The Theological Doctrines of the Alabama State Legislators

We live in a country that was founded on the notion of religious freedom in the broadest sense.  Unlike the Diet of Torda in 1500s Transylvania, religious freedom was extended not just to the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians but to all expressions of faith and non-faith. This country early on determined that there was to be a wall of separation between the government and the people in regards to the practice of religion.  The government was not in any way to endorse or promote a specific religious belief above all others.

Welcome to Alabama.  Where our elected officials flout their religious doctrines as supreme above all others.  Chief Justice Roy Moore has made it a quest to make Alabama and the United States a Christian nation branded with his version of Christianity.  He has not once but twice in his terms as Chief Justice promoted his brand of Christianity in the State.  The first time was his insistence to have a statue of the Ten Commandments in the State Court House.  He was removed from office for that battle.  He is now, once again at odds, with the federal courts regarding his refusal to honor a Federal Court order to commence same sex marriages in the state.  Based on his past flagrant disregard for Federal Court Rulings, I predict he will continue his ban on same sex marriage in the state if the Supreme Court rules that the ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional in June of this year.

He has support for his actions in the State House.  The Republican controlled house has submitted bills and resolutions that suggest that the Alabama State Legislators are operating on a Theological doctrine of how they view not only their role as legislators but also how they view the people of Alabama.  Last year the Health Committee passed a resolution that they believed that Life began at Conception and therefore the bills they were going to pass would reflect that belief.

This is a theological statement.  It is a religious doctrine of a specific sect of Christianity.  It is not a universal belief across Christianity nor across other religions. Jews, for example, teach that life begins at birth, the moment that the child draws their first breath akin to the breath of God that was breathed into Adam.  So here we have one example of the State House imposing their religious doctrine unto the citizens of the state.  Recently a public hearing was heard on House Bill 405, a bill that last year passed the house but did not make it through to law, makes it a criminal Class C Felony if a doctor performs an abortion without determining if the fetus has a heartbeat or if the doctor performs an abortion of a fetus that has a heartbeat.  When does a fetus develop a detectable heart beat?  Around 6 to 7 weeks.  When do most women learn they are pregnant?  Around 6 weeks.  The fetus is still in embryonic stage meaning it still looks more amphibian like rather than human.  Given that most women receive confirmation that they are indeed pregnant around 6 weeks, their decision to abort the pregnancy is one of urgency under this bill.  This means that if the woman was raped and becomes pregnant, she may have to live with the painful reminders of that rape for a long time. And in Alabama, the rapist has the right to demand custody and visitation rights.  This bill would negate anyone’s religious belief that life begins when the fetus can be viable outside of the uterus. In fact it declares their religious belief as a false doctrine.

There was another public hearing on House Bill 491 which authorizes health care providers to refuse to perform services that violate their conscience.  This means that a health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion but it also means that if they have an aversion to Transgenders receiving treatment enabling them to live in a body congruent with their gender, they can refuse to serve them as well.  This bill allows for shaming and discrimination against women and transgenders who claim the inalienable right to have control over their bodies. Rights that are taken for granted by cisgender males in our society. Again, it is a very narrow slice of Christianity that sees women’s bodies as not their own but their husband’s as the head of household.

In the state of Alabama, we do not yet have a personhood law that states that the fetus has all the rights and protections that other citizens have but this is the direction the State House is headed and it is a matter of time for such a law to be presented and passed.  HB 405 is the closest to making this claim and it would restrict further the ability for a woman to receive a medically supervised abortion in the state of Alabama. Personhood laws in other states have resulted in manslaughter charges if the woman is addicted to drugs and miscarriages or is unable to access prenatal care and miscarriages.

The doctrinal belief of the Alabama State House based on the bills they have passed and are proposing regarding human life is as follows:  Life begins at conception. Regardless if the conception was through an act of love or through violence, it must be protected at all cost. Any attempt to choose an abortion, regardless of the reason–life threatening to the woman, life threatening birth defect, rape, economic viability–is inconsequential to the shaming and shunning bestowed on the woman by medical providers because their personal religious beliefs trump the woman’s circumstances.  Any attempt by providers to perform an abortion that does not adhere to this doctrine are to be punished with a Class C Felony branding the provider as a criminal to be shunned and faces loss of career.  While not all of these reasons are currently codified as forbidden by law, this is the direction the State house is going and with each passing session they move closer to their goal of enforcing their doctrinal beliefs on the rest of the state. This is akin to the coercive moves the Taliban and Isis have taken where they are in control, though done at a much slower pace so as to be imperceptible to the populous until it is too late. Alabama State House is not afraid to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money to defend their doctrinal stances, in fact they are poised to do so at every turn and then cry poverty after wasting taxpayers money.

