Are Women Citizens?

With the ascension of two new conservative justices to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion activists have been busy ramping up an array of anti-abortion bills in Republican controlled states, with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v Wade.

In the course of 40 years of destructive political warfare over abortion, public sentiment has remained surprisingly unchanged. Fewer than 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while less than 1/3rd think Roe v Wade should be overturned. These percentages have remained constant within a narrow band since 1975.

Anti-abortion extremists, frustrated by their inability to move public sentiment, have resorted to increasingly dishonest and anti-democratic efforts in an attempt to force their agenda on the nation.

The spate of radical anti-abortion bills sweeping the country have focused on the rights of the unborn, by espousing the made-up principle of fetal personhood. This notion defines a fetus as an unborn child, a person, whose right to life must be protected by the state.  

It follows, however, that if the fetus has an inalienable right to full development and birth into the world, enforced by the state, then the woman is not really a citizen at all. Her status is that of a vessel serving the citizen growing within her. It seems that the real issue is: Are women full citizens or not?

The Supreme Court of Kansas, recently addressed this issue in an important 6-1 ruling, holding that “The recognition of inalienable natural rights in Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights is intended for all Kansans, including pregnant women.”

The Court wrote that “Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life – decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

Given the persistence of the “pro-life” faction, and their rejection of the fundamental rights of women illuminated and upheld in this ruling, it seems worthwhile to investigate the origins and motivations of the anti-abortion movement, and also to consider the direct consequences and implications if their efforts to ban abortion are successful.

Origins and Motivations

The most strident anti-abortionists are the evangelicals – Southern Baptists and other Christian fundamentalists. But this was not always the case. Prior to 1979, opposition to abortion was generally considered a Catholic thing.

American Catholics are not monolithic on this issue, but the Catholic Church has always held the position that a woman’s role in society is subordinate – to the Church, to the men in the Church, to their husbands, and to the new bodies growing within them.

In the past, Christian evangelicals disagreed with the Catholic Church on the matter of abortion. Randall Ballmer, in a 2014 Politico article entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” documents the evangelical transition from pro to anti-abortion.

In 1968, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, cited “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy.

When Roe v Wade was decided, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century, had the following to say: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

This stance was not surprising coming from a fundamentalist preacher, given that Jesus had nothing to say on the matter of abortion as far as we know, and the Bible itself has only one passage that directly addresses the beginning of human life – Genesis 2.7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage brings up the curious absence of the issue of the soul in the abortion debate. Most, if not all, Christians would embrace the concept of the soul; that which makes us human beings, which separates us from the animals, which survives the body and ascends to heaven or descends to hell when the physical body is finished.

When does the soul occupy the body? A strict biblical interpretation, which is what fundamentalism is all about, would argue for with the breath.

Given the history and the evidence, one would expect evangelicals to be at least neutral on a woman’s right to choose the outcome of her pregnancy, as they were before 1979. Which raises the question: what happened in 1979 that changed their position?

Ballmer makes a convincing argument that the pro-life position adopted in 1979 was a cover issue promoted by key evangelicals to help defeat Jimmy Carter and safeguard school segregation in the South. The success of that effort changed everything. Once evangelicals had a taste of political power, the kingdom of heaven was relegated to the back seat, and the rest is history. Had Jimmy Carter been re-elected, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

One thing is abundantly clear. The true motivation of the pro-life faction is not the sacred life of the unborn. If the pro-lifers were as concerned with the welfare of the unborn as they claim, they would be just as concerned, if not more so, for the already born, which demonstrably they are not.

It’s no mistake that states passing draconian abortion laws are also the worst in per capita infant mortality, child poverty, hunger, and quality of education. And wherever these forces are in control, education and women’s healthcare are under assault. Once the children are born, they and their mothers are on their own. The hypocrisy of insisting that every fetus come to term, and then turning a blind eye to the needs of every born child and their mothers for nourishment and support cannot be overstated.

Barney Frank summed up the “pro-life” position: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

Certainly, there are many good Christians who sense that something is wrong, who are uncomfortable with the dishonest and increasingly violent messaging, and the hypocrisy inherent in embracing the values, the actions and the persons who are the antithesis of the life and teachings of Jesus in their efforts to impose their political agenda. This is especially true in the ardent support for Donald Trump, who, by virtue of evangelical support, makes a mockery of any pretense to moral authority inherent in Christianity.

True believers who sense that something is amiss are kept in line by tribal reinforcement, led by bad faith preachers who have weaponized the existential fear of eternal damnation, while ignoring the teachings of the master.

The day that these preachers meet up with Jesus is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, really bad day for them.

A thorough discussion of the cultural and theological issues involved is beyond the scope of this article. But Molly Worthen’s excellent piece, “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society” captures the essence of the matter.

Direct consequences and implications

The alleged debate around the issue of abortion has long since devolved into an intransigent and mindless recitation of pro-life and pro-choice, accompanied by increasingly hysterical and dishonest messaging by the “pro-life” faction.

There is little discussion of the consequences for women or for our society if abortion is made illegal and the notion of fetal personhood becomes the law of the land. Those who insist on the rights of the “unborn” children don’t seem to have much interest in the abrogated rights of women.

The bottom line is – you can’t have it both ways. If the fetus is given agency, the woman loses it. Full stop. This is a binary choice. Either women are full citizens and autonomous persons, or they’re not.

If the notion of fetal personhood becomes the law of the land, women will not have the rights of true citizens until menopause.

