September 19, 2021

Abortion Access for Episcopalians

Anti-abortion activists are predominately Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. To the degree that their activism is sincere, it is based on the religious notion that the unborn are human, and therefore children of God in need of their protection. In discussions of abortion, however, the religious underpinnings of their passion are seldom made explicit. Most often, we are told that abortion is murder, an idea sometimes soft-pedaled with slogans like “abortion stops a beating heart. Linda Greenhouse recently wrote, however, that, with a now sympathetic Supreme Court in place, “Republican officeholders are no longer coy about their religion-driven mission to stop abortion.”

In modern times, of course, infanticide is nearly universally condemned as murder. It is difficult to make a moral distinction between killing a newborn and aborting a pregnancy close to term. The not-quite-born child is not substantially different from the just-born child. Each one is, at least in a physiological sense, fully human. For this reason, late-term abortions of apparently normal pregnancies are clearly problematic. One might question the interest of the state in their prohibition, however. Nevertheless, most citizens, whatever their views of abortion generally, are very uneasy about such late procedures.

One may quibble (obviously) about earlier abortions. An embryo or fetus is human, in the same sense that a detached fingernail is human, though not a human. It is more correct to say that it is a potential human. The product of a recently established pregnancy has about the same relationship to a human being as an innertube has to an aircraft carrier. Only if one posits that implantation (or even fertilization) somehow causes a soul also to be implanted as well does an embryo take on an essential human property. (It is unclear what is supposed to happen to the soul if the embryo dies. Where does it go, or does it simply evaporate?) Its physical nature of an embryo or fetus, on the other hand, is as far from human as a worm or caterpillar.

In what is supposed to be a secular government, the religious view that an embryo or fetus is an actual human should be of no legal significance, even more so as that view is held by a small minority of religious zealots. Nonetheless, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and recent Supreme Court decisions such as the Hobby Lobby case have privileged reputed “religious freedom” over other freedoms. Turning back this unfortunate tide is a daunting task, but perhaps one can fight back by playing the religious game.

Suppose a female Episcopalian in, say, Texas, wants access to abortion. Can she not claim a “sincerely held” religious exemption from anti-abortion laws akin to the religious exceptions allowed in other circumstances. (We regularly allow such exceptions from obligations such as taking a COVID vaccination.)

The governing body of the Episcopal Church, the General Convention, has expressed its views on abortion. In Resolution A054 of 1994, after suggesting that abortion can have negative aspects, concluded by declaring

[T]his 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express[es] its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.

Does this not mean that an Episcopalian woman’s freedom of choice is fully endorsed by her religious authorities. Should not a Supreme Court that is so deferential to religious views allow this woman to have an abortion? I suggest that posing such a question before the court would expose to all the world that abortion restrictions promoted by a zealous religious minority are in fact an imposition of those minority religious views on the population generally. They are therefore improper for the government to enact and enforce.

September 16, 2021

Epiphany Insurrection

 On Saturday, Washington will see another rally of true believers of the Big Lie promoted by Donald Trump. Ostensibly, the event is a protest against the arrest and prosecution of the Trump loyalists who attacked the Capitol on January 6.

In a January 11 post, I discussed the need for an agreed-upon name for the events of January 6. As of now, there isn’t one. Occasionally, “1/6” is used, by analogy to “9/11,” but, as I wrote earlier, this is derivative, indirect, and not especially euphonious. More commonly, writers referring to the event describe it in phrases like “the assault on the Capitol.”

In my January 11 post, I suggested “Epiphany Putsch” as an appropriate name. Perhaps, however, this sounds too German. “Epiphany Insurrection” is perhaps a better choice. There is a consensus, at least among Trump’s detractors, that the event was indeed an insurrection. As for “Epiphany,” I will simply repeat what I wrote earlier:

The ragtag army that marched on the Capitol had no thoughts of the Christian celebration, but the sack of the Capitol was an epiphany of sorts—it manifested, for all to see, the logical consequences of the error of Trumpism. That epiphany has been powerful enough to remove the blinders from the eyes even of some Republicans who have hitherto been unshakable Trump sycophants.

Well, not the eyes of many Republicans. 

September 13, 2021

Thoughts on the 9/11 Twentieth Anniversary

 I watched a lot of television on Saturday as the nation commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. A few thoughts came to mind that I offer below.

When faced with a dire situation, the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 voted on what they should do. How American was that? Do you think that would happen today?

Would the people of United Flight 175, American Flight 11, and American Flight 77 have attacked their hijackers had they known the hijackers’ intentions?

The tragedies of 9/11 brought the country together. Why didn’t a global pandemic have a similar effect? That pandemic, after all, has killed about 200 times as many Americans as were lost on 9/11.

September 11, 2021

Looking Back 20 Years

Like most Americans, I had strong reactions to the events of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath. Unlike most Americans, I wrote a lot about those reactions on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, and, later, on this blog. Ten years ago, I made a series of 11 blog posts calling attention to what I had written in the previous decade. (The first post was published 9/11/2011 and was titled “Looking Back to 9/11. Part 1.” The series continued for the next 10 days.)

For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I offer a sort of annotated list of my writings related to that dreadful day.

