Browsing Tag

pro-life

Feminism

Gatekeeping vs. Coalition Building

The second I first heard about a possible march happening in DC the day after the inauguration, my reaction was where do I sign up. Marching will not be the only way I resist the incoming regimeadministration, but I will stand in the streets tomorrow and scream my rage and sorrow with my sisters. I know many of you can’t– having fibromyalgia means I will be paying for this all next week, so I understand not being able to make marching work for you. I also know not everyone feels that the Women’s March tomorrow either represents you well or is something you want to give your energy to, and I respect that.

However, since Wednesday, a large part of the conversation of can I, should I march on Saturday has revolved around abortion, and I feel that the conversation has been plagued with misrepresentations. We are talking about abortion after all so the fact that everything is being flagrantly misunderstood is unsurprising. Since I’m in seminary primarily to advocate for reproductive justice in my Christian context, this conversation is critical to me, and I want to try to push it in an honest and fact-based direction.

The discussion we’re having was sparked when the Women’s March leadership decided to partner with an organization called New Wave Feminists. I am frustrated with the people who made that decision because it’s clear that New Wave Feminists was not vetted at all. If they’d looked into this organization, they would have found out that the founder testified in favor of HB2 in Texas (the bill Wendy Davis filibustered)– the bill that would have removed abortion access from most women in Texas. New Wave Feminists also lie about hormonal contraception and their founder said that women shouldn’t be “full-service sluts.” The goal of this organization is to restrict abortion access, restrict access to birth control, and control women’s sexuality. It is not an organization that the Women’s March should support, and they were right to remove them as partners.

However, after removing them as partners, they faced some criticism. I heard about it because Rachel Held Evans– as y’all know, one of my heroes– tweeted “Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it” … which was incredibly disappointing because of the narrative that weaves. Over the past two days I’ve seen a ridiculous number of people claim that the Women’s March is forbidding any pro-life woman from participating, which is just ridiculous. Removing an anti-woman organization from partnership and being unwilling to partner with those who want to make abortion illegal does not mean that pro-life women can’t march, if they want to. They couldn’t have made that clearer.

Rachel’s tweet– and the widespread sentiment her tweet represents– was also incredibly frustrating on top of being disappointing because this situation is the result of a terrible amount of confusion. The New Wave Feminists are an organization pro-lifers like Karen Swallow Prior, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans want to defend? People who lie to women, who lie about medicine, who shame us and demean us? Who call us “sluts” for having sex, who misrepresent themselves and their goals?

I have saidrepeatedly— that I want to work with the sort of pro-life women Rachel represents. I value their work, I value them, and I understand where they’re coming from. In the past I’ve respected their position because I saw it as realistic, loving, and consistent. I welcome their particular articulation of pro-life ethics into my feminist work with open arms. I may think that abortion is ethical, but I understand having reservations. This isn’t an easy issue– and, regardless of why any particular person may be having an abortion, it represents a failure somewhere. People who will fight with me to overcome those failures– who want to make birth control accessible, who want accurate and thorough sex education, who want to remove the cultural oppression that force women into these situations– I want you at my side.

After all, I’m pro-choice. If someone is having an abortion because they have no other option, I do not consider that acceptable. We should be able to choose whether or not we want to remain pregnant, and not have circumstances limit us or force us. We should be able to feed our babies, we should be able to get our children to the doctor, we should be able to keep our jobs, we should be able to recover after giving birth … and it’s wrong that those are the considerations pregnant people face.

So I’m all in favor of coalition building. I think feminism is a big tent and a lot of us should be able to squeeze together under here– even if we don’t always agree.

However.

There has to be a line somewhere.

If you’ve read me for a bit, you know I’m not a fan of shibboleths. I don’t like setting up a bunch of fences and boundaries to movements and I don’t, in general, like people who say “you’re in, you’re in, you’re not.” I like big, broad, encompassing tents. I like it when we don’t always get along, don’t always agree. I want serious discussions, not a bunch of people who preach to the choir all of the time.

But I think it is appropriate and good for feminists to say “being a feminist means you don’t support policies that lead to the suffering and death of women,” and unfortunately, that’s what being “pro-life” means for a not-insignificant part of the pro-life movement. If there’s going to be a line that keeps some people out of the feminist tent, the “you want women to die for no god-forsaken reason” is a damn good line. It’s the only line really worth enforcing. If Feminism weren’t The We Want Women to Not Die tent, it wouldn’t be good for anything.

I’m not apologizing for that being my price of admission. If you support policies and laws that lead to nothing else but suffering and death, I don’t want you in my tent and I don’t understand why you’d want to be in it. Banning abortion, criminalizing abortion, “making it illegal except in cases of life-threatening emergencies” leads to death and suffering. Those actions do not change the abortion rate— they result in the same number of abortions, but more life-threatening medical problems, more death, more abuse, more violence, more tragedies, and yes, women being sent to prison because they miscarried.

On this one issue– whether or not our nation’s laws result in women dying– I will be a gatekeeper. Kate Shellnutt and Hannah Anderson at Christianity Today want to tell me that ““If Dem[ocrats] could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won,” and it makes me scream inside because that “pro-life women’s vote” was a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal. It wasn’t a vote against rape or sexual assault. It wasn’t a vote to protect our jobs, our wages, our children, our healthcare, our autonomy, or our bodies in any way. It was one vote: to criminalize abortion. To condemn women to needless suffering, unnecessary physical torment, and death for many of us. No, I will not “entertain” that idea, and I don’t think feminism should.

