Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Pro-Life" Legislation and Anti-Obama Hijinks in Bible-Belt State Legislatures: When Pro-Life Means Anything But Pro-Life

I blogged recently about Arkansas's draconian new anti-abortion legislation, which will be declared unconstitutional, since it creates a bar that defies federal rulings on the issue of abortions. I noted that, though many pro-life Catholics applaud such defiant legislation by tea-party-dominated state legislatures, the "pro-life" beliefs from which such tea-party legislation arises are a very bad fit for the Catholic tradition. My posting notes the many respects in which the anti-abortion stance of GOP-ruled state legislatures in the bible belt flatly ignores and rejects a consistent or seamless-garment philosophy of life.

For us in places like Arkansas, it's not about a consistent approach to the value of life. It's all about defying the current president. And that defiance is rooted in the deep racism of the states of the bible belt, almost all of which were part of the old Confederacy. As the Arkansas Times newspaper states in an editorial this week,

In the 19th century, Arkansas was part of a big dust-up over slavery and secession, though we were one of a group then, and not one of the first states out of the Union. But in the 1950s we distinguished ourselves by calling up the National Guard to avoid compliance with the constitutional demand of integrated schools. The U.S. Army persuaded us of our error. It was a big deal while it lasted. Gov. Mike Beebe's vetoes of this year's abortion bills had scarcely been trumped when a legislator introduced a bill declaring Arkansas exempt from federal gun control laws. Don't bet against its passage.

And, writing in the same issue of the Arkansas Times, here's Rabbi Eugene Levy on the meaning of pro-real-life:

During the past few months, Arkansas has seen proposals coming out of our legislature that define life at 20 weeks and also with a fetal heartbeat at 12 weeks. And with the passage of these two bills, we have heard the statement, often clothed in Biblical and religious terms: "Now Arkansas is number 1 in Life." Well, the last time I checked both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the former had about 258 references to "life" and the latter around 162. In at least 99 percent of the cases, "life" in Scriptures refers to human beings, people who are living, breathing, trying to understand G-d, and trying to do the right and moral thing; yes, even looking for "eternal life" during their lives on earth. 
So let's analyze for a moment what we are saying when we say, "Now Arkansas is number 1 in life." What we are really saying is that we are number one in conferring status upon fetuses, zygotes, embryos and heartbeats. When it comes to issues where the real life of our state and citizens are concerned, that is another matter indeed — these being issues that these same proud legislators have carefully avoided. 
In areas where the real quality of life is measured: teen pregnancy, minimum wage, obesity, smoking mortality, per-capita income, prescription drug abuse and poverty (to name just a few), issues I would call pro-real-life issues, we rank at or near the bottom. If members of our General Assembly were honest, they would either call themselves "pro-fetus," or they would harness their "life" concerns to issues that really matter in and to the life of our state and our citizens.

It continues to puzzle me that so many American Catholics refuse to educate themselves about what the bible-belt religious right types with whom they're so eager to collude in the "pro-life" movement really believe about one issue after another. I have to conclude that the label "pro-life" now functions for many Catholics as an unexamined cipher, and that their stance on issues of abortion and life is informed by anything but careful thought and wide listening.

And that's not good for the pro-life movement. Not in the least.

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