Once women are under the supervision and bodily control of the state, they can, and will, be inspected and violated as the zealots impose their will on women under their purview. Even now, some states require any woman pursuing an abortion to undergo an invasive procedure that meets the legal description of rape.

If it becomes the law of the land that abortion is murder, the authorities will be obligated to investigate any report that someone has had an abortion (a murder has been committed). How can it be otherwise? This will be an invitation to the culture war version of swatting.

If the reader thinks any of this is hyperbole, check out this article, and this, and this. Women in America are already being arrested and charged with manslaughter or murder for not behaving properly while pregnant, based on the principles of fetal personhood and the rights of the unborn. Some even want to impose the death penalty for women who have an abortion.

Furthermore, if the state presumes and assumes the right to govern women, control their bodies, trample their autonomy, and force them to carry pregnancies to term, it follows that the state must shoulder the responsibility of taking care of these women, and their offspring. Are taxpayers willing to assume that burden?

Not so long ago, women were wards of their husbands, property in fact. Women have fought long and hard to gain independence from second class status. If the “pro-life” position wins the day and the principle of fetal personhood become the law of the land, women’s rights will be set back at least 150 years.

 Maybe it’s time to try something different.   

Public sentiment on the issue of abortion has remained remarkably stable for the past 40 years. There is no public mandate in the U.S. to make abortion illegal. Even nearly half of those who identify as pro-lifers do not want Roe v Wade to be overturned. There is widespread recognition that abortion is a complicated and intensely intimate personal matter.

Furthermore, many of the loudest and most strident voices from the “pro-life” faction are men. But this is not the business of men to decide; nor their right. It’s not possible for any man to know the true nature of pregnancy, or the intimately personal considerations involved in continuing or ending a pregnancy. This is a women’s issue, and men should respect their right to decide the matter.

The pervasive dishonesty around this issue is corrosive, degrading to society and damaging to everyone.

Those who wish to see fewer abortions (there will never be zero) will have greater success by favoring supportive measures rather than engaging in judgement and punishment, which only heap more harm on women and their families.

It’s time to do something different – try supporting women with healthcare, honest non-judgmental counseling, alternatives and real support – childcare, education, opportunity and protection. And then trust the women to do what is right!


A Speech for the History Books

Jeff Flake’s speech from the floor of the Senate announcing his retirement is one for the history books. It is an inspiring recitation of the highest ideals of our nation, and an unflinching rejection of the moral degradation that has consumed the Republican Party and poisoned our political culture. It’s a shame a politician feels he must give up his place in leadership in order to express such noble sentiments. Hopefully his example will inspire others to follow, and they will put an end to our national nightmare. The full text of Senator Flake’s speech is pasted in below.

“Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles. Let me begin by noting a somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours to hold indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office. And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.

Now is such a time.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order — that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue — with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? — what are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

Here, today, I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” — Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote.

But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Now, I am aware that more politically savvy people than I caution against such talk. I am aware that a segment of my party believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen’s relationship to the office:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holier-than-none. But too often, we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing—until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.

In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice almost any principle. I’m afraid that is where we now find ourselves.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.

Leadership lives by the American creed: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American leadership looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have also been at our most principled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.

These articles of civic faith have been central to the American identity for as long as we have all been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously, and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them, or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership. And to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now, the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping the countries that had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now, it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it.

The implications of this abandonment are profound. And the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum. And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?

The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.

I have decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself from the political considerations that consume far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

To that end, I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal — but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a heathy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does.

I plan to spend the remaining fourteen months of my senate term doing just that.

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women — none of us here is indispensable. Nor were even the great figures from history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape this country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career doesn’t mean much if we are complicit in undermining those values.

I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today, and will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healing enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time, and are no less so in ours:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”

After Identity Politics

Mark Lilla’s seminal book, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics has been getting a lot of attention lately…thankfully!

The lede from Lilla’s August 11th Wall Street Journal article sums it up:

“Liberals should reject the divisive, zero-sum politics of identity and find their way back to a unifying vision of the common good.”

This book should be required reading for all citizens, both left and right. Liberals and conservatives are the left and right legs of the body politic. We need both to work in harmony and mutual respect to achieve the best outcome for all of us. That process begins with the understanding and embrace of the fundamental, and laudable, objectives of both streams of thought.

What is the Point of Being An American?

This assessment of the condition of the American republic was posted by Andrew Bacevich on This statement should be required reading for every citizen.

I am by temperament a conservative and a traditionalist, wary of revolutionary movements that more often than not end up being hijacked by nefarious plotters more interested in satisfying their own ambitions than in pursuing high ideals.  Yet even I am prepared to admit that the status quo appears increasingly untenable. Incremental change will not suffice.  The challenge of the moment is to embrace radicalism without succumbing to irresponsibility.


The one good thing we can say about the election of Donald Trump — to borrow an image from Thomas Jefferson — is this: it ought to serve as a fire bell in the night.  If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption.  By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy.


By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.  We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress.  If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail.


So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic.  Where to begin?  I submit that Rabbit Angstrom’s question offers a place to start:  What’s the point of being an American?

Bacevich’s answer to that question, and his specific remedies follow this passage. I recommend reading the entire article.

Threats of #NuclearWar Need Media Pushback

Casual threats of nuclear war are ratcheting up the odds of an “accidental” nuclear war. Our media need to tear themselves away from the Donald Trump reality show, and start paying attention to this and other existential threats proliferating behind the curtain.

For a reality check, review the litany of nuclear close calls posted at