These “pro-life women voters” like the New Wave Feminists have spent a massive amount of time telling us that our actions have consequences– and surprisingly, this is where I agree. Pro-life people who want to ban abortion apparently live in a land without consequences. They want to enforce their religious interpretation of when life begins onto everyone and pretend that nothing bad could ever come of that. That their actions, their choices, would not be the reason why more women would be thrown in prison or killed. They want to ban abortion– even though it would not even accomplish what they want. They want to prevent us from accessing birth control– even though that actively opposes what they want. They want to punish us for even daring to take control of our lives.

If that doesn’t describe you, welcome inside my big feminist tent.

If it does, stay out in the cold and shiver.

Feminism

personally pro-life, politically pro-choice

I’m about as pro-choice as it’s possible to be. I’m unflinchingly pro-choice, even. There are no ifs, ands, or buts  in my approach to abortion, no caveats, no disclaimers. I am completely opposed to “late-term” abortion bans, TRAP laws, and any other restrictions on a person’s ability to conduct their own medical affairs. I believe that abortion should be treated no differently from any other medical procedure: it is safe– far safer than childbirth— and it is private.

However, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, this position is relatively recent– more recent, even, than where I was when I wrote the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series over two years ago. My feminism is continuously evolving, and back when I wrote that series I was more uncomfortable with so-called “late-term” abortions than I am today. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating my stances on reproductive rights for almost eight years now, and I’ve arrived at a place that feels more drastic than a complete reversal should.

As an inexperienced and woefully uninformed young woman, I was fervently pro-life. I picketed clinics a handful of times; I canvassed neighborhoods trying to get TRAP laws put on my state’s ballot. I didn’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. Over time, however, circumstances forced me to confront what I believed about abortion, and I realized that my pro-life position was morally indefensible.

My theological and political background puts me in an interesting position, especially as I’ve been observing this election season– my first presidential election as a registered Democrat. My social media feeds are a sometimes-hilarious mix of extremes because some of my friends are Marxists, some are Libertarians, and at least two friends post almost nothing but pictures of guns. What’s becoming troubling to me is that we all seem to have forgotten the value– and governing necessity– of compromise, of embracing a spectrum of beliefs and positions in order to accomplish a good work.

I don’t think there’s anything that demonstrates how polarized we can be than abortion. This election season, it seems that tension has coalesced around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. He, like other Democratic men like Joe Biden, embrace a complicated position toward reproductive rights: personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit), but still in support of abortion remaining legal and accessible.

This is where my perspective can seem a little bit wonky to some of my pro-choice friends and colleagues: I don’t have a problem with Clinton choosing Kaine as her running mate. He wasn’t who I was hoping for, but I think the reasoning for choosing him is logical and practical– two of the things I admire most about Clinton’s approach to politics.

I do have a problem with Kaine’s history. He supported abstinence-only education because he felt it would lower the abortion rate in Virginia, which flies in the face of common sense and well-established fact. He banned “partial birth” abortions, a ridiculous position that speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of medical procedures. He used state funds to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive, manipulative, and unethical tactics. Even though he’s seemed to have evolved on these positions, I understand the hesitancy many of my pro-choice colleagues are feeling.

However, as fervently pro-choice as I am and as much as I will fight to protect our reproductive rights, I can support Kaine for vice president because he embodies one of my most valued positions:

I will work with anyone,  even someone who’s pro-life, to advance reproductive justice.

I am absolutely for what some call “abortion on demand.” I am vocally in support of bodily autonomy being seen as a fundamental right. However, I am troubled by certain unfortunate realities surrounding reproductive care in this country because I am pro-choice. The US has a much higher abortion rate than many other developed nations, and I think that’s indicative of larger problems.

For example, for teenage girls who gave birth by fifteen, 39% of their partners were older than twenty. For girls who gave birth by seventeen, 53% of their partners were older than 20. There’s some nuance there, of course, but that research indicates that up to half of all teenage pregnancies are a result of rape. That, to me, highlights the gross and horrifying failure in sex education. The abstinence-only “purity” approach leaves people, especially girls, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a survey from 2004, a huge number of the people who responded— 73%– said they’d had abortions because they couldn’t afford to have a baby. There’s other reasons to have an abortion, obviously, but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision. That’s unfortunate, and upsetting. Abortion should be available without limits– you shouldn’t have to prove you have a “good enough” reason– but if they would have preferred to keep their pregnancy but can’t afford to, that’s a problem.

There are so many avenues to provide real choices. Reducing child care costs. Making reliable contraception widely available. Offering comprehensive education on reproductive health and consensual sex. All of those things are proven in reducing the abortion rate (as well as just being good ideas on their own), and this abortion-on-demand feminist thinks that’s an important enough goal that I’ll even work with Tim Kaine to ensure that people are free to make a true, unbounded, personal choice.

I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with. I don’t need to agree with you on everything to try to get something accomplished. I don’t like litmus tests, and I abhor movements that are unwilling to bend in order to get the work done. If you’re personally pro-life, but think that decision is a personal one best left to a person and their doctor, we can shake on it.

If you’d like to know more about these pro-choice positions, I recommend Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich.

Photo by Toshiyuki
Feminism

what hast thou wrought: Christians and Trump

I’ve read a lot of articles about Donald Trump. If you look at my last “stuff I’ve been into” post, there’s about a half-dozen articles on him that represents the best-of-the-best of my reading on the subject. I’ve got a lot of angry-and/or-panicking friends on social media, so I’m inundated with quite a bit of material that represent a gamut of positions. My friends range from hard right, center-right, center-left, and hard-hard-hard-hard-left, and one of the biggest conversation topics shared among all these groups is this question:

How can Christians be voting for him?

