The Tightening Noose Around Women’s Rights

In the past several weeks the Alabama state legislature has proposed and passed ever stricter laws surrounding issues of a woman’s right to govern the trajectory of her own health.   In rapid succession, the following bills moved forward:  HB 31 which allows medical personnel to refuse treatment of a woman having an abortion if it violates their religious convictions; HB490 makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is present; HB493 requires that perinatal hospice care be offered if there is a lethal fetal anomaly with doctor paying a penalty if not; HB494 requires an in-person, written notarized consent for abortion by a minor under 19.

All of these bills make it harder for a woman to choose the fate of her body. These bills are geared towards shaming the woman regardless of the reason for her decision for the abortion.  Imagine being impregnated through rape and having the nurse tell you she will not treat you because you chose to abort the baby and that violates her religious convictions.  This is legalizing stigmatization and no woman should face that kind of shaming.

The problem with such a stance is that it goes against the heart of most religious thought of compassion and mercy.  The Christian texts state to judge not, lest you be judged.  Yet, to refuse to offer treatment to a woman having an abortion is a judgement of condemnation.  Such a law is against that core teaching.  Such a law legalizes such social condemnation as a just behavior when it is rarely justified.

Life is not a simple trajectory from birth to death.  There are complications layered with complications along the way that make decisions to direct our path harrowing.  We do not know the experiences–emotional, mental, spiritual, physical–that each of us have that lead us to our current state of life. Each circumstance might lead to a different scenario, we simply do not know what we might decide given a different set of parameters of events.

Or imagine the pain and heartache of finding out that your pregnancy is going to end in death because of a lethal fetal anomaly.  Is it even humane to force that pregnancy to term when that is the outcome? It has been noted that women who abort such a fetus fair better mentally than when they bring the fetus to term only to have the baby die a few hours, a few days later.  But there are also cases where the fetus develops without the brain and the body lives a few years but without any awareness of its surroundings.  Imagine the emotional pain and suffering this will inflict on the family, not to mention the medical costs to keep the body comfortable.  I am using the term body deliberately because anencephaly cases have no ability to develop sentience.  Is this really a condition that we want the government, a cold, unfeeling, bureaucratic monster of an institution to determine what this woman can and can not do with her body?

HB 490 makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected.  When does the heartbeat begin?  Around 6 weeks after conception.  When do most women discover they are pregnant?  Somewhere between the 4th and 8th week.  This means that the ability to make the decision is very very small if there even is a window period for deciding.

Requiring an in-person, written and notarized consent for a minor to have an abortion is another roadblock.  Imagine that the minor has been emancipated, she is not going to be able to make the decision for an abortion. Imagine that the minor is pregnant because of sexual abuse in the family. What minor is going to be able to tell the parent the truth to their pregnancy? In those situations, it is hard enough to tell another person what is going on let alone a parent.

But all of these bills even as they progress now to the Senate for a vote are eclipsed by this last bill that has just been introduced.  SB414 is the Personhood bill that would define a fertilized egg, either through sexual intercourse or through in vitro fertilization as person.  This bill would not only make abortions illegal, it would make all decisions made by the woman subject to the fetus.  There have already been cases where the woman was charged with murder because her child was stillborn.

A person by implication is someone who has agency an ability to self-direct their actions.  A fetus does not have this ability. It is totally dependent on the host for its existence.  By declaring the fetus a person with full rights  is also declaring that the woman body is nothing more than a vessel, a breeding mechanism that has no right to direct and defend her own well being.

The attached video looks at the larger implications of the proposed personhood bill, implications that this legislature has not considered when presenting this bill.  It is important that we explore to the best of our abilities the consequences of our actions and not just look at the quick and dirty solutions to ease our religious convictions.

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Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!

