Gagging on the Global Gag Rule and More

Trump’s Religious Push to Control Women’s Bodies and Why We Must Resist

Christopher Hitchens was quite fond of pulling the curtain off Mother Teresa’s persona and her Sisters of Charity organization. He showed that Teresa didn’t so much love the poor as she loved poverty and suffering, and that her doctrinal beliefs essentially mandated pain, because she believed pain brought one closer to God. Teresa figured out that if she could keep the poor in poverty, she and her Church could look like humanitarians by offering minimal assistance to those in need.

In reality, those who were “cared for” by the Sisters of Charity were victims of a deeply violent and ill-fated religious doctrine that demands suffering in the material world with the promise of reward, after death, in the next metaphysical world. Such claims cannot be rationally proven yet are accepted as “truth” by millions if not billions of believers across numerous doctrines and faiths all over the planet.

You may be asking yourself: “What does this have to do with the religious right’s attack on women’s healthcare?”  It’s a good question and let me explain. Pro-lifers really aren’t pro-life, they’re pro-soul, believing that once life is conceived, it has an immortal soul and therefore can only be managed and extinguished through God’s purview and will. Once conceived, taking a life through abortion isn’t about extinguishing life per se, but about taking the soul, which doesn’t belong to humans but to God.

We know that the soul is not a provable or testable material entity and that, in fact, it’s just a theological construct. When asked where a soul resides inside the human body, most religionists will claim it’s the “cosmic energy” held within the brain, or will liken it to untestable aspects of consciousness. Each claim is not evidence of the soul but an obfuscation of two facts.

Fact one: the subjective hijacking and placement of the soul within immeasurable aspects of consciousness is a false-flag argument. It’s like saying that because we can’t scientifically weigh an individual thought, that thought itself could therefore be divine or come from somewhere outside of the body. This is not only bad theology, but if one attempts to take such divine measurements, it’s terrible science as well.

Secondly, presuming that the release of a body’s energy upon death is proof of the soul is itself without measure—unknowable and based on spiritual and religious faith rather than fact. We are made of “star stuff” but that doesn’t mean that the “stuff” continues as our consciousness or that the released energy is directed anywhere but back into the recycling of the uncaring and unconscious universe.

For President Trump, pleasing the religious right is not a chore. It is an obligation based on politics. For a president who lacks both a moral compass and a doctrinal center, his policies are essentially up for grabs to the highest bidder—the bids being influence and what Trump values most, and that is partisan and personal: loyalty.

While Trump and the religious right aren’t fully comfortable bedfellows, such sleeping arrangements do have their political utility. Evangelicals for the most part dislike Trump and came very late to his side during the 2016 election, supporting other candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio before they became political road kill. Trump, as their third-place contestant but now first-place president, is seen as an ally to move the regressive Right’s religious and political agenda forward.

Since Roe v. Wade was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1973, and upheld after numerous religious challenges in the decades since, the Evangelical right has been organizing to stop legal abortion through intimidation, sometimes violence, and political and legal encroachment. In 2004 the administration of then-president Bush, himself a born-again Christian, was dedicated to outlawing abortion. The religious right was able to get the Unborn Victims of Violence Act passed through Congress and signed by Bush. The act is the first time the federal government has offered “personhood” to the fetus. As you can imagine, it was meant to be part of the slippery-slope campaign to get abortion overturned by the courts and even criminalized.

During the Obama presidency, Republicans backed by the Evangelical and religious right worked on the federal level to limit access to abortion and defund organizations that provide abortion and healthcare services to women. On the state level, Colorado, Mississippi, Kansas, Louisiana, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas all attempted to pass or did pass laws severely restricting abortion in their state.

Indeed, with their first failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the House of Representatives, the Republicans included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood. After internal struggles the House version of the American Health Care Act passed on May 4, and partially defunds Planned Parenthood. It remains to be seen what the Senate version will attempt.

It’s important to remember that Planned Parenthood, while it still does receive federal monies to support national women’s healthcare, could not and did not use any federal funds for abortion services. Like all similar organizations that provide such services, they are legally restricted from using federal monies for abortion.

This fact concerning federal money may escape the uninformed, but it is apparent to those who wish to see women’s healthcare protected. Not so ironically, Planned Parenthood tends to serve women in areas of poverty, and in urban and rural places around the nation where access to OB/GYN services are limited both in terms of the number of practicing physicians and distance to receive treatment.

It’s gravely apparent that when religion and politics meet, women become the victims of draconian views of their personhood.

What’s so stunning with the Planned Parenthood loss is the ongoing reality that the Evangelical right is simultaneously attempting to remove federal funding and relax federal guidelines for social safety-net programs like welfare, school lunches, infant healthcare, and other types of care so vital for humans to live a fairly safe and good life outside the womb. This ongoing war not on poverty but the poor is also a religious argument for divine intervention and essentially stipulates that “we can’t let you die in the womb but…well, its God’s plan what happens to you once you’re born so you’ll get no tax dollars from me.”

President Trump’s evangelically approved stance on abortion just doesn’t have national implications, either. In late January he reinstated the Mexico City Policy (also called the “Global Gag Rule”), which blocks federal funding to international family planning NGO’s that may, as part of their services, provide or promote abortion. First instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, the federal ban has been removed by Democratic administrations and reinstated by Republican ones. Yesterday the State Department released details of their plan to expand the policy significantly. Slate’s Christina Cauterucci writes that

previous iterations of the rule have only applied to the roughly $600 million the US sets aside for family-planning assistance. Donald Trump’s version will apply to all global health aid—about $8.8 billion. Now, all overseas nonprofits must accept as a condition of any US assistance that they cannot so much as tell a woman that abortion is a legal option.

Most atheists and humanists understand that since this is the only life we truly know we have, it makes sense to support progressive policies that make life better for everyone outside, rather than inside the womb.

But pro-lifers (aka pro-soulers) not only hope to ban a woman’s legal right to abortion in the US and around the world, they’d like to make contraception illegal and (dare I say) masturbation as well, which it was when the Church ruled the land. Now, because the president has their ear and they have his powerful signature, women are at risk and important organizations like Planned Parenthood teeter on the dustbin of both rightness and history.

We must resist the actions of this president while he continues to support regressive religious policies that undermine the secular founding of our nation. If we in the atheist and humanist community can get as organized and ready to fight as the religious right has since the 1980s, we can work to ensure a much kinder and more secular United Stated of America.