I’ve already explained why I think Christians shouldn’t be voting for Trump, but now I’d like to take a stab at why Christians– namely white evangelicals– are supporting him in even greater numbers than they supported Romney. There’s been multitudes of ink spilled attempting to answer this, and the obvious answer is white supremacy. Evangelicals exist as a voting bloc because of racism. Trump with all of his flagrant racism is calling to one of the most basic motivations of the evangelical movement, and we ignore this to our detriment. Another obvious answer is misogyny. He embodies everything wrong with masculinity in American culture– braggadocio, chauvinism, narcissism, anger, insecurity– but it’s appealing to those among us who see powerful women and feminism as an innate threat to their manhood or their sense of social order.

The internet is filled to the brim with articles covering all those reasons, as well as plenty of articles pointing out all the ways that Trump’s actions, history, and proposed policies are antithetical to everything Christians have been saying they expect in a presidential candidate for decades. Like having family values. Or being a Christian. So, a lot of my friends are confused: how is this possible? On top of the fore-mentioned white supremacy and misogyny that are integral to evangelical culture, I’d like to highlight two more elements that make supporting Trump a foregone conclusion for so many evangelicals.

Abortion

Yes, this is also obvious. Wayne Grudem even included Trump’s supposed pro-life platform as a part of his argument for why Trump is a “morally good choice.” What’s been confusing to many of my friends is that Trump’s “pro-life” position is recent and possibly a lie, so how can evangelicals be staking an election on something they can’t possibly be sure of?

The answer is simple: Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, and will appoint pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court. Trump, while perhaps not personally pro-life, will most likely appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.

They have to take that chance. They have to because being anti-abortion is all they’ve got. Modern evangelicals and other conservative Christians aren’t, by and large, holistically pro-life in the sense that they consider human life sacred and inestimably valuable. They’re pro-war, pro-death penalty, anti-healthcare, against policies that could end starvation and hunger, anti-gun control, and many even believe that parents should have the right to murder their children once they’re not, y’know, fetuses. They’re not pro-life in any meaningful way, but they are anti-abortion and pro-birth, and holding onto that position makes them incredibly powerful.

With their stance of being a single-issue voter in their back pocket, they control elections. They get to say who stays and who goes, who gets power and who doesn’t, all through this one platform: overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s the Southern Strategy reborn, and there’s no way in hell that they’re going to let go of this, no matter how deep into the muck and slime and mire they have to go to justify it. They’ve staked their soul on this ground. This is the line in the sand they’ve drawn.

Granted, there are plenty of anti-abortion Christians who aren’t being cynical and hypocritical about this. Their theological system simply cannot let them back down from this political position, because if they were to accept the concept that private faith and public life aren’t necessarily eternally bonded concepts, a lot of other things start unraveling. Or, if they were to shift their thinking about abortion from a biblical perspective, the whole house of cards might come crashing down. They can’t afford to question this, because questioning their stance on abortion means questioning everything. It means reassessing their identity, their character, their morality. It means re-examining almost everything they’ve ever done and said to women, to children, to their LGBT brothers and sisters … to orphans and widows and prisoners.

I’ve done it. It’s painful. Too painful, possibly, for many.

Redemption

The one element that I haven’t seen anyone talking about is the redemption narrative intrinsic to the evangelical faith system. To many of my friends and colleagues, it’s inconceivable that Christians could look at Trump– a man who sexually abused his wife, who raped a child, who harasses women with impunity, who sent Hillary Clinton a death threat— and think yes, this man represents my Christian values. How could James Dobson say he’s “tender to things of the spirit” or Jerry Falwell claim that he “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” much less do so with a straight face? This man is an abominable monster, and yet Christians are flocking to him. How can this be?

The answer is in two parts. First, “Creation, Fall, Redemption” is essential to understanding the evangelical viewpoint. Mankind fell into sin in the Garden, but Jesus promises us redemption and ultimately resurrection. To them, this narrative is woven into Scripture from beginning to end, and our lives reflect this pattern, this Truth about reality. We are born Fallen but can be Redeemed no matter what, no matter when.

Trump can’t be excepted from this narrative. He’s a fallen sinner, just like the rest of us, and God can redeem him, too. The fact that he’s converting to conservative Christian-style politics is a checkmark in his favor– in a culture where religion and nationalism are horribly mixed, Trump’s promises for “Christians to be powerful again” ring true in their ears. In this only-Republicans-are-really-Christians climate, it’s the only “spiritual fruit” they need. To those who believe that We Are a Christian Nation, Trump’s “Make American Great Again” speaks to their dominionist, theocratic vision for their country.

Secondly… I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.

Yes, Trump is a child rapist. Yes, Trump abused his wife, making her feel “violated.” Yes, Trump has harassed and attacked multiple women. Yes, yes, yes. But if you look around Christian culture, it’s populated by people exactly like him.

Joshua Duggar attacks his sisters and girls from his church, and it’s written off as “normal.” Bill Gothard sexually abuses teenage girls for decades and he’s still the head of a thriving ministry. Pope Francis has participated in a horrific and disgusting cover-up of child sexual abuse, and he even lands a cover on the AdvocatePastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, priests– they can rape women, men, children, and it doesn’t matter. They’re protected, even given positions of power. They can rape children, be convicted and sent to prison, and still get to write feature articles for Christian leadership magazines. Their churches and missionary boards will cover it up and shelter them.

Christian culture is a haven for abusers.

It’s a shelter for rapists and molesters because of the redemption narrative they cling to. If a rapist or abuser says “I’m sorry, I’ve repented,” anyone who questions that is harshly censored. If a woman wants to divorce her husband because he enjoyed watching people rape children, she’s censored by her church and shunned. Or if your husband “repents” of sexually abusing a child for years, you’ll be the one seen as “breaking your marriage vows” if you decide to leave him. Even if he’s abusing you, according to John Piper you’re just supposed to stick it out. After all, if you listen to Debi Pearl, maybe if he beats you long enough you’ll bring him to a saving knowledge of Christ. Or, maybe Debi Pearl’s too extreme for you– how about Lori Wick, one of the most popular Christian fiction authors?