The state of Alabama is considered one of the poorest states in the nation.  Governor Bentley in his state of the State address brought home the point that Alabama has the poorest county in the nation.  Yet, he refuses to allow medicaid expansion because after three years of full Federal funding, the state would gradually be required to pay 10% of the tab by 2020.  A price tag that he believes is harmful to the people of Alabama–despite the 435K additional lives Medicaid expansion will save–despite the 12,000 jobs created to the health care field by 2016–despite the additional creation of jobs that a billion new dollars coming into the state annually would generate.  This action by the governor does not serve the people of this state even though he feigns concern for the citizens in Wilcox County, the poorest county in the nation with double digit unemployment rate in post ‘Great Recession’ America.  He is doing nothing to ensure these people have access to health care despite his protests of care and concern.

His stance is unethical.  At best he is being penny wise and pound foolish, but his disdain for the federal government is made complete by his total lack of compassion and concern for the people of this state.  There is another word for people who voice 100% disdain for the federal government–unpatriotic.  Now I am not one who insists on flag waving to show patriotic sentiments nor do I believe in the mantra ‘my country right or wrong.’  But when attempts to help people in dire straits such as the good people ofWilcox County and elsewhere in the state, and he refuses to accept that help solely because he is against the President of this country, then he is unpatriotic and a hypocrite.  A governor worth their salt would graciously accept the federal government aid and seek to find ways to implement it in ways that show innovative ways to empower the citizenry as well.

His leadership is being followed by the state legislature with bills that are equally unethical and immoral. The current HB31, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act is exhibit A in a list of ill conceived and immoral attacks on the people of Alabama.  This bill is aimed at preserving the rights of people of conscience in the health care field to refuse to treat people whose life choices they disagree with.  The bill is specifically aimed at those who are seeking “abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.”  And the services are the full continuum from admission to treatment care.

This act has language that hints at  later expansion of conscience to other religious objections.  Our state still criminalizes homosexuality for example and is already a target by conservative religious groups.

The bill reminds me of an earlier time in the nation’s history when in the 1980s and 90s hundred of thousands of people living with AIDS were denied health care because the staff at hospitals and hospices were opposed to homosexuality and fearful of the disease.  It reminds me of an even earlier time when people struck by polio were denied services because it was believed they had done something wrong to incur God’s wrath.  This bill is only different in that this bill legalizes such refusal based on questionable theological grounds.  I do not recall anywhere in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus said to heal the sick unless your conscience dictates  to disagree with their life choices.

This bill increase stigmatization and is intended to bring shame on those who for a myriad of reasons have come to the decision to abort a pregnancy.  Such a bill is immoral.

This is not the first time this state in recent history attempted to legalize discriminatory practices against people disapproved of by the State Legislature.  As if the State Legislature has the moral authority to make such proclamations.  HB 56 passed into law a few years ago had several provisions in it that would force citizens of this state to discriminate against immigrants.  The sections deemed immoral by leaders across the religious spectrum were eventually permanently struck down by the 11th circuit court.

Exhibit B is SB 194 which would fast track the appeals process in capital punishment cases. This fast tracking would increase the risk of putting wrongly convicted people to death.  The governor and the state legislature have made clear their desire to eliminate abortions in the state and their actions to date show the need to show utmost prudence when making a decision to abort a pregnancy. While I personally believe it is ultimately the woman’s right to choose the fate of her body, I agree that prudence in making such a decision is of utmost importance. It is not one that should be made in a cavalier manner.  This same prudence should be shown for people convicted of crimes judged to be worthy of the death sentence. Insisting that such prudence be made at the end of life is also of utmost importance and also should not be made in a cavalier manner.  Fast tracking death sentences shows disdain for life just as much as fast tracking a decision to abort a fetus.  This bill shows the hypocrisy and the lack of moral aptitude of the state legislature.

