to Influence Beliefs and Behavior

Who incited Christian terrorism?  Not me.  Couldn’t be.

In what could be the greatest hypocrisy in a season of head-spinners, Christianist Republicans—from presidential candidates to congressmen to Fox News bimbos to sleazy video-splicers and wild-eyed sidewalk ranters-with-rosaries—are scrambling to deny that what they say actually matters.

Specifically they claim that they had nothing to do with a shooting rampage at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs.

Never mind that conservative Christians in high places have been fanning flames for months, calling women and care providers murderers, pretending to believe Planned Parenthood kills big-eyed babies and sells body parts for profit. Never mind that we call such language “incendiary” because it is incendiary. They are shocked-shocked-I-say, that some wingnut in Colorado actually took their becking at face value and opened fire in a family planning clinic.  Who could have possibly known that all that posturing and lying for political gain might affect someone’s behavior?!  Uh, I mean, it didn’t! It couldn’t. It was just talk!

Did anyone other than the guilty parties themselves fail to notice the bizarre irony here?  The people now hastening to assure us that talk doesn’t matter are people who earn big salaries talking. We refer to them as talking heads because that’s what they do, day in and day out, month in and month out.  Talk, talk, talk. Why?  Because like all bullies they (and the folks who bankroll them) are betting that words actually can hurt you.

Those most carefully denying any relation between talk and murder are politicians who spend years speechifying in order to change voter behavior, assisted by well-paid communications experts who the big bucks because tweaking words slightly might affect what voters do. They are pulpit pounders who siphon off 10 percent of churchgoer earnings on the premise that by talking to and for God they can influence beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Talk can save souls. In fact, in the Iron Age mythology of the Bible, it can bring whole worlds into existence.  In the beginning was the word. 

But a bloodbath incited by mere words? Stochastic terrorism? A crazy lone wolf who reacts predictably to the fear and fury of the pack? Words erupting into violent action and reaction? Words shattering into the staccato of gun fire, into screams of terror and anguish? Words slurring into the soft gurgle of the dying? Couldn’t be.

Someone should tell America’s politicians, ad men, preachers and campaign consultants to pack up and get jobs where they actually have some influence. If, as they claim, they’re not capable of getting one crazed wingnut among millions to pick up a gun and open fire after months of professionally crafted goading and millions of dollars of airtime, they don’t deserve their big salaries.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

Will At-Home Therapeutic Miscarriage Make Abortion Clinics Obsolete?

Medication abortionAt the turn of the millennium, the FDA approved a pill that could replace most abortions with early at-home therapeutic miscarriage.  When will that potential be realized? 

Fifteen years ago, in September of the year 2000, the FDA approved a French pill known at the time as RU-486 that offered women a safe, inexpensive alternative to clinic-based abortion. Better known by the name mifepristone or mife (rhymes with spiffy), the pill triggers the body’s natural process for rejecting an ill-conceived pregnancy.

When a woman’s reproductive system is working normally, most fertilized eggs either fail to implant or spontaneously abort—a process designed to cull pregnancies that are unlikely to produce healthy babies. This natural process of spontaneous abortion (the medical term for miscarriage) is imperfect, but it stacks the odds in favor of thriving children and families. Therapeutic miscarriage, which has the same goal, makes the process voluntary, allowing rational decision-making to enter the equation.

After mife blocks the hormone progesterone, the lining of a woman’s uterus releases any attached embryonic sac and begins a shedding cycle. Coupled with a second medication, misoprostol, mife provides the most effective means of ending a pregnancy prior to seven weeks and it works well throughout the first trimester. For most women, the experience is like a very bad menstrual period—the kind with cramps, clots, heavy bleeding, nausea and so forth—definitely unpleasant but within the range of normal.  (True fact: Many times when a woman experiences unusually heavy period cramps and bleeding she is going through an early, spontaneous abortion.)

Dire Predictions and High Hopes

At the time mife came on the market, conservative Christians warned that it would increase the number of abortions.  It hasn’t. Health advocates predicted that it would replace clinic-based abortion with early, at-home therapeutic miscarriage. That hasn’t happened either. Today, mife is used for a third of U.S. abortions up to nine weeks, with most women still relying on clinic-based procedures. But medical experts believe that the potential of mife is largely unrealized—that many of today’s abortion procedures could be replaced by earlier, less intrusive, and less expensive at-home therapeutic miscarriage.

Safety not the Barrier 

To date, more than two million American women have used mife to end an unwanted pregnancy. The drug was approved in France in 1988 and is now used globally for early pregnancy termination; a quarter century of data show that it is highly safe and effective. In about two percent of cases the medication fails to cause a complete abortion and the woman requires an aspiration procedure—as can happen with spontaneous miscarriage as well.  About 4 in 1000 women will experience a serious infection or blood loss that requires hospital treatment, a rate that is much lower than comparable risk associated with full-term pregnancy.