This is why Trump is succeeding so well among evangelical voters. He’s an abuser, but now he’s converted to their nationalistic, dominionist, theocratic, white supremacist and misogynistic faith, and through that has been Redeemed.

He fits right in.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Feminism

pro-life activist to pro-choice Christian

I know it’s been quiet around here for a bit– between period week and a fibromyalgia flare plus taking a college course (Hebrew, in case you’re wondering), it’s been just a little too much for me to manage blogging. I think I’m on the mend, but still trying to balance managing my illnesses on top of studying again, so the schedule might be a bit rough for a bit, especially with the Holidays coming up.

Anyway, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! I’m working on an application for a Bitch Media fellowship, and I wrote an article for XOJane on “How I went from Being a Pro-Life Activist to a Pro-Choice Christian.” If you’ve read my Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series it’s stuff you’ve seen before, but I wrote it with the intention of creating something relatable and shareable. It might be a good resource for y’all in the future, since I’m hoping it can reach people who are currently pro-life without all of their walls going up. It also links to my Bitter Waters series, too.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me! I’m excited about the posts I have planned for this week.

Photo by Women’s News
Feminism

do you have to be pro-choice to be feminist?

mother and baby

One of the reasons why I write here is to attempt to convince people that feminism isn’t the movement a lot of people think that it is– we’re not a bunch of bitter, vengeful, ugly hags. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to hate men, or burn your bra, or you can’t shave your legs, or you’ll never be able to wear makeup again. There’s a lot of stereotypes out there, stereotypes intentionally created by those who fought (and fight) against gender equality, but hopefully if you’ve been here long enough you’ll realize that I definitely don’t fit those molds.

I read a lot of feminist writers who are trying to do the same thing– we consider ourselves advocates and educators, and we put ourselves into that position of being the person willing to explain the obvious over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . . and something that we end up saying, ad nauseum, is:

“The definition of feminism is ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.'”

Some of us have argued that this is all you need to be a feminist, that there’s nothing more to it than that. If you believe that men and women should be equal, than wham bam thank you ma’am you’re a feminist.

I’m not one of those people. I think there’s a whole lot more to feminism than that, and I think it’s far too easy for someone to claim that they believe in gender equality on paper and then be a patriarchal misogynist in real life. And while I hope that someday we’ll live in a world where everyone believes in the ideals of feminism, that world is a long way away, and in the mean time, there are a lot of people walking around calling themselves a feminist who are not and they’re able to do it because they/we think the above definition is all there is to it.

And it’s not as though feminism is a monolithic movement and every feminist thinks and believes and wants the same thing. I identify as an intersectional feminist because it seems obvious to me that every person can be both oppressed and privileged based on different parts of our identity. But there’s also trans-exclusionary radical feminism (as much as I’d prefer that they’d stop calling themselves feminists, I’m not going to start shouting “No True Scotsman!”); there’s also the problem of white feminism (which is one of the reasons why I don’t push the feminist label on those who don’t want to claim it. Feminists have a history of being racist as fuck, people); and then there’s all sorts of other disagreements– can porn be feminist? Can you be a sex worker and be feminist? Is lipstick feminism a thing?

But, probably one of the more divisive issues is reproductive rights.

Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? I’ve explained, at length, why I am pro-choice. However, becoming pro-choice took me years and I don’t think it’s a position that a lot of people can adopt. So, do I want to put an insurmountable roadblock in place for those who can’t accept the pro-choice position? Can you be a pro-life feminist?

Well, in my opinion… yes and no.

It all depends on how you define pro-life.

If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is ok, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no.

However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that woman are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.

In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.

But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.

Feminism

pro-life fictions: Frank Peretti's "Prophet"

prophet

Today’s book review is from a guest writer, who has asked for his name to be withheld because his family is still staunchly pro-life.

In 1992, Peretti published Prophet, a novel about a mostly-agnostic news anchor who receives prophetic powers passed on from his fundamentalist religious father. The novel attempts to address a dizzying host of the usual conservative evangelical issues, such as environmentalism, gay rights, liberal media bias, consumerism, public education, medical malpractice, academic dishonesty, and even rock music. It’s also subtly racist. But the primary focus of the book is an assault on women’s rights in general, particularly abortion.

The protagonist, John Barrett, is a successful lead news anchor whose father embarrassingly insists on holding public protests against abortion. The story centers around the re-election campaign of pro-choice, pro-environmentalism, pro-education, pro-gay governor Hiram Slater, whose secret corruption and ties to unsavory characters make it clear that he is The Bad Guy. Following his father’s murder by the governor’s hencemen, Barrett receives his father’s prophetic gift and begins seeing visions and hearing voices.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that multiple teenage girls have died from botched abortions at an “assembly-line” abortion clinic, and that numerous individuals are complicit in a wide cover-up. Barrett’s liberal supervisor tries to keep the story from breaking, but the truth comes out: Governor Slater’s own daughter Hillary was killed by the abortion clinic.

Gay rights advocates deface and vandalize a Catholic church, then hold a protest of the Church’s position on condom use the next day. The liberal media refuses to cover the vandalism, but happily covers the protest. The protesters are presumably “shown up” when Barrett receives a prophetic revelation that the leader of the gay rights group has hundreds of sexual partners and doesn’t use a condom… which apparently means that all criticisms of the Catholic position are baseless. It’s an appalling strawman of gay rights that fits very well with the extreme fundamentalism view: gay men are sex-obsessed, hypocritical, and willing to engage in violence in order to punish those who disapprove of their life choices.