The state legislature is facing an election year.  They are wanting to get bills passed in double time so they can spend their time campaigning.  The people of Alabama need to make clear that their actions have hurt the people of Wilcox County and no amount of using their name in vain will persuade us that they have any other intentions then to continue doing so.   If these and other bills of questionable moral standing pass as have other bills in the past few years, then we the people must make our voice clear at the election booth and vote out such people who are more concerned for their own self interests than they are for the people of this state.   We need to slow down the State legislature this year in making their hideous laws.  One way to do so is bring the Moral Monday Civil Rights movement in North Carolina to Alabama. We need to act now.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am  Comments Off on Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!  
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The Moral Argument

A few weeks back Utah state senator Stuart Reid defended his vote against the anti-discrimination act protecting employment and housing rights of people of gender and sexual diversities.  He stated he did so because he believes homosexuality to be immoral.  In summary his argument was as follows and I quote: “When society, through its government, identifies something to be immoral, it is by definition discriminating against that thing, act or behavior by setting it apart as harmful to society. Under Utah law, something identified as moral receives preferential treatment and something identified as immoral receives discriminatory treatment. … In short, if homosexual activity is not immoral, then end discrimination in all its forms against it. If it is immoral, then government should protect against its harm to society and does not provide special rights in support of it[i].”

Now, as a gay man, I have to protest his claim that I am immoral based on the inherent state of who I am.  But I have to say there is coherence in his argument that I have not seen in recent history of conservative politics.  Frankly, he is making a solid point in how we as a society have operated.

He is correct in stating as a society we have legislated / discriminated against that which was deemed *immoral*.  And as he stated in his response, we either did nothing about the immoral behavior or we sanctioned it without enforcement, or we punished it.  We promoted what society thought was moral and discriminated against that which we considered immoral. Slavery and polygamy were accepted as moral behaviors until the majority deemed it immoral. The reverse is also true in this country. Integration and interracial marriages were considered unacceptable and immoral until the majority deemed them moral.

And we as a country are still undecided regarding the morality of marriage between first cousins.  It is allowed in sixteen states, banned in 25 states, and carries a criminal offense in the remaining states.  Is it moral?  Sixteen states say yes and for the record the majority of New England states and southern states are in agreement in this regard.

The reason given for its being immoral is the possibility of deformed children being born to these unions. Some states require sterilization before such marriages can be allowed. However, these 16 states recognize that the threat of birth defects is only marginally higher between first cousins than between second or third cousins or in non-related spouses.

However, Texas, which instituted their ban against marriage between first cousins in 2005, makes it a felony charge with possible prison up to 20 years.  Conviction of having sex with your first cousin, regardless of marital status, results in registration of being a sex offender.   Being designated a sex offender carries with it an emotionally charged reaction from the society at large as this designation is often used to warn against pedophiles.   Marrying your first cousin is not the same as violating a child, yet the stigma is applied making marrying your first cousin as severe a crime as pedophilia.  Is it therefore immoral behavior?  For us living in a country where the rule of law is held as a moral compass, we have conflated law-abiding with morality.

Conflating the two, however, is troublesome.  What is legal does not automatically equate with what is moral.   It was perfectly legal to have whites’ only entrances and toilets in the early half of the 20th century. It was perfectly legal to have children under the age of 15 work in dangerous factories in the 19th century. It was perfectly legal to outlaw Jews in Nazi Germany and send them to their deaths. And it is currently perfectly legal to define marriage as one man one woman. Are any of these legalities moral?

Just because something is legal or illegal does not make that thing also moral or immoral.  The stronger reason why slavery, polygamy, pedophilia, racist segregation, child labor is considered immoral not because it is illegal but because of the imbalance of power and potentiality of emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual abuse in the relationships. Not only for the one who has no power in these relationships but also for the one in the dominant role.  Consensual marriage with your first cousin does not automatically mean an unequal power dynamic.

And the moral argument is also raised when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.  Society has said, albeit with exceptions, that killing another human is immoral.  The exceptions seem to be acts of war, self defense, and the death penalty.  Even these exceptions have been questioned.  So we now have the dilemma of the unwanted pregnancy.  When does life begin?  When is the fetus a human baby and therefore immoral to terminate?

