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.

When does personhood begin?

This is a variation on the age-old question of when does life begin–at conception or at birth?  There was a recent bill passed in Utah that criminalizes  miscarriages as homicide if the woman engages in “intentional, knowing, or reckless act” that results in a miscarriage.   Potentially this means if the woman does not wear a seatbelt, or she drinks alcohol, smokes, falls down stairs, or remains in an abusive relationship and then miscarries she could be charged with homicide.   This bill had passed both houses of the state legislature and was sent to the Governor for signing.   The Governor wisely, after an uproar nationwide, sent the bill back for removal of the most offensive language, the word reckless.   It is expected that some miscarriages will still be considered homicide and carry a felony.

There is another bill , an amendment actually that will redefine for Mississippi what is the legal definition of personhood.  Personhood Mississippi is seeking to define personhood as beginning at conception.  The wording of the amendment is as follows:  Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hearby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”  The organization has received wide support and exceeded the number of signatures needed to place this on the 2011 ballot.   There are similar petitions being submitted in Florida, California, Montana, and Missouri. 

Obviously if this personhood amendment were to be pass it would strike down the women’s right to control her own body should she become pregnant even if that pregnancy were to threaten her life.  If she aborts the fetus because of the risk to her health, under this redefinition she could be charged with infanticide but if the birth of the child resulted in the death of the mother, does the newborn then get charged with matricide since the fetus is a person with rights and responsibilities?  A whole other question for debate. 

These are two bills that would alter how we define personhood. These bills are based in a theological and doctrinal belief that conception is the start of personhood or the start of life.  There are doctrinal beliefs that state that birth is the beginning of the person’s life. 

Two very popular verses in the Hebrew Scriptures are quoted to support the doctrine that life begins at conception:  Jeremiah 1:5 states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  and Psalm 139: 13, 16 reads “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb . . . your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”   These verses point to more than simply when life begins but also suggests the doctrine of pre-destination. 

There are verses in the Hebrew Scriptures that support the doctrine that life begins at birth when the baby draws its first breath.  Genesis 2:7,   He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became a living being”.   Although the man was fully formed by God in all respects, he was not a living being until after taking his first breath. In Job 33:4, it states:   “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Again, to quote Ezekiel 37:5;6,   “Thus says the Lord God to these bones:   Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.   And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live;   and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  [as found at http://joeschwartz.net/life.htm

These two very different and opposing doctrines are based in the Bible. These are doctrines held by various denominations of the Christian and Jewish faith.  So whose doctrine is correct?  And whose doctrine should reign supreme in a democracy that claims freedom of religion? 

To add to the confusion, science has its own varied theories of when human life begins.  Does it begin at fertilization?  Does it begin at gastrulation–the point at which the embryo can no longer subdivide and create twins or triplets.  Or  is it when an EEG can be discerned?  It is a definition of death, when the brain flatlines and an EEG no longer registers.  Or is it when the fetus has potential viability, or when there is lung function somewhere between weeks 25 and 28 of gestation.   Or is it when the cord is cut and the first breath has been drawn?   Science according to which area of speciality has multiple answers to when human life begins.  As Dr. Gilbert states in his lecture given in 2007 (see link here)  there is no one coherent view and no consensus in the answer.

The answer is not one that will be found easily.  And if we are going to pass laws based on a doctrinal belief rather than based on the unfolding science then the debate becomes whose religious doctrine is supreme.  That is a road towards theocracy.  A road that this democracy needs to ensure that humanity never travels down again as it thwarts the fullness of humanity in all of its creativity and expression.    Blessings,

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 11:55 am  Comments Off on When does personhood begin?  
Tags: , , , , , , ,