To be clear, religious practice is a very personal and intimate expression of faith that each person has the right to hold but it is not in the purview of any government, federal, state, or local to tell people how they are to practice their faith.  And for the State legislator by passing laws that favor a specific religious doctrine over others is to violate the sacred trust that this country was founded on. In this country where religious freedom is highly valued, no one should have the right to impose their religious beliefs on another.  Not an individual, and especially not any governmental entity or any representative of that government.

It would be one thing if the State House were consistent in their doctrinal beliefs in all of their creation of laws but their doctrine of protecting the fetus at all costs unfortunately ends at birth. Once the child is born, the theological doctrine I have just described is no longer on the table. The actions of the State House are antithetical to the ability of a person to pursue life, liberty, and happiness once the child is born.

On April 21 of this year, the Senate passed a  resolution forbidding the expansion of Medicaid, sentencing up to 700 individuals to death this year because they along with 300K Alabamians fall into the gap between Medicaid and the provisions covered in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Refusal of expanding medicaid will result the closure of some dozen hospitals, many of them located in rural and inner city areas where the majority of Alabama’s poor live.

How our state administers Food Stamps also reflects a conflicting doctrine to their doctrine regarding the sacredness of life.  Federal guidelines include employment requirements such as being registered for work but Alabama places added twists to this requirement. Striking employees, even if the strike is justified for better wages that would lift the family out of poverty, disqualifies the household unless the strike occurs after the household applies for food assistance. Food Stamps are not eligible to undocumented citizens.  This stipulation follows the federal but there is a caveat in Alabama–the income the undocumented citizen brings into the household is counted towards eligibility. Alabama legislators have already spent millions defending its hatred of immigrants. Here is their hypocritical stance, Alabama Legislators hate foreigners unless their presence helps keep citizens off the public dole.   And here is something of a catch-22; Social Security Numbers (SSN) are requested for each member of the household in order to receive food stamps.  The provision of SSN is stated as purely voluntary but not providing them disqualifies that member of the household.  If a SSN is a requirement for qualification, then providing it is not a voluntary act; it is coerced.

Apparently, the doctrinal belief of the State House is that each life is precious until it becomes a burden and then it can be ignored or thrown away or incarcerated for slave labor. Alabama has passed more laws restricting the freedoms of its citizens  Their approach to the welfare of the citizens of this state is one of total disregard of their inherent worth and dignity.

And then we have the infamously named HB 56--in its latest incarnation as a Religious Freedom Act.  This bill was created in response to the striking down of the same sex marriage ban by federal court and the upcoming SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage.  The proponents state this is not in any way an anti-gay legislation because it merely states that clergy and judges (the current people authorized in the state) can refuse to marry anyone for personal religious convictions and not face litigation for doing so.  They claim this is a save people from litigation bill not a codification of religious discrimination against the LGBTQ community.  Clergy have always had the right to refuse to marry any couple for any number of reasons–domestic violence, couple not of their faith tradition, and yes, doctrinal beliefs regarding what constitutes a marriage.  This bill is really aimed at giving judges the legal right to discriminate against those who do not hold their religious convictions regarding marriage.

There is a difference here– marriages performed before a judge or justice of the peace is not a religious ceremony.  It is a civil union.  Regardless of what a judge may personally believe about religious marriage ceremonies, a wedding officiated by her is not under the auspices nor  blessing of her church. It is not a religious ceremony.  It is merely a legal recognition by the state and federal government of a contract between two people. In the eyes of the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic god, the same sex couple married by the state is not married. In the eyes of the Presbyterian (USA), United Church of Christ, American Baptist god, the same sex couple is married.

So what is this law really about?  It is about a subset of Christianity imposing their doctrinal belief of marriage onto the citizens of the state. It is declaring their doctrinal belief as supreme trumping all others.  Judges have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state and federal government and regardless if their personal religious convictions place them at odds with those laws be it officiating a same sex marriage or enforcing the death penalty, they are required to do so. They do not have the right to impose their religious doctrine onto the people as an act of shaming and discrimination.

But this is Alabama– where theocracy is well rooted into the archaic 1901 state constitution.

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.