It is an issue that will probably never ever be fully settled because even within the same dominant religious tradition within this country there are two definitions of when life begins.  The first is the belief that life begins at first breath.  This is referenced several times in the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis and elsewhere.  The second is the belief that life began before birth with the Hebrew Psalms declaring that one’s destiny was written even while within the womb.

The first supports a theology that humans have agency, free will, the ability to choose and that agency/ that choice began with the infant drawing its first breath.  The second develops a theology that humans do not have agency, that their lives are pre-determined, pre-destined by a god who has already decided who is to destined for salvation and who is destined for eternal damnation.

The first supports that the woman also has agency, free will, the ability to choose and create her destiny.  The second supports that the woman does not have agency. She is only a vessel for her offspring, the continuation of the species and any greatness she may achieve is through the fruit of her womb.   There are sacred and poetic texts extolling the womb of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Her value is only in the fact that she gave birth to a long awaited heir to the throne of David, a messiah, a king.

The followers of the theology that people have agency would say that the woman needs to enter pregnancy willingly and knowingly of the consequences of nurturing a child.  Therefore if she becomes pregnant against her will or does not for her own reasons believe she can accept or support the consequences of pregnancy she has several options to choose.  She may opt to support the pregnancy and raise the child or offer the child into adoption, or to terminate the pregnancy.  The fetus inside her is not a human being until it can draw its first breath or other wise be viable outside of the womb.   And should she choose to have an abortion; the theology declares no shame in that decision.

The followers of the second theology would declare the rights of the fetus supersede the rights of the vessel that carries it.  To end the pregnancy they argue would be in violation of one of the Ten Commandments, thou shalt not kill.  Murder we have already stated has an exceptions clause but this apparently is not one of them. Those advocating Personhood rights at conception state that terminating a fertilized ovum would be murder punishable, at the very least, by a long prison sentence and depending on how the laws are written possibly by capital punishment-the death penalty.  Those who protest against abortion tend to add the stigma of shame into the equation for those women who made a choice to do what nature does over 75% of the time[ii] with all conceptions.   I would argue that personhood bills create an unfair power dynamic over the woman, restricting her ability to have agency in her life just as slavery, polygamy, pedophilia, racist segregation, and child labor restrict the ability of agency for those trapped in such situations.

There is one more piece of the puzzle regarding determining what is moral.   Does morality come from within or is it imposed by some outside force, say a deity or a government?

Those who argue for an end for a woman’s right to choose also tend to argue that morality is imposed by an outside force, namely a deity.  The belief again is that humanity has no agency to determine its path.  Therefore, without the presence of an all judging god, humanity will of its own chaos reduce itself to immoral behavior as normative.  The argument therefore states that Humanity / society must therefore be constrained by outside forces be it governmental or be it a deity.

Unitarian Universalists have long argued that within each person is the agency to choose the best path.  Given the options, the pros and the cons, the parameters in which they find themselves a person will be able to make the best decision specific to their circumstances.  Making decisions that are morally sound are not easy tasks.

Is morality universal or is it relational?  Or is it a combination of the two?   I suggest that morality is indeed both universal and relational.  All of our world religions have some form of the Golden Rule, which implies some universality to what may define moral behavior.  I would love for people to treat me with shrimp and caviar so in my desire to be so treated I decide to treat others with shrimp and caviar; yet there are people that if I offer them shrimp and caviar it is as if I am offering them death because they are allergic.  So the universal does not always work in the specific.  It would be better if I who love shrimp and caviar offer an assortment of foods that can be chosen freely by others.   There are no absolutes in the specifics of living day to day.