Improvement in Clinic-based Abortion  

One reason that many women prefer to simply schedule an abortion is that abortion procedures themselves have improved significantly in the last generation. A retired Seattle doctor tells the story of a young woman decades ago who asked partway through her abortion, “Where are the whirring blades?” The doctor marveled at the patient’s courage and determination—she had scheduled and gone through with the procedure despite thinking that “whirring blades” were somehow involved—but assured her that the then-standard D&C required no such thing.

Today the D&C itself isn’t required for a first trimester abortion, which typically extracts an egg sac smaller and softer than a cherry.  An early abortion procedure can be completed with a small disposable hand-held aspirator, not quite as simple or cheap as a turkey baster, but operating on the same principle. In contrast to an induced miscarriage, which takes place over the course of several days, the aspiration procedure can be as short as ten minutes. That makes it an important option for women who, once their minds are made up, simply prefer to get the procedure done.

Obstruction and Unnecessary Restrictions 

Some women may always prefer a quick clinic-based procedure over an at-home process that takes several days, however private and convenient the latter may be.  But the main reason many choose clinic-based abortion procedures today is that conservative politicians have erected a barricade of “health regulations” that have nothing to do with health and everything to do with obstructing access to misoprostol.  These regulations take what should be a simple prescription—take 1 pill this afternoon and 4 tomorrow and call if you have any concerns—and turn it into a regimen that is complicated, expensive, and difficult to access. That is their purpose. They also cause women to delay abortions past the window in which at-home therapeutic miscarriage would be safe and effective, forcing them to seek later, clinic-based procedures.

The rules now regulating misoprostol have turned what should be an evaluation, followed by at-home pill-swallowing and self-monitoring, into a process that is every bit as cumbersome as outpatient surgery. Depending on state rules:

  • A woman may be required to make multiple clinic visits days apart.
  • She may be required to actually swallow the pills in the presence of a physician.
  • A doctor may be forced to prescribe more medication than is necessary, based on an outdated procedure with more side effects.
  • Advanced practice clinicians like physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners may be barred from assessing pregnancy status or administering mife and misoprostol, even though World Health Organization guidelines and research indicate that they are perfectly qualified to do so.
  • The office in which the medications are given may be required to have an operating suite and halls in which two gurneys can pass, even though no surgery is being performed there.
  • The doctor may be required to watch the patient swallow the pills in the operating theater.
  • Telemedicine prescribing of mife may be specifically prohibited by law, even though this has been shown to be a safe and effective option for women in rural and underserved communities and to drop the number of second trimester abortions.

In sum, women don’t opt for early at-home therapeutic miscarriage because it is not available to them as an option.

Looking to the Future

Would more women choose at-home miscarriage over clinic-based abortion procedures if obstructions were removed? Certainly religious conservatives think so, or they would not have introduced hundreds of obstructive laws in recent years with the goal of forcing women to undergo more appointments and procedures in order to end a pregnancy. Self-proclaimed abortion foes who publicly talk about viability and fetal pain show little interest in helping women transition from later to earlier terminations, those that take place at the embryonic “lentil” or “bean” stage, long before pain or viability becomes a question.

Nor do they show any interest in preventing the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion. Today’s top tier contraceptives drop the abortion rate by over ninety percent. In a St. Louis study of nearly 10,000 women, the percentage drop in abortions almost perfectly matched the percentage of women who switched to long-acting “set and forget” contraceptives. I have written elsewhere about what a serious anti-abortion movement would look like—and how it would leverage advances in pregnancy prevention. But given a choice between clinic-based abortion and pregnancy prevention, self-proclaimed abortion foes choose more abortion every time. The recent attempt to defund everything that Planned Parenthood does except abortion care speaks for itself.

One great irony of the culture wars is that the most staunch defenders and providers of abortion care are also those doing the most to make abortion need dwindle into history, while the most staunch critics disdain and discredit family planning technologies and undermine access—driving demand for clinic-based abortion in an all-or-nothing bid to control female sexuality. But despite the obstructions, word has gotten out that women have options; and despite obstacles, women seek them out—determined to live the lives of their choosing and to stack the odds in favor of their children, their families, and our world. Despite—not because of— conservative obstructionism, both unintended births and abortions are declining as reproductive empowerment grows.

Dr. Daniel Grossman of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research program at the University of California, San Francisco, is a tireless advocate for options including over-the-counter birth control pills, emergency contraception, “set and forget” IUDs and implants, and—when all else fails—abortion care.  He shares one opinion in common with his conservative opponents:  If obstacles are removed, more women will choose the privacy and convenience of at-home therapeutic miscarriage over clinic-based abortion. “What is the ideal ‘perfect’ proportion of medication abortion?” Grossman asks. He goes on to say, “We don’t know.  I think if women are given a true choice, at least half of eligible abortions would be medication abortion.”

