There's an interesting article in this week's New York Review of Books, written by Garry Wills about Jimmy Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, that offers some quite sharp insights on the so-called "pro-life" movement -- something I consider only slightly short of remarkable, given that this is coming from a patriarchal moralist and a paternalistic liberal journalist, two men who've not demonstrated much insight when it comes to women's rights.
In his book, Wills writes, Carter lays into the fundamentalist authoritarianism that's sweeping across the religious landscape, and which took over the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000.
Such attitudes are far from the ones recommended by Jesus in the gospels as Carter has studied and taught them through the decades, and their proponents have brought similar attitudes into the political world, where a matching political fundamentalism has taken over much of the electoral process. Such dictatorial attitudes defeat the stated goals of the fundamentalists themselves. On abortion, for instance, Carter argues that a "pro-life" dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns. Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.
Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.
The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world].
Don't tell the zealots. They don't want to hear it. More importantly, they don't want you to hear it.
A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions."[*] This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraceptionâ€”demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.
By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named "pro-life" movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia. And not only that, the fundamentalists try to impose the anti-life program in other countries by refusing foreign aid to programs that teach family planning, safe sex, and contraceptive knowledge. They also oppose life-saving advances through the use of stem cell research. With friends like these, "life" is in thrall to death. Carter finds these results neither loving (in religious terms) nor just (in political terms).
In other words, the so-called "anti-abortion movement" in the United States wants authoritarian political policies that emulate policies in countries where the unsafe abortion rates are highest in the world.
"Pro-life"? More like a Culture of Death. A Culture of Death that promotes the un-checked proliferation of military weapons into the hands of criminals and terrorists....
The pro-life forces have no problem with a gun industry and capital punishment legislation that are, in fact, provably pro-death. Carter, a lifelong hunter, does not want to outlaw guns and he knows that Americans would never do that. But timorous politicians, cowering before the NRA, defeat even the most sensible limitations on weapons useful neither for hunting nor for personal self-defense (AK-47s, AR-15s, Uzis), even though, as Carter shows, more than 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs told Congress that these weapons are obstacles to law enforcement. The NRA opposed background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists and illegals, and then insisted that background checks, if they were imposed, had to be destroyed within twenty-four hours. The result of such pro-death measures, Carter writes, is grimly evident: "American children are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents." Where are the friends of the fetus when children are dying in such numbers?
A Culture of Death that fights against the power of the people against the super-rich multi-national corporations....
It is the gap between rich and poor in the world that presents the main threat to our future, yet American policies increase that gap, at home and abroad. We give proportionally less money in foreign aid than do other developed countries, and our ability to give is being decreased by our growing deficit, incurred to reward our own wealthy families with disproportionate tax cuts. Carter points out that much of the aid announced or authorized never reaches its targets. This reflects a general smugness about America's privileged position. We are dismissive of other countries' concern with the world environment, with nuclear containment, and with international law.
A Culture of Death that proudly crows its willingness to use torture and bribery and nuclear weapons to push "national interests"....
We have, for example, declared our right to first use of nuclear weapons. We have used aid money to bribe people against holding us accountable to international law. We have run secret detention centers where hundreds of people are held without formal charges or legal representation. We have rewarded with high office men who, like Alberto Gonzales, say that the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners are "obsolete" or even "quaint," or who, like John Bolton, say that it is "a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so."
The result, as Carter writes, has been to turn a vast fund of international good will accruing to us after September 11 into fear of and contempt for America unparalleled in modern times.
In other words, it's all of a piece -- the right's contempt for human life, which for American citizens is so cynically packaged by as a "Culture of Life," promotes death in America and worldwide. And what is becoming increasingly clear is that the right's bottom line is that they are all for promoting governmental and corporate power at the expense of human rights and human lives.
How can a loving religion or a just state support such a culture of death? Only a self-righteous and punitive fundamentalism, not an ethos of the gospels, can explain this.