I would question my friends who had to have their god observe absolutes.  My friends would state that abortion was always the wrong choice, no matter what.  I would ask them a question. Is god a loving, compassionate, god?  Yes, they would answer.  What if in god’s loving compassion towards a young woman who was so wounded from living in a sexually abusive home that to have a child at this time would only ensure that the child would be equally wounded.  Would that god allow an abortion as being more merciful to the young woman than to have her endure a pregnancy and have a child that she in her wounded state does not have the skills to raise?  They were never able to see god being merciful in such a manner.  They were never able to see god being gentle with this young woman and grace her with a chance to heal the scars of spiritual and physical violence before becoming a mother.  In short, they could not accept that even god might show mercy when they could not.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even criminals love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even criminals do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even criminals lend to criminals to receive as much back. (Luke 6 Fred’s paraphrase)

Blessed Be.

 

The Moral Argument by Rev. Fred L Hammond delivered on  14 April 2013 © to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa


HB360: Asks Medical Profession to Ignore Science

The state legislature of Alabama has introduced HB 360 which would amend a previous act regarding abortion with new conditions and new terms.  First it adds a phrase to the definition of abortion which is a prelude to the Personhood bill  (SB 205) that is expected to  come up this session.

“Abortion: The use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance or device with the intent to kill the unborn child of a woman known to be pregnant or with the intent to prematurely terminate the pregnancy of a woman known to be pregnant.”  (Underlined is new wording in the Act).

This new language sets the stage for a declaration of Personhood to a fertilized ovum by explicitly declaring abortion is murder.  It is intentionally offensive to those who do not share these religious beliefs.

There is a new  requirement in “§26-23A-4 (9) The abortion provider who is to perform or induce the abortion, a certified technician, or another agent of the abortion provider shall make the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for the pregnant woman to hear the heartbeat as described in Section 3 of the act adding this amendatory language.    (underlined is new wording in the Act).    How this is done for the woman who is deaf, I do not know,  but it would be the abortion provider who is required to make it so or be subject to fines.

But this is not even the crux of this bill as the most heinous and unscrupulous section of this bill is the following:

(8) The material shall include the following statements: “Your chances of getting breast cancer are affected by your pregnancy history. If you have carried a pregnancy to term as a young woman, you may be less likely to
get breast cancer in the future. However, you do not get the same protective effect if your pregnancy is ended by an abortion. The risk may be higher if your first pregnancy is aborted.” and ” If you have a family history of breast cancer or clinical findings of breast disease, you should seek medical advice from your physician before deciding whether to remain pregnant or have an abortion. It is always important to tell your doctor about your complete pregnancy history.”     (underlined is new wording in the Act).

This statement is blatantly false.  There is no evidence that abortions  result in greater risk for cancer–it has been proven there is no causative link between the two.   Dr Jen Gunter covers in her blog the scientific research that proves that there is no link between the two.   Here is a quote from her article summarizing the newest study:

A new study confirms this data, that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. The data come from a study of over 25,000 Danish women from the Diet, Cancer, and Health study. The women completed questionnaires and then were followed for an average of 12 years. This kind of study is probably the best way to look at two common and emotional charged occurrences, like abortion and breast cancer, because there is no recall bias. When something bad happens it is human nature to look back and try to assign causality, but collecting the data prospectively removes this element. The study was also well-powered to detect even a small increase, so another plus.

For Alabama legislators to codify such blatant lies into law is unethical and immoral.  It is placing the women of our state at great risk because  if their physician lies to them about this information, what else is the physician willing to lie about?  I do not expect our legislators to be well versed on every subject but I do expect them to know how to read scientific journals and able to discern between real science and the garbage the religious right calls science.

The religious right calls it science when they believe something to be true and then seek evidence to validate their belief.  That is not science that is magical thinking.   They interview women who have had breast cancer and then ask them if they ever had an abortion.  They do not even consider this fact about spontaneous abortions:

Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy.

This fact reveals the nonsensical element of their finding alleged causative links.  There are lots of factors that lead a person to develop cancer but abortions (spontaneous or intended) have been ruled as not being one of them. Our legislators need to put their religious beliefs aside and reconsider the impact this legislation will have on a state already tarnished as being uneducated.