One pill the first day, four to follow, have someone pamper you, pay attention to how you feel, call me. 

Will that put abortion clinics out of business? Not in the near term.

But in the long run, the men and women now providing abortion care may find themselves increasingly able to devote their energy to pregnancy planning and prenatal services. Clinic-based abortion procedures likely will dwindle as more women have access to at-home therapeutic miscarriage. Add that to the fact that abortions of all kinds will plummet as young women switch over to IUDs and implants—and by 2030, the familiar 1-in-3 statistic and the stand-alone abortion clinic may be a distant memory.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

If the Anti-Abortion Frenzy Were Actually about Abortion . . . What a Serious Anti-Abortion Movement Would Actually Look Like

Forty years after Roe v. Wade, the Pro-life movement is a radical failure by the very metrics that abortion foes cite to inspire their base. What would a real anti-abortion movement look like?

U.S. women have obtained nearly 53 million legal abortions since 1973. That is because self-described abortion foes ignore or oppose the most powerful strategies for making abortion obsolete. The anti-abortion movement is dominated by religious fundamentalists whose determination to control sex—who has it, with whom, for what purpose—takes priority over their desire to reduce abortions. This focus has seriously interfered with eliminating the supply and demand for abortion services.

If the top priority of the Pro-life movement actually were to end abortion, both tactics and results would be radically different. Imagine a fictional person whose chief life goal is to reduce abortion by, say, 90 percent over the next twenty years. This person might devoutly believe that every fertilized egg has a soul and that fetal demise is a tragedy; or he/she might simply think that abortion is an expensive, invasive, emotionally-complex medical procedure that should be made obsolete. Either way, this person believes that moving society beyond abortion is the most valuable cause to which he or she can devote a lifetime.

It might come as a surprise to the audience of today’s anti-abortion theater—but our protagonist’s goal is attainable. Armed with just the information and technologies available today, someone genuinely committed to reducing abortion by 90 percent in 20 years could map out a plan to get there—and even make people’s lives better in the process.

Skeptical? Let me map it out. When someone gets serious about building an effective beyond-abortion campaign the strategic plan will look something like this:

Serious beyond-abortion advocates will ensure that all Americans have the knowledge and means to prevent the kind of pregnancies that lead to abortion.  

    1. Since many parents had poor role models for birds and bees conversations, serious anti-abortion activists will promote programs that help parents to overcome discomfort and create healthy, age-appropriate conversations about genitalia, sexual health, sexual pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.

      Conversations between children and trusted adults delay the onset of sexual activity while increasing the percent of sexually-active teens who protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy (and so the need for abortion). Therefore, serious anti-abortion activists will help parents build trust and credibility on sexual matters. Despite the discomfort of aging traditionalists, who might prefer to avoid frank conversations about sex, serious anti-abortion activists will keep their eye on their prize, which is fewer abortions.
    2. Since preventing abortion is a higher priority for them than promoting chastity, serious anti-abortion activists will promote open, honest conversations about sex within religious communities.

      Approximately 85% of Christian youth have sex before marriage and the rate of abortion is as high among Christian believers as non-Christians, so beyond-abortion advocates will work diligently to ensure that Christian young people are equipped to manage their fertility and thus initiate pregnancy only when they are prepared to carry forward a new life.Because beyond-abortion activists are single-mindedly intent on reducing abortion, they will take to heart the social science research showing that shaming—for example through abstinence-only sermons, books and classes—drives down intimate conversations and preparations for safer sex while doing little to delay or reduce more impulsive sexual activity. They will recognize that guilt and shame about normal sexual urges can lead to denial, wishful-thinking, church-avoidance and impulsive high-risk behaviors. They are also committed to helping young people understand and manage sexual desire and pleasure rather than simply trying to suppress those urges, which has been shown not to work. They will challenge old attitudes that treat youth contraception as “premeditated sin” or pregnancy as a punishment and will instead help young Christians to explore the spirit and purpose of ancient chastity laws. They will develop faith-compatible programs like Our Whole Lives, which was created by the Unitarian Church to integrate thoughtful, responsible family planning with other spiritual and moral wisdom.
    3. Serious beyond-abortion advocates will treat the school system as part of the sexual education “village.”