The book constantly also goes to great lengths in trying to paint the media as corrupt, biased, and misleading. Inexplicably, Peretti devotes several large sections to arguing that basic broadcasting techniques like scripted questions, green screens, planned establishing shots, and talking into a teleprompter are somehow “liberal” and dishonest. Nearly every chapter contains a detailed description of one of Governor Slater’s re-election ads, painting liberal campaign advertising as manipulative and controlling. The television station receives revenue from the campaign ads and therefore skews its reporting in favor of Slater. It’s heavily implied that journalistic neutrality is impossible: that journalists are either “on the side of the truth” or otherwise liberal and biased and complicit in fraud.

But most egregious of all is the book’s portrayal of women’s health services. Pro-choice advocates are consistently shown taking every sort of immoral, unethical, and illegal steps in defense of their ideology. They pay off, intimidate, and threaten witnesses, provide tip offs to give other advocates the chance to destroy medical records, badger parents, obtain interviews under false pretenses, falsify records, start fights in order to smear pro-life protesters, and even hire hit men. They manipulate the facts and stonewall investigations. People searching for the truth are arrested, maligned, fired, and attacked. It is implied that women who have had abortions either find “forgiveness” and become fiercely pro-life, or they are consumed with guilt and shame and will go to any lengths to defend abortion from criticism.

The abortion clinics themselves are painted as dark, foreboding, unsavory places focused only on fast profit. Early in the story, a clinic worker lies to a patient and tells her that her pregnancy test came back positive in order to pressure her into having an abortion. Girls are badgered into signing consent forms they haven’t read and pushed through the process against their protests. Everyone who talks about the clinics mentions the screaming of terrified girls and the shouting of impatient doctors. It is stated repeatedly that the clinics try to do as many off-books abortions as possible to evade taxation and reporting requirements. Anyone who has had an abortion talks about how pressured they felt, how angry and bitter the staff seemed, and how much pain the procedure left them in. Clinic staff members are portrayed as uninformed, uncompassionate zealots who are only concerned with completing as many procedures as possible.

The following quotation, given by the “expert” Doctor Matthews who performed the autopsy on the governor’s daughter Hillary, very clearly demonstrates the book’s overall portrayal of abortion clinics.

You have to realize, abortion clinics aren’t like your typical family practice. They’re under tremendous pressure from two sources: money and fear.

On the one hand, abortions are lucrative; you can bring in a lot of money in a short time with minimum effort. The more abortions you do, the more money you make, so the natural inclination is to do them as quickly as possible and cut corners if you can. You get the procedure down to just a few minutes, you get an assembly line going, and you don’t hire RNs to help in the back rooms because they get too pick about procedure, sterilizing the equipment, sanitation. All that stuff takes time, and you can have some thirty girls waiting in line …

On the other hand, you’ve got the intense political pressure over this whole issue, which makes you circle the wagons all the tighter to protect yourself from intrusion, discovery, regulation, standardization. If you slip up, the last thing you want is for anyone to know about it, least of all your peers. There’s also an unwritten code out there: you don’t snitch—you don’t make trouble.

That’s the pro-life view of abortion clinics, of abortion doctors, of women’s health workers, and of women who get abortions.

I first read Prophet several years ago, and I believed all of this.

It’s easy to understand why rank-and-file members of the pro-life movement are so opposed to abortions when these fictions are taught and accepted as fact. Re-reading now, and recognizing what I’ve learned about women’s health in the past few years, I was incredibly appalled. More than that, I was saddened. All these lies provide the foundation for “conservative values” in the evangelical community. The amount of misinformation is staggering. It’s just a shame.

Like this novel.

Feminism

invasions of space: pro-life advocates and the buffer zone

benchby Farzi

One morning, during my second year in graduate school at Liberty University, the sun was bright, my hopes for the day optimistic and buoyant as I rounded the corner to the university’s main campus– and what I saw shook me. Even as I stood in line at Starbucks, then settled myself in the writing center, I couldn’t shake what I’d witnessed. My mind would flash back to that scorching-hot moment, and my breath would catch mid-sentence with the pain. People spent all day asking me what was wrong when I’d suddenly cut off, close my eyes, and try to cringe my way back into the moment.

The next morning, they were still there.

Picketers.

Holding signs.

With graphically violent, gut-wrenching, disturbing, horrifying, and vomit-inducing pictures.

Pictures of “abortion.”
(trigger warning)

I had to drive past them every day for a week. Every day they would scream at me in my car as I’d do my best to ignore them, to not look them in the eye. I would have to fight with myself for every single second of the rest of that day not to break– not to start weeping in front of a student, or in my office.

The first day they arrived, they tried to hold their demonstration on Liberty’s campus, but the university refused and then issued a very public statement that their presence was not approved by the college, and that the university disagreed with what they were doing. Instead, they stood just outside the private property– on a road that almost every single university student had to use in order to go to class and their jobs. I had to pass them every single day.

And, as the week wore on, as I had a panic attack every day from try to hold back the memories, as I thought what it would have been like to have needed to get to a clinic. What would it have been like to drive through a wall of people waving those signs and screaming at me, running in front of my car? What would it be like to try to get out of my car, with people taking pictures of me and shouting that they’ll find out who I am? What if they tracked me down and started calling me at my house? What if they made death threats? Threats that were serious– because some of them had actually carried it out?