Requiring physicians to betray their professional ethics and standards by codifying lies into law is harmful to all of Alabama.  This bill needs to be defeated not only for the reasons that it attacks a woman’s right to choose but mainly because it is simply bad legislation. Period.

Reproductive Rights: The Right to Choose

Reproductive rights in Alabama is heating up this year with several bills being presented before the legislature in Montgomery.  Whose right is it to determine what happens in one’s body?

HB108: The Religious Liberty Act of 2013,  dubbed the Hobby Lobby bill, would allow businesses to deny birth control and other contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, devices and or methods from the medical benefits  offered to employees under the guise that it violates the employer’s religious freedom.

Not every woman who is on contraceptives is taking them to prevent pregnancy.  Some women are on contraceptives to treat medical issues. To think that contraceptives only purpose is to allow women to have sex without pregnancy is ignorant and reveals a lack of moral maturity. We as a nation,  as sophisticated as we are in many arenas, when it comes to morality especially when it pertains to sexuality are very sophomoric about it.  We still believe that it is alright for boys to sow their oats but girls must remain pure and innocent.  This double standard implies that if females  take contraceptives then they must be as Rush Limbaugh so infamously announced: sluts.  The males? — well they simply cannot control themselves.

Using the religious liberty angle is equally immature.  We do not live in a religiously homogenous society and have not ever since the puritans divided into Trinitarians and Unitarians–not to mention the exile of the  Baptists to what was to become Rhode Island.  To act as if we live in a homogenous society results in bills that seek to impose one’s religious views over another.  This is not what religious freedom means. Religious freedom means that I have the right to worship and practice my faith according to my conscience in equal measure to your having the right to worship and practice your faith according to your conscience. It means that together we seek to lift up values that are held in common and we legislate to protect those common values. It does not mean that one religious view is superior or should have precedent over any other religious view.  This is what using the religious liberty angle attempts in this legislation.  It is stating the religious beliefs of the employer are superior and carry more validity to those religious beliefs or non-belief of the employee.

So for example: We have a common value in road safety.  So while it could be argued that texting while driving is an interference to performing one’s business (personal or professional) obligations , it is also an endangerment to the other drivers on the road and would no longer uphold the value of  road safety.  Because we as a society value road safety as a higher priority than the instant need to text someone, we in Alabama have banned texting while driving. Someone, presumably, could argue that texting while driving is a form of prayer in the same vein that rattlesnake handling is a form of prayer for some religious sects. Texting while driving is a matter of proving one’s faith so to speak. Do we then pass a religious liberty act protecting drivers who as an act of faith text and drive?  Of course not, it’s absurd but that is the same rationale behind HB 108. It is absurd to pass legislation on religious grounds that alleges that one’s religious morals are superior to another person’s–disregarding the potential harm such a stance may have the employee’s health and well-being.

I have already written on HB57 “Women’s Health and Safety Act.” You may read it here.  But let me add this act also is based on a very specific religious point of view that  pretends to be the singular view.  It too is filled with subjective language that assumes everyone agrees with this singular viewpoint. The best example in the bill is where abortions are equated to the “taking of a human life” –implying murder.   There is no factual evidence presented to back up the claims made in this proposed legislation. Because it assumes this singular view of religious thought as the only view that matters, it attacks a value that is as American as baseball and apple pie.

America has a long history of honoring the value of individual rights and in this context over one’s physical body.  We have as a nation lauded the individual spirit, the do or die attitude of the American.  It had however, a masculine aroma surrounding it excluding women.  When our nation was founded the phrase  “all men created equal” referred only to white males who were landowners.  But that sentiment has expanded and developed in America to hopefully encompass everyone (soon it will even include gender and sexual diversities) but to be still debating it in regards to women in 2013 is a painful and embarrassing shame on America. We still have not passed basic individual rights like equal pay for equal work.