      To quote a research summary from Advocates for Youth: “Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use . . . teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.”Recognizing that some families struggle with addiction, mental illness and other challenges that keep kids from getting excellent health information and care and recognizing that some children suffer unwanted sexual contact at home, serious anti-abortion activists will support school efforts to fill knowledge gaps. They will invest in accountable, effective sexual health curricula demonstrated to delay sexual initiation and reduce risky sexual behavior (as measured by self-report, STIs, pregnancy and abortion). They will also lobby for age-appropriate education that starts long before youth become sexually active. When public dollars are limited, they will fund these materials and programs through charitable giving. Beyond-abortion advocates will insist that family planning be integrated into educational and career planning, not because this helps students attain their goals but because preventing surprise pregnancy prevents abortion.
    4. Serious beyond-abortion activists will recognize that attempts to restore traditional gender roles and the traditional family formation sequence (education-marriage-sex-childbearing) have largely failed. They will also recognize that abortion prevention must adapt to a shifting pattern of pair bonding and family formation. Expanding beyond abstinence-till-marriage, they will deploy whatever tools are necessary to reduce the pregnancies that lead to abortion.

      For over 20 years, advocates for child well-being promoted a return to traditional marriage as a means to ensure that parents get ready before getting pregnant. Lead advocate, Isobel Sawhill (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Generation Unbound) concedes that the changes in family structure are likely irreversible and that new methods are needed to support well-timed pregnancy and family flourishing. To reduce abortions, serious anti-abortion activists will adopt a pragmatic approach to intentional childbearing and family well-being, including community services for young families and access to better birth control.
    5. Serious anti-abortion activists will drive a technology revolution in contraception—from every-day and every-time birth control methods to long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and implants that radically reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion.

      Long-acting contraceptives are the most dramatically-effective means to date of reducing demand for abortion. A St. Louis program that offered top-tier, long-acting contraceptives to 9,000 women and youth dropped unwanted pregnancy and abortion to less than half the local average. A Colorado program that provided long-acting contraceptives to sexually-active teens reduced teen pregnancy and abortion by 40 and 35 percent respectively. Serious anti-abortion activists will challenge the false perception that these methods work to end rather than prevent pregnancy and instead promote the science-based awareness that these methods are true contraceptives with bonus health benefits. They will work to reform liability practices that undermine development and distribution of better birth control.
    6. Serious anti-abortion activists will ensure that young and poor women in marginalized communities have access to excellent reproductive health services free of charge, since these are the youth and women with the highest rates of unplanned pregnancy.

      While unsought pregnancy and abortion are declining for middle and upper middle income families, they are on the increase among those least able to absorb the impact of another child. But making excellent contraception available to teens at no cost can drop the abortion rate by three quarters. As is, Title X family planning services prevent 2.2 million unplanned pregnancies yearly, without which the abortion rate would be two-thirds higher.Drawing on tested models like A Step Ahead in Memphis, serious anti-abortion activists will create programs that recognize the complexity and financial challenges of life in poor communities. These programs will provide rapid response, single-visit services and they will systematically eliminate financial barriers to better birth control. They will address anxiety (and contraceptive avoidance) that is due to forced sterilizations and other bad history and ensure that women are freely able to choose and switch contraceptive methods, as well as have them removed as desired.
    7. Serious anti-abortion activists will insist that medical practices be updated so that family planning becomes a routine part of adolescent medicine, family practice, prenatal care, and hospital labor and delivery services.

      Women and men are most likely to engage in effective pregnancy prevention when primary care providers and other doctors routinely assess family plans and fertility management as a part of all medical care. Serious anti-abortion activists will promote innovative and effective programs that treat pregnancy intentions like one more vital sign for both healthy and chronically-ill patients. They will ensure that continuing education programs teach doctors how (and why) to include family planning conversations in prenatal care and birthing services. They will monitor hospitals and other care systems to ensure that the best fertility management options are available on patient request.
    8. As both unintended pregnancy and abortion decline, serious anti-abortion activists will ensure that any woman who does end up with a surprise pregnancy will never be driven by financial or educational or career concerns to terminate that pregnancy.

      Forty percent of women seeking abortions cite financial concerns as a factor in their decision to end a pregnancy. Serious anti-abortion activists will tackle structural barriers to broad family prosperity including policies that create income inequality and cause families to fall out of the middle class. They champion family-friendly workplace norms and public policies including maternity leave, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and mom-friendly education alternatives for youth and women who decide to carry forward a surprise pregnancy.
    9. Serious abortion advocates will work to minimize maternal health problems and fetal anomalies by promoting pre-conception care and prenatal care and by ensuring that fertility management is integrated into care for chronic conditions such as diabetes and HIV.

      Only a small percent of abortion is triggered by threats to maternal health and life, or by fetal anomalies, but serious anti-abortion activists will work to prevent these difficult situations. They will raise awareness that preconception care can prevent some fetal anomalies and maternal health risks and they will make sure that medically-compromised women receive integrated care so that high-risk pregnancies occur only when a woman or couple actively wants a baby.
    10. With an eye to the future, serious anti-abortion activists will aggregate $200 million in philanthropic dollars, public research funds and investment capital to develop better birth control for men and take it to market.

