Religious Rightism in the Democratic Party has Consequences
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 14, 2016 at 08:58:01 PM EST
Those of us who write about the Religious Right and related matters often find ourselves wishing that we were wrong. Back in 2011 we faced one of those times. As journalist Jodi Jacobson put it, "The president has presided over the greatest erosion to women's reproductive health and rights in the past 30 years, and a continuing degradation of our rights at the state level." The neglect to women's reproductive freedom and access to reproductive health services will be a lasting legacy of this president. There are many reasons for this of course, but it is helpful to see how we got here, and what lessons we have learned and which one's we haven't. That is a project for another day, but this post from five years ago is a good place to begin to consider what happened and why. -- FC

One of the consequences of the creeping Religious Rightism in the Democratic Party has been the steady erosion of reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care for women, especially abortion care.  

Two items in the news underscore the situation. A special issue of Conscience  magazine questions whether the Obama administration's policies can be considered prochoice.  And an article in the Los Angeles Times, outlining the current "torrent" of draconian antiabortion legislation being proposed, and sometimes enacted in the states.  The latter is, of course, but an indicator of the still-cresting wave of state level anti-abortion public policy work in the generation since the Casey decision of the Supreme Court, which allowed considerable, medically unnecessary, state regulation of access to abortion care.

Journalist Jodie Jacobson, writing in Conscience, reviews the highlights of Obama's prochoice 2008 campaign stances and his record so far as president and concludes,

"The president has presided over the greatest erosion to women's reproductive health and rights in the past 30 years, and a continuing degradation of our rights at the state level."
None of this will surprise those who have been following Democratic Party's dubious "faith outreach" schemes -- which have sought to attract antiabortion Catholics and evangelicals,  while mostly ignoring, and marginalizing the prochoice religious community. In terms of policy, this has also led to what could be generously described as inattention to the steady decline in access to abortion services in most of the country.

Towards this end, we have seen a down playing of the so-called "culture wars" to the point of claiming, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the Religious Right is dead or dying, and that the culture wars themselves are over or just about.  This has been accompanied by calls by political consultants for eliding the phrase separation of church and state from the vocabulary of Democratic candidates for federal office because it is not in the Constitution; and even unsupported claims by some faith leaders and even candidate Obama that "secularists" are driving religious people from public life.  

All this is part of the context of the way the antiabortion term and elements of the agenda of "abortion reduction" have emerged in the Democratic Party.  In 2006, for example, a Party faith outreach consultant Eric Sapp, declared at an event sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:  

On abortion you are seeing a shift within the Democratic Party in the way they're talking about the issue. Talking about abortion reduction is a very effective political step, but it also moves the discussion forward; it wasn't just talk. In the House two different legislative packages were proposed that would have truly targeted many of the core causes of abortion. It would not completely end abortion, but it would do a whole lot better than we're doing right now.

More recently, a staffer at the liberal Washington, DC think tank Faith in Public Life claimed that the Democratic Party platform and candidate Barack Obama in his 2008 Party convention speech specifically supported "abortion reduction," when in fact, neither was the case. The candidate and the Party promised something much different.  

Nevertheless, it has come to pass that the ostensibly prochoice Democratic Party and its prochoice Democratic president has failed to lead on abortion, while seeking to find common ground with a movement that was not interested. This should surprise no one, since the very public, public policy agenda of the antiabortion movement has been to erode access to the procedure under the rubric of abortion reduction primarily via state laws and regulations, but obviously in tandem with aggressive street level protests; harassment of patients and staff; and all in the context of violence and threats of violence.

Melanie Zurek, executive director of the Abortion Access Project told me in 2009, that while there were many proposals in play at the time regarding federal health care reform, none of them included expanding access to abortion services, which are actually unavailable in most counties in the U.S.  I wrote that the common ground agenda being promoted by elements of the Democratic Party at the time

"... required turning a blind eye to the reality that access to abortion care in the U.S. is receding, and that their approach mainstreams a fundamental concept of anti-abortion strategy and related terminology. They did this by recasting contraception and sex education as if their primary purpose was to achieve the goal of reducing the number of abortions."

Little has changed since then, except that it is now crystal clear that the antiabortion forces, (with a very few exceptions), never bought the idea that sexuality education and contraception were legitimate ways to reduce the need for abortion.  And that is one of the core problems with the common ground initiative.  There was little common ground to actually be found, as a quarter century of previous common ground discussions had shown.

Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute wrote at the Huffington Post in 2009,  

"Abortion reduction" is promoted by those who support restricting abortion access, through such measures as parental notification, waiting periods and mandatory sonogram laws, or by making it illegal outright. No true progressive would advocate any strategy to make abortion services more difficult to obtain. For progressives, reducing the need for abortion means comprehensive sexuality education, family planning and contraceptive services to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy. Yet conservatives insist on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and argue that many common means of contraception are abortifacients.

... I have fought for sexual justice my entire life. It is a progressive value I hold dear. So I say to my colleagues across the religious spectrum: Join me in supporting sexual justice, or stop calling yourself progressive.

Since then, the erosion of access has continued and the abortion reduction advocates have continued to call themselves progressive.

This week, The Los Angeles Times, reported on state level antiabortion legislation:

Few initiatives are aimed at expanding access to reproductive health services, the institute said.) Fifteen of the bills introduced this year have been enacted into law, and more than 120 others have been approved by at least one legislative chamber.

We are always monitoring a huge number of anti-choice laws," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenges antiabortion laws. "But what we are seeing this year is some of the most extreme restrictions, and they are passing at a rather sharp clip."

That is probably because of several factors, including the prominence of the abortion issue in last year's health care debate, as well as gains by Republicans, both at the state and national level, in November's election, advocates on both sides say.

For her part, Jodi Jacobson highlights Obama's failure as president to lead on reproductive rights and details for example, how candidate Obama was against the Hyde Amendment before he embraced it as president -- and even signed an executive order to underscore the banning of all federal funds from providing abortion care, as part of the deal to get his health care bill passed.  If this were not enough, Jacobson adds:  

"... his administration then went a step further.  In May of last year, abortion restrictions were applied to high risk insurance pools, the very sources of health insurance for women most likely to need coverage for abortion care due to chronic or terminal illness.

Rather than including contraception as part of the original package of preventive care required to be covered under health reform, the administration punted leaving this issue a panel that won't deliver its decision until August.  This action effectively raises questions about whether or not contraception is preventive care, gives time to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to frame the debate in misleading terms and, finally, leaves the issue to be decided during the heat of the 2012 election campaign."


Indeed, in recent months we have seen an escalating effort to prevent family planning grants and contracts at all levels of government from going to Planned Parenthood; even though  Planned Parenthood affiliates all are already barred from spending federal funds on abortion, and many affiliates do not even provide abortions.

This underscores something that often gets lost in the back and forth about politics and policy: This is not now, nor has it ever been only about abortion and contraception. The Religious Right is determined to degrade Planned Parenthood's institutional capacity and abuse its excellent public image because it is the institutional symbol of women's reproductive freedom.  The prevailing reduction narrative about abortion policy tends to obscure this while nothing at all is said, let alone done, about access.

Last year, Chip Berlet published an excellent essay on the state of the political realignment in the Party that has led to this situation. But let's make no mistake, the adoption of elements of Religious Right thought in the Democratic Party is leading to elements of Religious Right outcomes.

is punishment.  One must experience consequences for one's actions according to their church teaching.  By denying women the right to an abortion, they're forcing that woman to "face the consequences of having sex".

Never mind that maybe she was raped, or the fetus is inviable, or the woman or family cannot afford a child.  They don't care about people, just obedience.

I believe that is also part of the reason why they are so hostile to birth control.  I know that many of those nutcases believe that sex is for procreation only (ignoring the very Bible they claim to revere), but the reality is that they want people to be punished for having sex at all.

Sex to them seems to be a sin (and I've heard that stated, as the "original sin").  In fact, in the movie "Inherit the Wind" this bull__ is stated outright.  Again ignoring the very Bible they claim to follow, and try to force their misconception on everyone else.

I've heard people (in the dominionist churches I attended and even in the steeplejacked Episcopal churches we've attended since then) talk of babies as punishment... the consequences of sex.  Maybe that's why there is so much rampant child abuse in the Pentecostal/Dominionist/Fundamentalist churches???  Why child abuse is a big problem that seems to be growing?

by ArchaeoBob on Thu May 12, 2011 at 11:06:03 AM EST

...they get their concept of God as a violent psychopath from? From their abusive parents who in turn get it from their abusive parents who get in turn...well you see  where this is going. Dominionism is a theology of abuse. Children are punishment didn't you know that?  :-)

by Frank Frey on Thu May 12, 2011 at 01:15:45 PM EST
From their abusive parents who in turn get it from their abusive parents who get in turn...

It seems to me that a serious and systemic approach to "protecting life" post-natally would fairly soon require the incursion of social workers and others into the behind-closed-doors life of many "biblical families", and a general social examination of the correlation between patriarchy and pain.

