Monday, February 1, 2010

Expanding the "Pro-Life" Tent.

Some in the "pro-life" camp are realizing that their greatest vulnerability is to be seen as a conservative, Christian movement. If the strong case could be made that opposition to abortion and other reproductive rights is religious in nature, they fear that the courts could use Establishment Clause and "separation of church and state" reasoning to liberate women from traditional ideas that sex must be tied to reproduction.

At The American Catholic, contributor Eric Brown, an athiest homosexual turned chaste Catholic who works for Texas Right to Life, wrote a post yesterday that argues that the pro-life movement has got to welcome non-religious "pro-life" groups into the Republican "pro-life" tent. He recommends extending the flaps to include "pro-life" Democrats and others who base their opposition to reproductive freedom on "non-relgious" reasoning. Brown writes:

This misconception [that opposition to abortion is primarily religious and Republican], a barrier to progress, in my view, can and must be eradicated. The pro-life movement is not as monolithic as people assume or even as much as its visible leaders state that it is. Feminists for Life is a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization of Americans who believe that abortion is a symptom of a social failure to meet the needs of women (“Refuse to Choose: Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” and “Peace Begins In The Womb” are their principal slogans). The pro-life feminist perspective is contrary to that of the stereotypical assumption that the pro-life position is pit against women’s rights.

He goes on to list a number of organizations that have been founded outside the "monolithic" movement, including ProLife Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Secular Pro-Life, Pro-Life League of Athiests and Agnostics, and Not Dead Yet, a disability group that opposes aid in dying. That these groups perplex the public as much as they do the traditional opponents of women's rights is no surprise. (And comments on the site show that these organizations lack acceptance among traditional "pro-lifers.")

From the other side of the fence - and as a woman who has always understood that my independence and equality are reliant on my autonomous decision of when to have children - I find that Brown's argument is disingenuous (beware of a Catholic trying to make a secular argument!) and that his fear of the "pro-life" movement being seen solely as religious is apt but underutilized by women's groups.

Though Roe v Wade was decided on issues of privacy, women have repeatedly called for their rights of conscience and autonomy to be honored without religious discrimination. Opposition to abortion, they say, is primarily religious: a desire to prevent women from choosing when they have children because that's God's job. But they have never done so successfully.

The courts have shied away from using the Establishment clause and "separation of church and state" in their rulings on reproductive freedom and have failed to establish precedent that rightly assigns ideas of "traditional" family, sex, and reproduction to religious influence. In other words, the court has decided to make decisions about women's autonomy on the wrong grounds.

Nor has the case been strongly made to the public that "pro-life" groups are working to legislatively impose their doctrine on all of our pluralistic society. I write all the time about doctrinal medicine, yet readers often take me to task for not giving the good that church organizations do appropriate reverence. My position is often decried as anti-religion - which is not true.

As a society, we respect our traditional churches. And we look to them for moral guidance, even when their answers are archaic and discriminatory. This public sentiment has allowed the courts to avoid Establishment issues when addressing women's reproductive rights - or patients' rights on the whole. And it has shielded "pro-life" groups from owning up to their true intentions.

Chris Brown should relax. Conservative think-tanks, the Medical Right and the Legal Right have his back. They are cranking out papers that work to prove opposition to abortion is not religious, they are lobbying to assert "traditional" values on all of society, they are well-funded and organized. And when they eschew God talk and stick to fear-mongering about the downfall of society, they keep the public and the courts on their side.

However Brown wants to couch his arguments, the Right has successfully framed the fight for abortion and patients' rights as one of shameful greed, selfishness and immorality. He should enjoy the fact that abortion is still shamed, that young women have been abandoned, that elders are denied their last wishes at hospitals across the country, that health care delivery is biased and discriminatory, that poor women can't access birth control and are forced into pregnancy. For 37 years, society and the courts have allowed such injustice.

Chris Brown and the "pro-life" movement are highly motivated by their desire to end all reproductive choice for women and they will continue to evolve and adapt their strategies. Women and patients, however, have settled for taking whatever compromises they can get.

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