      A man is involved in every pregnancy and men are involved in many abortion decisions, but today male contraceptives lag behind female contraceptives by almost a century. As of 2015, the best reversible method for women has an annual pregnancy rate of 1 in 2000, while the best for men (the condom) has a 1 in 6 annual pregnancy rate. Serious anti-abortion activists will recognize that giving men better means to manage their fertility will result in fewer surprise pregnancies and fewer abortions.

Forty years after Roe v. Wade, the Pro-life movement is a radical failure by the very metrics that abortion foes cite to inspire their base—or would be if the goal were actually to eliminate abortion. Unintended pregnancy and abortion are in decline, thanks to a number of cultural and economic factors and better birth control. But American care providers still serve over a million women seeking abortions annually and over 900,000 of these women terminate a pregnancy.

Self-described abortion foes in Congress pass copy-cat TRAP laws (targeted restrictions of abortion providers) that drive up the price of abortion care. Other self-proclaimed abortion foes have launched a multi-year “yuck factor” media campaign aimed at triggering moral and physical disgust. Still others harry women and care providers, forcing them to walk gauntlets of posters and prayers at clinic entrances or stalking and doxing them online. Indeed, self-proclaimed foes have so stigmatized abortion care that most of us have no idea which third of our female friends have terminated ill-conceived pregnancies.

But, if a half century of evidence from around the globe is to be believed, no amount of shaming or harassing women, nurses and doctors—however well-organized and sustained—will produce anything close to a 90 percent reduction in abortion. Nor will another 800 restrictive laws like those passed in the last twenty years, even if they criminalize women and providers. Such approaches may force some women to carry forward unwanted pregnancies, but their effect is limited by the power of human desperation. Extreme restrictions and stigma in Eastern Europe filled orphanages with unwanted babies but also filled backrooms with bleeding women. In pre-Roe America, compassionate clergy became weary of burying dead parishioners and helped to create an underground railroad to safe. Around the globe, 22 million women each year undergo a back-alley abortion rather than carry yet another unwanted pregnancy to term and over 20,000 pay with their lives. More restrictions, more disgust, more stigma—these may feel righteous to some, but at best they produce an impasse that destroys dreams and hopes and even lives and that satisfies no one.

By contrast, we know what it would take to make most abortion simply go away. Ironically, the upstream solution lies in the common ground between those who oppose abortion care and those who support it—the value we all place on empowering young people to flourish, and parents to love and care for their children. The only question is whether an anti-abortion movement will emerge that takes this challenge seriously.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

42 Splices and Counting: Nine Facts You Should Know About the Planned Parenthood Smear Campaign

Imagine that someone hated you (or your company) and wanted to make you look bad. So, he pretended to be a friend or colleague, went to your events, repeatedly asked you to meetings or lunch, gained your trust, and then spent two years recording private conversations. Could he find stuff that would make you sound like a heartless monster? If you’re like me, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, there’s no way it would take years.

Like me, you probably can think of five things you said in the last week that you would cringe to hear on the evening news. But would a selectively edited patchwork of your worst (or most easily misinterpreted) moments accurately reflect who you are? Almost certainly not.

The scraps of conversation with Planned Parenthood employees that were recorded and released by fundamentalist Christian David Daleiden and his front organization, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), sounded shockingly nasty. But as details of the smear campaign emerge, we probably should be surprised that they didn’t sound worse.

Here are nine facts that put what you heard in context:

42 Splices – According to forensic analysis by Fusion GPS, the first five videos released by Daleiden and CMP, contained 42 splices where sentences were cut and patched to create the appearance of a seamless conversation. By design, these edits changed the meaning of individual sentences as well as the overall conversation. In one example, a Planned Parenthood staffer’s comment about lab protocols was edited to sound like she was talking about abortion procedures. Her words got echoed repeatedly by mainstream media who falsely assumed they knew what she was talking about.

Contradictory Evidence Omitted – In a Colorado interview, a Planned Parenthood employee said 13 times that all fetal tissue donations must be reviewed by attorneys and follow all laws. All 13 times were omitted.

Edits in “Unedited Videos” – The “unedited” videos released along with shorter excerpts were themselves edited, rendering them useless as evidence in legal cases or regulatory hearings.

Thousands of Hours of Recordings – To shock audiences and create the appearance of callous wrongdoing, abortion foes selectively released less than one percent of their recordings, compiling even smaller fragments to create viral videos. By Daleiden’s own report, CMP agents recorded “thousands of hours,” from which they selected the ten or twenty hours of (moderately edited) recordings to obtain a few minutes of (heavily spliced) inflammatory sentences.