The next week, when the pro-life group I was a part of asked me to drive them to the Richmond clinic, I said no. Even if I knew that this group didn’t do any of that, that all they did was sit in the car outside the clinic and pray and occasionally hold a sign saying “God loves you,” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a part of a culture that even in its mildest forms is there to guilt and shame women.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Supreme Court is hearing a case from Massachusetts regarding buffer zones around women’s health clinics (I use that term instead of the more inflammatory “abortion clinic” because these clinics usually offer a host of free or cheap care for women who couldn’t otherwise afford it, things like breast exams). Since this process started, I’ve watched pro-choice and pro-life advocates on twitter and in comment sections rage at each other, and I can feel the same rage simmering inside of me.

I’ve seen what the people who want to eliminate any sort of buffer zone do, first-hand. I’ve heard, over the past few years, what seems like countless stories from escort volunteers and women visiting the clinic. They face a barrage of hate and vitriol, sometimes daily. Clinic workers and volunteers sometimes fear for their lives.

And it both breaks my heart and infuriates me because as well-intentioned as most of these picketers and protesters probably are, what they’re doing– it’s wrong. They lie and manipulate, they threaten and demean. Their tactics are not intended to demonstrate love, or compassion, but to intimidate and frighten, to guilt and shame. And while there are most likely many pro-life advocates who are just as repulsed as I am (after all, I was repulsed by it when I was still pro-life), there are whole organizations like Army for God and Operation Rescue who use bullhorns, loudspeakers, scaffolding, semi-trucks . . . and spend hours screaming at people that they are “worthy of nothing but disdain,” who upon the murder of a physician say things like  they are “mass muderders,” that their hands are “covered in blood,” and “We must continue to expose them in our communities . . . at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches”– this, when Tiller was slaughtered the day before inside his own church.

This is not something that any Christian should be a part of. This should be a method, a culture of violence and rage and hate, that Christians loudly condemn. This should be universally decried, not something that many of us support.

EDIT: please read my comment policy before you comment. Personal attacks will mean you will be blocked.

Feminism, Social Issues

Ordeal of the Bitter Waters

mother and baby

I have gotten several comments and letters this week from readers who’ve indicated they would like to share my series on how I slowly changed my mind on the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I realize that sharing a series that’s six posts long can be difficult, so I’ve put links to them all in this post.

Thank you again for all the support you’ve shown me in the last couple of weeks.

Part One

Over the next few years, my views began developing. My perspective developed nuance. I accepted the confusion I felt about all these ideas as something I would struggle with; I decided I could live with the tension, the uncomfortable gray.

But, even through all of these subtle changes, I remained staunchly pro-life. I began thinking that maybe it wasn’t my place to campaign against what another woman wanted to do, but for me– well, I couldn’t budge on that. I believed that a zygote was a baby, and removing it was murder.

Part Two

But then I came staggering, bewildered, into the gray place. Because, at the time, I didn’t have the word rape for what had happened to me. The only thing I knew was that the thought of having my fiancé’s baby terrified me for reasons I couldn’t explain. I could not have his baby. I could not. And I didn’t understand why. But, in those weeks, before I either miscarried (most pregnancies fail in the first few weeks) or was merely late, I came to understand that there were probably thousands of girls who were so frightened they could barely breathe or eat or sleep, and I could no longer judge them– because I was one. It took me years to understand that one of the reasons why the thought of carrying my abuser’s baby frightened me beyond reason was that he was also my rapist.

And that’s when I understood that being pro-life and advocating for the rape exception was wrong.

Part Three

It bothered me that we could argue that conception was the moment of ensoulment, but that all these souls– all these billions and billions of fully human people– were dying in a matter of hours or days, and no one in the pro-life movement seemed to mind that it was happening. And it hit me: I didn’t value a zygote. I didn’t really see it as a person, with life. I believed that a zygote was a person in a rhetorical, philosophical sense– it was merely a logical place to draw the line.

Part Four

And none of these verses talked about identity, or personhood, or being-ness, but about what God knows. I realized that the fact David had chosen this metaphor was significant. He chose something so deeply mystery, a miracle beyond the comprehension of ancient civilization, to talk about what God understands, but he did not. The miracle of life being created in the womb has been one of the constant images in ancient religion; it was a process held as sacred and enshrined in idols, altars . . . He didn’t understand it anymore than I did, and that was why the metaphor was so poignant, why it mattered. It was beautiful, this metaphor, because of the not-knowing; David was trusting God with what he knew he couldn’t understand.

Part Five

But, as I read, something struck me. When they described the horrific plight of these women, they described these woman as surrounded by shame and ostracism– because their thighs are literally rotting away. For the women who survive, they are shunned by their families and communities because of this. It is not an image that I, as a modern American, am at all familiar with. I’m barely even aware of maternal mortality (although America’s rate is the same as Iran, Bahrain, and Hungary, and close to Saudi Arabia and Turkey)– but, it is an image that would have been common in the ancient middle East– and in 1611 England, when the translators chose the phrase “thigh to rot” for yarak naphal.

Part Six

In August, I finally came to terms with the concept of potential life, and that is when it finally, finally hit me: through most of my thoughts, my explorations, my research, I was almost exclusively focused on whether or not the zygote, the conceptus, and ultimately the fetus had fully endowed, inalienable human rights . . . and I realized that what I’d been reading from pro-choice women was absolutely, undeniably right in my own life– pro-life beliefs view women almost entirely as a vessel instead of as a person.

Feminism, Social Issues

ordeal of the bitter waters, part six

mother and baby

This is the final post in this series. I wanted to thank everyone who’s been reading and commenting for your support and encouragement as I put all of this into writing– very public writing. I also wanted to note, again, that everything I’ve written here is merely my story– I’m not expecting to convince anyone, merely explain why I’ve changed my mind on this issue so totally.