Perhaps the campaign against government programs at all levels has a major defensive component on the part of hyperchristians, rather than being just their tactical collaboration with Ayn Rand fetishists in the Teapublican Party.

by Pierce R Butler on Sun May 15, 2011 at 08:02:47 PM EST

I admit that I'm only making a slight distinction here, and moreover, one that may not add much to your comment.

I agree for the most part part, AB, but it seems more useful to distinguish attitudes specifically related to familial relations from the "dog eat dog" attitude that's used to rationalize economic and political relationships.

The treatment of women is a special case of authoritarian aggression against 'outgroups.' They're given a Hobson's choice alternative which is designed to keep them "barefoot and pregnant" (as was often said in an earlier time). Women are relegated to being 'pregnancy vehicles,' whose sole legitimate purpose is to give birth to and rear children.

I run the risk of saying what everyone already knows here, but issues such as "family values" and the "defense of marriage" are 'backdoor inversions,' attempts to limit freedom and rights which are disguised as a defense of the same and justified as a necessary self-defense of the same, thus an action that's been forced upon them by the agressor. There's an Orwellian logic being employed.

It's been my observation that bald rhetorical appeals are significant for their lack of concreteness. No specific right can be truthfully cited as being limited because -- for instance -- the right to marriage is still intact. Moreover, their marriage is undisturbed, it's only the rights of others that is being attacked. Anti-abortion attitudes are justified under sanctity of life arguments but that reverence for life -- oddly and hypocritically -- seems not to extend after birth. What's missing is the element of compassion that would accompany this reverence for life. Rather, it's what issues such as gay marriage and abortion represent.In the idealized and emotion laden symbolic universe, the very idea of abortion is considered to be what Hugh Dalziel Duncan called the "killer of the dream."

I think the political right's attack on pragmatism is diagnostic of this threatened symbolic universe, and the real 'threat' is primarily modernity. It's akin to fundamentalists attacking agnosticism, not because agnostics hold contrary views but because fundamentalists regard the agnostics' uncertainty to be personally threatening. The enemy is doubt within their own minds, which they then psychologically project on others.

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis
by colinski on Fri May 13, 2011 at 06:28:04 PM EST
Who really said "When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross"? March 3, 2010 / Klint Finley

You've probably heard some variation on this quote: "When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross," possibly attributed to Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long. The only problem: there's no evidence that either men said it.

But Sally Parry of the Sinclair Lewis Society provides us with two similar passages written by Lewis:

From It Can't Happen Here (1935): "But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word `Fascism' and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty."

From Gideon Planish (1943): "I just wish people wouldn't quote Lincoln or the Bible, or hang out the flag or the cross, to cover up something that belongs more to the bank-book and the three golden balls."

Also, the author behind the site What Shii Knows has done some research and found two other possible sources:

"It is a peculiarity of the development of American fascism that at the present stage it comes forward principally in the guise of an opposition to fascism, which it accuses of being an "un-American" trend imported from abroad." - Georgi Dimitrov, in his report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

"When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled `made in Germany'; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, `Americanism'" - An unaccredited New York Times reporter covering Halford E. Luccock in an article published September 12, 1938.

by Nightgaunt on Mon May 16, 2016 at 06:45:36 PM EST

is probably the biggest reason for the state's successful anti-abortion legislation. Just as in the Citizens United ruling where we now see just the beginnings of the corporate takeover of campaign financing, we now see how the Casey decision has opened the floodgates to the oppression of women's rights. We no longer live in a secular, free nation, of that I have no doubt.

by trog69 on Sat May 14, 2011 at 11:42:43 PM EST
... we now see just the beginnings of the corporate takeover of campaign financing...

I'm not prepared to sort out just when that process began, but I'm pretty sure we can called Citizens United, for all practical purposes, the conclusion of the takeover of campaign financing (if not the entirety of US democracy, unless soon reversed).

by Pierce R Butler on Sun May 15, 2011 at 07:54:25 PM EST

I've been meaning to pay you that compliment for some time now. I've had a couple of conversations with Bruce on our show, The Murdock Report, so let me extend an invitation to you as well.
Personally, I've thought for some time that abortion was nothing more than a political ploy, no matter how genuine peoples' feelings are on the subject. If abortion was made illegal, the GOP would lose a good portion of their base and the grassroots organizing it gives them. It's a shame many Dems have become passive on this issue, because this is the start of the slippery slope that has led to this dominionst theocratic lurch America has experienced.
And banning abortion on religious grounds is unconstitutional. However, that's exactly what's happening

by Da Rat Bastid on Thu May 12, 2011 at 10:20:16 PM EST
I am not doing media these days, but when I am ready to do it again, I'll be in touch.

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