Expensive Taxpayer-funded Investigations Find No Wrongdoing – A growing list of government committees in states including Massachusetts, Indiana, South Dakota, Georgia and Pennsylvania have now cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, and in California and Texas lawmakers have also called for investigation of fraud by the Center for Medical Progress.

Yuck Factor – Rather than seeking to expose wrongdoing, the campaign appears optimized to trigger a frenzy of disgust among religious conservatives, activating them for the upcoming campaign cycle. Research suggests that, in contrast to liberals (who base moral judgments primarily on questions of fairness and harm), many conservatives fail to differentiate between physical disgust and morality. Conservative campaigns leverage this fact. Homophobes wielded the “yuck factor” effectively for decades to block gay rights and are deploying the same strategy against reproductive rights. Repeated reference to fetal remains functions as a powerful arousal trigger for the Religious Right.

Gallows Humor – Because black humor is a way people deal with stress, CMP was virtually guaranteed to catch shocking “callous, inappropriate” comments if they recorded long enough. Gruesome humor is particularly common among soldiers, doctors, EMT’s, medical researchers, farmworkers, nurses and others who work around bodily fluids and death. One friend commented that her nurse colleagues will joke rudely about their patients at one moment and then will be crying for the same patients an hour later.

Letting Down – From a psychological standpoint, things we say and do in private (or among trusted, like-minded friends) are particularly vulnerable to being distorted by people with ill intent. That is because we rely on the other person to interpret any given statement within their experience of us. For example, after my bike is stolen, I can safely rant among friends about capital punishment for bike thieves only because my friends and family already carry the rest of the context: they know I oppose capital punishment. A Planned Parenthood employee joking about wanting a Lamborghini relies on the same unspoken understanding.

Not About Abortion – The CMP smear campaign was designed not to reduce abortion but rather to control who has sex, by heightening the threat of pregnancy and STI’s among young women. Secondarily, it was timed to feed Tea Party Republicans fodder for election campaigns . Since public dollars pay for no abortions, defunding Planned Parenthood would eliminate only their preventive care services, including birth control, with the ironic effect of driving up need and demand for abortion. It is part of a broader anti-birth-control campaign aimed at protecting biblical (Iron Age) family structures and gender roles.

Don’t be deceived: The religious conservatives behind the Planned Parenthood smear campaign have shown repeatedly that they are willing to harm women and families and even drive up abortions in order to control the sexuality of females and youth. This isn’t about their hatred of Planned Parenthood, the healthcare nonprofit, it is about their hatred of planned parenthood, with two small “p’s.” It’s about their hatred of the changes in society that allow young people to create the lives and families of their choosing, free from the biological constraints that for most of human history have made pregnancy the price of sex.

Speaking of young people, online youth collective, Ultraviolet, has done a little selective splicing of their own. They just released a video in which Sean Hannity interviews Deleiden about Mike Huckabee’s sale of fetal squish. It is not to be missed.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

The Yuck Factor — What Planned Parenthood Smears, Homophobia, and Middle School Jokes Have in Common

Blood and GutsMedical procedures and research are yucky. Good healthcare means getting over it.

If religious conservatives have their way, reproductive healthcare will be dictated by the same psychology that drives middle school jokes about genitals, dead babies and poop—our instinctive squeamish reaction to things that are disgusting and shocking, especially if they relate to sex. Good thing public health advocates and medical providers have a higher set of priorities.

Each year in America, 650 women die from pregnancy, many leaving behind motherless children. Thousands more survive and thrive only because of “yucky” medical procedures like cesarean sections, hysterectomies, transfusions, and abortions. Given the latest deceptive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, it appears that religious conservatives would rather some of those women died.

Blood, Guts, and the ‘Yuck Factor’

Most of us have little stomach for tasks, however important, that require cutting people open, removing body parts, or dealing with squishy tissue and bodily fluids. That’s why blood and guts are the stuff of horror movies. That is also why the Religious Right wants our national conversation about family planning to stay focused on “the yuck factor” of abortion surgeries rather than on the chosen lives and flourishing families empowered by well-timed, intentional childbearing.

Disgust evolved as a way to protect us against eating and touching things that might make us sick. Swamp water, decaying flesh, putrid food, feces . . . all of these carry pathogens that our ancestors needed to avoid long before people understood germs. Nature’s way of protecting our species was to make certain sights and smells disgusting. We have a similar instinctive revulsion for human forms that are damaged, disfigured, dying or dead. Our instinctive horror makes a mutilated body riveting.

An image or idea that triggers the yuck factor is “sticky” and viral, meaning it sticks in our brains and we are likely to describe or show it to others. The more disgusting something is, the more it rattles us out of the mindless routine of everyday living and creates a strong memory imprint. That is because paying attention to disgust had—and sometimes still has—survival value. As with every other sensation or emotion that grabs our attention, people have learned to take advantage of that.