In 2009, the facade of my fierce pro-life beliefs suffered its first crack when I was facing a choice I’d never expected to encounter.

In 2010, I started understanding that many of the beliefs I had were either self-contradictory or dangerous.

In 2011, my eyes were opened to the innate hypocrisy of the “pro-life” movement, which was only really pro-birth and anti-abortion.

In 2012, coming to terms with my culture and society meant that I could no longer support pro-life politics.

In 2013, I put not my politics, but my beliefs under the microscope.

In June, I was held in thrall by Wendy Davis.

In July, I was confronted by the truth of Numbers, Hosea, Genesis, Isaiah, Exodus, and 2 Kings.

In August, I finally came to terms with the concept of potential life, and that is when it finally, finally hit me: through most of my thoughts, my explorations, my research, I was almost exclusively focused on whether or not the zygote, the conceptus, and ultimately the fetus had fully endowed, inalienable human rights . . . and I realized that what I’d been reading from pro-choice women was absolutely, undeniably right in my own life– pro-life beliefs view women almost entirely as a vessel instead of as a person.

Even when I’d been raped and I thought I might be pregnant, I saw myself as merely a support structure for an embryo. I was traumatized by the idea of needing an abortion– how could I do that to this innocent baby? What right did I have to end its life? When my period finally came, I collapsed on the bathroom floor, more relieved than I have ever been, while simultaneously grief-stricken and horrified that I had ever considered an abortion.

That was the belief that had caused me to struggle with this system for years. I believed that a zygote, a conceptus, an embryo, and a fetus were all fully human while simultaneously believing that my rights as a person, my autonomy, did not exist and that my own body did not belong to me but to a growing, developing fetus. As long as I believed that my own rights as a fully human person with inalienable rights were completely subjugated to a potential life, I was incapable of seeing anything about this issue– and these women— fairly. In my own head, I saw pregnant women as less than the developing life inside of her. All the imagery, all the narratives, everything I’d had access to as a young woman taught me to see a fetus in terms of a miracle and the woman creating that miracle as little more than a necessary tool.

That was truly the only thing keeping me from committing to being pro-choice. But, a few months ago, that balance shifted.

I am not a vessel. I am a person.

I am not a procreative tool. I am a person.

I am not my reproductive organs. I am a person.

I am a person, and I am fully endowed with inalienable human rights.

That shift changed everything.

I felt like Saul-becoming-Paul, with the scales falling away from my eyes, and the light more blinding than the darkness had been. This was a revolutionary change in paradigm, and it took two more months to truly come to terms with it, to accept what had happened to me. And, as I walked around in this brand-new world that was terrifying and thrilling all at once, I started understanding what it means to be pro-choice.

For me, it almost entirely boils down to the simple fact that I believe in women. I believe that we are intelligent and capable. I believe that we are fully able to examine the situations of our lives, examine what we need and want, and make up our own damn mind about our own damn decisions– and we do not need a male-dominated bureaucracy that has next-to-no understanding about (and absolutely no personal experience whatsoever) women’s lives telling us what to do about an incredibly personal decision that is really no one else’s business.

I had grown up in a systemic belief that women do not know any better- and are really incapable of knowing any better, so they must have their decisions controlled by the government. Women were making decisions that were different than what we believed was right, so all I saw were characterizations of man-hating feminists and stupid sluts. There was no in between. I had no image of a woman who rationally made an emotional decision based on personal experience and the evidence available. That woman simply did not exist in the universe I grew up in. Women were being constantly manipulated and lied to, and that was the only possible reason any of them could think differently than us.

Becoming pro-choice meant that, for the first time, I saw those women. I got to know some of them. Sometimes, I merely read their stories. I saw women look into the eyes of her precious child and sorrowfully realize that she could not afford to feed him if she had another baby. I watched as women struggled with the fact that if they carried to term, they would most likely find themselves unemployed— and unemployable. I saw women with visions for their future who wanted children but lived in the harsh, bleak reality that women with children are either not hired, paid less, or are given less opportunities than women without children. I talked with women who were afraid of having children because they could be denied tenure. I read the heartbreaking stories of women whose health was seriously threatened by pregnancy. Of women who could not afford going off of their pain medication or their anti-depressants for a pregnancy.

I realized that there are as many reasons for having an abortion as there are women, and it is wrong for anyone, especially a government, to dictate what reasons are permissible and what reasons are not– and the only concessions that the pro-life movement seem willing to make are not the concessions women desperately need.

As I became more familiar with the ethics and morality in the pro-choice movement (not that I’m claiming it’s perfect, it is not), I also became increasingly disturbed by the strict pro-life politics and legislation being enacted all over the country. Even though I had already been convinced that the rhetoric and goals of the leaders of the pro-life movement were dangerous, I started seeing the threat they pose to women’s health care. Up until this point, I largely thought of it as almost harmless. Now, when I listen to men like Todd Akin and Trent Franks, I’m horrified and very, very worried.

Today, I’m pro-choice not because I think that a fetus is some form of “parasitic invader” or that an embryo is a worthless group of cells.

I’m not pro-choice because I don’t care about my faith.

I’m not pro-choice because I value convenience more than life.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m uninformed and haven’t thought through my position logically.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m heartless and lack “natural affection” or some nurturing, motherly instinct.

I’m not pro-choice because I believe in population control.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m racist.

I’m pro-choice because I’m awake and looking at the desperate, broken world around me.

I’m pro-choice because women need to have concrete options and resources.

I’m pro-choice because women are magnificent and brave, and we wake up every morning and go out into a world that wants to crush us.

I’m pro-choice because I believe that women deserve to be understood, and known, and loved.