  • Falling from the Sky (9/27/2001): This is my favorite poem about 9/11. It imagines what it must have been like to be in one of the World Trade Center towers on that terrible day. The poem is without rhyme and includes these thought-provoking lines: “Was immolation by jet fuel worse than the fire felt by Joan of Arc?/Those who jumped must certainly have thought so.”
  • 9/11 Memorial (6/30/2003): Although this poem was written long after 9/11. its setting is a church service held on the evening of 9/11. A candle on the altar reminded me of a burning tower. That night, we sang the hymn “All my hope on God id founded,” which contains the words “though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple fall to dust.” (Episcopalians have a hymnal sufficient for all occasions.)
  • What’s in a Name (9/16/2001): A meditation on the events of five days earlier. We had not yet settled on “9/11” as the name for what happened.
  • 11 September 2001 (9/23/2001): This poem is about how the country needed to react to 9/11. It was inspired by President Bush’s speech of 9/20/2001. It includes these lines: “Our passion aflame to our homeland defend,/We know the beginning, yet fear for the end.” That fear was well-founded.
  • Airplanes II (11/5/2001): This poem expresses relief over the resumption of commercial airline flights.
  • 2001 (begun 12/31/2001): This poem begins with the understated line “Two thousand one was not a good year.” The poem deals with events of 2001, including those of 9/11. My favorite lines are: “The heavenly bliss of American dreams/Was invaded by terrorist hell.”
  • Homeland Security (6/11/2002): The terrorism of 9/11 led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. I wasn’t convinced that this collection of government functions was needed, but I was sure that it had been given the wrong name.
  • Thanks, But No Thanks (3/18/2003): President Bush took his eyes off Afghanistan and focused on Iraq. I was justifiably skeptical.
  • Ground Zero Memorial (12/15/2003): When I wrote this essay, the nature of the memorial at the World Trade Center site had not yet been determined. I suggested what I thought should at least be a part of that memorial.
  • Lower Manhattan (9/15/2004): Simply a recognization that, since 9/11, “Lower Manhattan” has a double meaning.
  • From Yellow to Orange (7/7/2005): Thoughts concerning the Homeland Security Advisory System that was developed in response to 9/11.
  • United States–Iraq War Ends (12/15/2011): A formal end was declared to the Iraq War, which had strangely been linked to 9/11 by President Bush. What was the point?
  • A Memorial Day Prayer (5/29/2017): As the war in Afghanistan dragged on, it occurred to me that not all war dead died for good reason.
  • Who Lost Afghanistan (8/16/2021): As the war inspired by 9/11 is coming to an end, the recriminations can begin.
  • Get Me to the Plane on Time (8/22/2021): I end this series in rhyming satire: alternative words to “Get me to the church on time” as Americans and Afghans struggle to get to the airport to get out of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban. Afghanistan has come full circle.

September 8, 2021

Eliminating Rape in Texas

 It is widely recognized that the new Texas anti-abortion law is ludicrous, meanspirited, and unconstitutional. It is especially interesting that the law makes no exceptions for rape or incest. There is actually a kind of backhand good news here. If you are raped, whether by a stranger, acquaintance, or family member, you should have the good sense to realize that you do not want to be pregnant but you might be. Even with the time limit of the Texas law, there is likely time for a pregnancy test and, if necessary, an abortion. If you have sex in other circumstances, however, you may not even consider that you could be pregnant. Not all sex results in pregnancy, but not all birth control is 100% effective 100% of the time. When you realize you are pregnant, Texas law may deem an abortion illegal.

My advice is that, if you are raped, you should get a reliable pregnancy as soon as you can.

GOP Texas governor Greg Abbott has offered a reason why, in his opinion, no rape exception in the law is necessary. “Rape is a crime,” he explained, “and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”

Bess Levin has pointed out that Abbott’s intention may be hard to realize. As recently as 2019, 14,824 rapes were reported in Texas. (There were surely many, perhaps very many, unreported rapes.) Texas does not have a group of the “precogs” of Minority Report to arrest people who are about to commit rape; it can only arrest people who have already raped. Eliminating rape through law enforcement is a logical impossibility. And, as Levin asked, “[i]f he had that power [to eliminate rape], why didn’t he do it prior to enacting this law?”

The rape that Governor Abbott should eliminate is the rape of the civil rights of Texas residents. Eliminating sexual rape is beyond his power and, likely, beyond his sincere concern.

September 1, 2021

Thoughts on the New Texas Abortion Law

The most disturbing aspect of the new Texas abortion law is not that it bans nearly all abortions, though that is quite bad enough. The law is, after all, clearly unconstitutional. But even more distressing is the fact that the law outsources law enforcement to unscrutinized, unqualified zealots lacking the standing normally required to bring lawsuits and places a bounty on pregnant women and anyone helping them exercise their right to obtain an abortion.

The essence of Roe v. Wade is not simply a prohibition on governments’ restricting abortions. Instead, it is based on the notion that a woman has a right to privacy and to bodily integrity. The attempt of Texas to shirk its role in enforcing its abortion law should not be a valid workaround to avoid the obligations of Roe.

Yes, the new Texas law is an anti-woman law. It is also a pro-chaos law and an anti-rule-of-law law. If we begin outsourcing the enforcement of laws to citizens at large, the only law we will have left is the law of the jungle.

God help us! (So far, the Supreme Court hasn’t.)