Turning Instinct into Financial, Religious or Political Gain

Storytellers long ago figured out how to cash in on the yuck factor, turning disgust into gold at the bookseller or box office. From Homer’s Medusa, to Shakespeare’s witches and their brew, to Stoker’s Dracula, to modern zombie movies, the horror artist compels our attention by playing with gruesome details. Halloween merchants sell slime and goo for haunted houses or fake severed limbs and gashed faces because the instinctive disgust reaction is malleable and doesn’t differentiate between substances and situations that are truly dangerous and those that merely look so.

Religions capitalize on disgust by blurring the difference between cleanliness and godliness—in other words by giving disgust moral and spiritual significance. In the Bible, for example, a woman is spiritually unclean while she is menstruating or after delivering a baby, and people with handicaps including crushed testicles are banned from the holiest part of the temple. In Islam, dogs are spiritually, not just physically dirty. In the Hindu tradition, holy men wear white, and spotless clothes represent spiritual purity. In Western Christianity, white wedding dresses have similar significance.

When disgust gets triggered, people may build a cognitive rationale to explain to themselves or others why the disgusting something is bad for other reasons, layering a veneer of rationalizations on top of what is really a gut feeling.

The boundary between disgust and morality is particularly blurry for self-identified conservatives. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies cognitive differences between liberals and conservatives. He found that liberals tend to base moral judgments on questions of harm and equity. Is it fair? Does it hurt anybody? Conservatives value fairness and non-harm too, but they also give moral weight to three other factors: loyalty, purity, and authority. What does my tribe want? Is it disgusting? What do authority figures say? In other words, conservatives are more likely to think something that triggers the yuck feeling is morally wrong, independent of other factors.

Practical and Moral Limitations of Yuck

Disgust works as a reasonably good shortcut to protect us from the dangers it evolved to avert, meaning pathogens and toxins. But even there, it has some real limitations. For example, in Ebola-stricken Africa, culturally-prescribed burial rituals trumped the instinctive aversion to touching dead bodies, which caused the virus to spread. On the other side of the equation, people with non-contagious physical deformities, like the Elephant Man, may face horrible cruelties and rejection.

When it comes to modern medical procedures and emerging technologies like GMO’s, or potable water from sewage, disgust correlates badly or not at all with real risks.

Likewise, moral disgust can arise from religious taboo violations, like eating cheese and meat from the same plate, that have little rational relation to humanity’s shared moral core or threats against wellbeing.

Homophobia and the Yuck Factor

For decades, people seeking queer equality found themselves up against the power of the yuck reaction. Any kind of sex that we ourselves don’t find titillating tends to arouse disgust; and so as long as the thought of queer people evoked images of anal sex between two men, the yuck factor created an almost insurmountable barrier to equality. But as a critical mass of queer people came out of the closet and advocates made the fight about families and love, other moral emotions like empathy and a sense of Golden-Rule fairness moved to front and center, and culture shifted.

Some years back I got schooled on disgusting sex by my middle school daughters. I had broached a conversation about their gay uncle and evangelical relatives who would soon be visiting us. I explained the yuck factor and said, “I might think about gay sex and say it’s not my thing, but they might think that its gross and so morally wrong.” One of the girls responded, “First off, Mom, the word isn’t ‘gay’ it’s ‘queer,’ and secondly, you know what kind of sex we think is really disgusting? Parent sex. That’s why we’re so glad you and Dad haven’t had any in 13 years.”

I chose not to enlighten them.

Today when most Americans think about queer people they think about loving couples, two moms or two dads raising kids, extended families, “sweet” members of the church choir, brave young soldiers, elderly partners making medical care decisions, and more—or they think about their own beloved relatives and friends who are queer. Although some members of the Religious Right may alternate between disgust and arousal (and disgust at their own arousal), conservative sects like the Southern Baptists are struggling and failing to keep disgust front and center even for their own members.

Reproductive Empowerment and the Yuck Factor

The culture shift toward equality for queer people, stands in contrast to the stalled progress around reproductive rights and chosen childbearing.

When it comes to reproductive empowerment for women, the Religious Right has been able to make disgust the dominant emotion by keeping the focus on sexual shaming and on abortion procedures, which are medical and messy. Those of us who see well-timed childbearing as fundamental to gender equality and flourishing families have gotten suckered into fighting on their terms.

Consequently, we are not creating the culture shift needed to make intentional childbearing the new normal, with all of the individual and family and community benefits that would bring. Half of U.S. pregnancies are unsought—either mistimed or unwanted—which makes American rates of teen pregnancy and abortion the highest in the developed world. Chosen pregnancy has been stalled around fifty percent for almost fifty years.