Feminism, Social Issues

ordeal of the bitter waters, part five

mother and baby

I puzzled over yarek naphal for days– I dug through commentary after commentary, through lexicons, through concordances, through history books– and what I found was frustrating. Of the people who bothered to remark on what yarek naphal meant, most seemed comfortable assuming that “thigh to rot” was a euphemism for miscarriage– but no one said why. It was usually a short phrase, perhaps a sentence, and then the commentary would move on to explanations why this ritual appeared in Numbers. Exasperated, I ranted for a bit on twitter, and one of my amazing readers, Jennifer, directed me to some resources I am ashamed to say I hadn’t thought about.

She gently pointed me in the direction of Judaism, and told me that I was likely to find answers there that I was unlikely to find elsewhere. And she was right.

When I first started researching this passage in Numbers 5 in Judaism, I was incredibly overwhelmed. Many of the websites I was visiting assumed you had a basic knowledge of Judaism– which I did not. I had to familiarize myself with terms like Tanakh and Torah Shebictav and Mishnah.

So, I started reading what the Mishnah (the written record of rabbinic oral tradition) had to say about Numbers 5. This ritual, known as ‘The Ordeal of the Bitter Waters” in Christianity, is referred to in Judaism as the Sotah (“Errant Woman”). One of the first things that was consistently pointed out is that the Sotah is a specific type of ritual very common in ancient Middle Eastern cultures– the “divine ordeal.” Western culture is most familiar with the “divine ordeal” in the form of ordeal by cold water— commonly used in witch hunts. However, what is curious about the Sotah is that this is the only time that this form of ritual appears anywhere in the Tanakh. There is no other form of “divine ordeal.” It is also significant to note that the Sotah was discontinued, and there are no concrete records of it ever being performed.

However, the startling thing that stood out to me was that in translations by Jewish scholars– people who are steeped in the culture that I am wholly separated from– the way they translate yarek naphal is as “discharged uterus” (this is also how it appears in the NRSV). And what I discovered is that this is because there is a linguistic connection between “thigh,” “belly,” and the feminine genitals. Yarek, in other places in the Tanakh, means “place of procreative power“– for both men and women. And naphal is actually closer to “fall,” but it is connected to violent death, to wasting away, and to failure.

The linguistic connections in yarek naphal paints a picture of something either dying or wasting away in a woman’s uterus.

This picture clicked with me in an epiphany a little while later as I was reading Half the Sky. In it, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn spend a lot of time talking about the global maternal mortality rate, and one of the primary reasons for it: fistulas. Specifically, obstetric fistulas due to obstructed labor. Nicholas and Sheryl spent time in Africa, in hospitals dedicated to helping women with this medical problem. They tell the stories of many women who have fistulas, and the medical care that they desperately need.

But, as I read, something struck me. When they described the horrific plight of these women, they described these woman as surrounded by shame and ostracism– because their thighs are literally rotting away. For the women who survive, they are shunned by their families and communities because of this. It is not an image that I, as a modern American, am at all familiar with. I’m barely even aware of maternal mortality (although America’s rate is the same as Iran, Bahrain, and Hungary, and close to Saudi Arabia and Turkey)– but, it is an image that would have been common in the ancient middle East– and in 1611 England, when the translators chose the phrase “thigh to rot” for yarak naphal.

I had an answer of sorts– the Sotah ritual, if the woman was guilty, would resort in any pregnancy being aborted as well as a lifetime of barrenness.

As I continued reading about the ritual and Hebrew perspectives on it, the question that I’d been terrified to face, the question what does this mean about God, slowly faded, and I realized something that’s continued to help me in the few months since then.

I was afraid of Numbers 5 because I didn’t know how to face a God that would command that. I didn’t know if I could continue believing in a God that forced abortions. To me, that’s the only thing this passage could mean; God had created a ritual that forced abortions in order to prove a woman’s guilt.

But, as I explored the “ordeal of bitter waters,” I began to view the ritual through a different light. My perspective grew, and I attempted to see Numbers 5 not through the eyes that I’d been given as a child– the eyes that saw a holy, righteous, wrathful God ruthlessly punishing disobedience– but through eyes that see God as a mother-father trying to protect her children from themselves. Something Rabbi Riskin wrote nudged me in that direction:

Judaism emerged from the Middle East, where jealousy is rampant and women are often considered the chattel of their husbands. A jealous husband can easily persuade himself to harm the wife whom he suspects of adultery. I therefore believe this trial of the bitter waters provided a marvelous psychological ploy to protect the woman from a husband’s wrath.

This was an idea I started encountering everywhere I went. In a culture almost completely dominated by patriarchal jealousy and the belief that women were property, this ritual could have been instituted to give women a concrete, unassailable way to prove their innocence. Husbands could not divorce their wives on the grounds of some nebulous suspicion that she’d been unfaithful– he’d have to prove it in front of God and men. A woman could agree to the Sotahknowing that she was innocent, and be supported by the kohen, the priests of the Tabernacle, and G-d himself.

But . . . now I felt truly rudderless. There’s no truly pro-life stance anywhere in the Bible. Between the story of Tamar; passages in Isaiah and 2 Kings that declare “their women with child shall be ripped up” and another in Hosea that God will give them “miscarrying wombs”; the fact that pregnant women aren’t counted twice in the census; that there’s only a fee for causing a woman to miscarry instead of the usual execution for murder . . . none of it adds up to a “biblical” position on a-fetus-is-fully-human-with-rights that pro-life advocates say that the Bible “clearly” has.

All of this led me away from thinking of “pro-choice” on purely religious terms. I had to look at it as a citizen, as a part of my culture, as a voting woman who would either have to take a stand on this issue or melt away into the shadows.