The few gains in individual rights regarding women’s health issues have been undermined in recent years. The right for a woman to determine when she wants to be pregnant is fraught with stigma and shame.  And the woman, if she is single, it does not matter which decision she chooses, she is wrong and shameful.  It is wrong for her to keep the child and raise it as a single parent and it is wrong for her to abort the pregnancy.  I have known women who have chosen one or the other and regardless of their choice, their lives were made difficult by others and by legislation enacted for choosing incorrectly.

I long for the day when a woman’s choice is honored and respected, regardless if it is to keep the pregnancy (even in the best of circumstances that decision is life altering) or if the decision is to abort.  Their decision needs to be honored, respected, and supported.  This save the fetus but damn the child that is born is the most morally depraved stance I have ever witnessed.

One of the speakers at the HB57 hearing said it best, when she said there are ways of reducing abortions.  We can educate people in advance of pregnancy through comprehensive sexual education (a proven way to reduce teenage pregnancy by the way). We can provide services that will support the choice to carry out the pregnancy with child support, aid the single mother to finish her education so she can afford a position that will not only feed and clothe the child but also pay for childcare.  But the bottom line is we have got to stop stigmatizing women who choose differently than we would have.

Stigmatizing others  is not congruent with any of our religious texts–instead we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This teaching is in the Christian, Hebrew, and Islamic texts.  It is found in the Mormon, Buddhist, and Tao teachings as well.  And it is congruent with the  principles of my Unitarian Universalist Faith.

We must respect and trust the individual to make the choices that are right for her.  That is the American value I was taught by my Republican parents and grandparents.  We value  individual freedoms and we have fought wars to prevent governments from curtailing those individual freedoms on their citizens.  And I can not think of any individual freedom that is more important than the ability to choose as best as we are able to discern the life path of our bodies.

Imposing our religious beliefs on a woman who is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy is spiritual violence.  It causes more irreparable and long term trauma than any other kind of violence committed against a person.  Yes, by all means offer counseling, offer education, offer alternative options but do not tell her her decision is wrong when she makes it.

Personal story:  I was the co-founder and executive director  of an  AIDS ministry for many years.  One of our clients, who discovered her HIV status when she was pregnant with her first child and born HIV positive, became pregnant several years later.  By this time our treatment of pregnant women with HIV had improved considerably but this woman’s health was extremely fragile.  She had just found a combination of drugs that reduced her viral load.  She wanted to have this child.  But the risks to her health were great. She  had to come off all  medications and go on AZT which would not help her own immune system and given the state of her health might not prevent perinatal transmission of the virus.  Her case management agency was advising her to abort.  My agency took the view that as long as she had all of the information needed to make a decision, it was her right to choose and then our responsibility to stand by that decision and support her as best we could. There were many arguments between the two agencies regarding our refusing to support her getting an abortion.  There were way too many things that could happen. Emphasis on could happen.  She had the information including the risk that she could die in the process.  She chose to keep the pregnancy. It was a difficult pregnancy, fraught with all sorts of complications that late stage HIV disease could have on a woman.  The baby was born healthy against all odds and her health with medications returned.  We stood by her decision to see this pregnancy through. It could have ended tragically and her first child could have become an orphan as a toddler.  But her ability to set the course for her life was utmost more important than anyone’s  religious convictions.

I believe in a woman’s right to make an informed choice regarding abortion.  The stigma surrounding her choice in this nation is harmful and needs to end.  I stand in opposition to HB108 and HB57 because they curtail a woman’s ability to choose what she feels is best for her.  And these laws further add shame to her for choosing differently.

I will write on the upcoming SB 205 Personhood Bill in a separate post.