Recently, women have been exhorting each other to come out of hiding and talk about their reproductive decisions including abortions. Like queer people, women and allies understand that a culture of secrecy reinforces shame and stigma. We understand that if mothers and grandmothers stay silent, religious conservatives will control the conversation and hence the options available to our daughters, nieces and granddaughters. Several storytelling projects have sprung up to help women or couplesdefy taboos and break the silence, and brave celebrities, including men, are leading the way as they did prior to Roe vs. Wade. High-integrity electeds like Lucy Flores in New Mexico and Wendy Davis in Texas have risked their political careers and told their abortion stories so that other women may one day do the same.

I honor their courage and think their candor is a step forward. And yet, the drama around abortion has so captured center stage that even brave personal stories may inadvertently reinforce the Religious Right’s framing. We talk about the circumstances of an unsought pregnancy and the medical procedure the rather than the life made possible by access to contraception and care. In doing so, we keep the focus right where the power of yuck is the greatest.

Surgery – What’s the moral story?

Through much of this year, I have been consulting with people who want to communicate more effectively about abortion care, and I sometimes use my experience with knee surgery to illustrate how we can move beyond the yuck factor:

Two years ago, I was using a brush mower to clear an overgrown trail. The mower got stuck on a root and, unthinking, I walked around in front of it and yanked without disengaging the three foot blade. As the wheels hit the root and the front of the mower tipped up, my leg slipped under it.

I will be forever grateful to the surgeons who reassembled my kneecap and sewed up the horror movie gashes.

So, what’s the story of my surgery? Well, certainly one could wax eloquent about the gruesome details of the accident or repair. But for me the real story is this: I can walk again, and even run. I can bicycle downtown. I can sit for long periods writing, and afterwards my knees don’t hurt any more than most do at my age. This winter I even got back on cross country skis with my two daughters and husband in Yellowstone and skied to a frozen waterfall.

Smart, kind doctors and allied health professionals gave me an unspeakable gift. Their day-to-day work may get their hands dirty. It may involve goo and guts and it may even produce human remains that get donated for further medical research. But that is the climax of the story only for juvenile thrill seekers. For me as the patient, my children, my husband, and even my community, the real story is the precious gift of a second chance. It is a story about grace and compassion, love and laughter, beauty, and dreams fulfilled.

The same can be said about my abortion and many others.

Far too often, the fight to protect abortion access focuses on the procedure itself or surrounding circumstances, rather than what comes after. As abortion counselor Charlotte Taft has put it, “I wish that we talked about ‘choices’ instead of ‘choice.’ Because when a woman has an abortion, she isn’t choosing the abortion itself, she is choosing an education, or military service, or her loyalty to the family she already has.” Or to the family she will have, when she’s ready.

Rising Above the Juvenile Fascination with Eew and Goo

In the coming months, with Hillary Clinton as the most viable female presidential candidate in American history, Democrats are queuing up a vigorous conversation about family friendly policies, policies that help children to flourish and that allow women to fully participate in our economy and our democracy. Their aspirations include paid maternity and family leave, more flexible work hours that accommodate parenting, affordable childcare, and better wages for working people at the bottom of the income spectrum (mostly women). But this policy agenda has a glaring omission: to fully participate in our economy and democracy, a woman must be able to manage her fertility.

I have said publicly that I am pro-abortion, not just pro-choice, but I also believe that when advocates think about reproductive empowerment, our minds too often jump to abortion. If we want a future in which children get created when couples feel ready, one in which empowered young women and men can invest in their dreams and stack the odds in favor of their kids, abortion care is just one small (and hopefully shrinking) part of the mix.

Abortion may be minor compared to many routine surgeries, but it is still an expensive, invasive medical procedure that can be emotionally and morally complex. Why mitigate harm if we can prevent it? For the price of one abortion, a woman can get a state-of-the-art IUD or implant that drops her annual pregnancy risk below 1 in 500 for up to 12 years. Access to top tier long acting contraceptives like these dramatically dropped the teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Colorado recently. But better birth control is also just one part of reproductive empowerment.

As I view it, people are trying to get from Point A to Point B in their lives; and abortion is like the guardrail that keeps them from going off the cliff when all else fails. Guardrails save lives. We definitely want them there when people need them. But we also want well-designed roads with lines down the middle, and cars with excellent brakes and steering, and well-trained drivers who have a clear idea of where they want to go and how to get there.

On the road of life, we all get by with a little help from our friends, and strangers, and sometimes even professionals. Most of us don’t need to be reminded how icky life can get when thing go wrong. What we do need is people who will be there regardless, who live by Planned Parenthood’s motto: Care. No matter what.

Originally posted at ValerieTarico.com