HB 57: How to Shut Down a Woman’s Right to Choose

I attended the public hearing on AL HB 57 having the the misnomer of being called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act.” I had a chance to speak to this bill. Here is what I said:

Let’s be honest about what HB 57 really is about: The fiscal notes make the intention of this bill very clear. It is to shut down medical clinics–not to protect the lives of women. This bill is about government interfering in the individual rights of women having domain over their own bodies. Plain and simple. This is not about safer medical clinics. Stiff regulations with class C felony charges for non-compliance are an attempt to bully clinics into closing if they are unable to comply with the regulations because of cost factors to come up to the new codes—codes that include interfering with Doctors determining the safest course of action for their patient. Do not be deceived by HB 57 it is not about safety it is about interference in choices women make over their own bodies. Women will seek abortions whether there are clinics in this state or not. The question is will the women have them in medical clinics or in some alley as they did 40 years ago before Roe v Wade. I urge you to vote down HB 57.

There were several people who were invited to speak first in favor of this bill.  Not as many as I anticipated and those opposing this bill far outnumbered them.  Two were women with heart wrenching tales of being whisked through back door entrances and then left alone after the procedure. One woman had her abortion in 1977. The second woman’s tale was even more harrowing, claiming she had become pregnant before her wedding and her fiance forced her at gunpoint to have an abortion and then after her being coerced never saw her fiance again. She then made the claim that she can no longer have children because the abortion resulted in her having cancer three times making her unable to conceive children.

I found both of these heart wrenching stories to be poor choices to support this bill. The first one because the event took place in 1977. I was to find out by later testimony the clinic she went to for  her abortion was closed decades ago because of sub-standards. The second story because being coerced at gun point to get an abortion is a criminal offense and she is blaming the clinic instead of her assailant. Further, studies have proven there is no link between abortions and cancer.  While these stories were heart wrenching they didn’t have much credibility to address the current situation of the state’s remaining five clinics.

One of the clinic operators from Montgomery spoke to the requirement that doctors must have attending privileges at local hospitals.  She stated that the doctors at her clinic come from Atlanta and Washington, DC.   She stated that doctors that only perform abortions cannot receive attending privileges at local hospitals in Alabama.  But this fact alarmed me. No one asked the obvious question.  Why did this clinic have to rely on doctors from distant and out of state cities like Atlanta and Washington DC?  Are there no doctors already in Montgomery willing to perform abortions?

In the  abortions arranged in this state there have only been 6 deaths of women as a result.  And the two most recent deaths occurred over 20 years ago.  Another opponent stated in any other medical field this kind of statistic would be hailed as a sign of excellence.  She further stated that women are 14 times more likely to die from a pregnancy she didn’t want  than if she had an abortion.

One of the requirements of HB 57 is to require clinics to meet the standards prescribed in the rules foroffice-based procedures – moderate sedation/analgesia,” and shall meet all other requirements in those rules, including the recommended guidelines for follow-up care, requirements for recovery area, assessment for discharge, reporting requirements, and registration requirements.

However, the five clinics in Alabama never use heavy sedation and never general anesthesia. The requirements mandate that any clinic with 4 or more patients receiving moderate to heavy sedation at a time need to be able to evacuate patients via gurneys in case of fire.  The clinics maintain they never have more than 3 women at a time in recovery. The sedation used is light to moderate sedation and the women are ambulatory and able to leave on their own and have no need for gurneys.
All five clinics in order to comply with the requirements needed for moderate sedation/analgesia which they rarely use would include building new facilities because the land they currently are on does not allow for expansion.  In short, these clinics will be forced to close because they will not be able to comply with the provisions of this bill, provisions that are not warranted and have only one purpose and one purpose only: to shut down legal abortion clinics in the state.
Next up:  SB 205 Personhood bill defining the rights of a newly impregnated egg as having full rights and protection as an independently living human.
HB 57 already is preparing for passing SB 205 because  Section 2 begins with The Legislature finds  all of the following:
(4) Abortion involves not only a surgical procedure with the usual risks attending surgery, but also involves the taking of human life. 
This means the legislature in passing this law is already prejudiced in believing that abortions are immoral and those who have abortions are murderers. If this bill passes it will effectively close the remaining five abortion clinics in the state.
HB 57 will be coming up for a vote next Wednesday after there are amendments proposed and further review is made after findings of this hearing.  There will be no further public hearings on this bill before the Senate.