The overturning of Roe vs Wade, a warning about the Christian right

By Rosa Rubicondior | 3 September 2022
Rosa Rubicondior Blog

The overturning of Roe vs Wade, which had been on the statute books for 5 decades, should stand as a warning about what would happen if the Christian right ever got the political power they crave. (Photo: Victoria Pickering / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Religious fundamentalists in the USA recently scored what might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory in the struggle over a woman’s right to choose whether to allow her body to be used to grow a new person or not. In a historic ruling, the right-leaning Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), recently stuffed with Republican placemen and women ruled that since there was no traditional right to an abortion, the states were free to regulate and restrict abortions.

This has led to about a third of American women losing the right to have an unwanted pregnancy terminated, in some states regardless of how the pregnancy occurred or the effects continuing with it might have on the health of the woman. So, in these states, for example an underage girl who was raped or the victim of incest will be obliged to carry the baby to term, and some states are even attempting to make it illegal to get help in another state where abortion is still decriminalised.

But what is this objection to abortion and the right of women to control their own bodies based on?

As we might expect with beliefs that lead to limitations on human rights, it is based on Christian fundamentalism and two things in particular:

  1. The belief that a god creates life and that this happens at the moment of conception according to a divine plan where the intention of the sex act and fertilisation was to produce a particular human being with a particular genetic identity, so terminating the pregnancy is going against ‘God’s will’.
  2. That women are only entitled to the rights granted to them by men because God created them to be subject to the will of their husband or male relatives. This is based on a mythical ancestral first couple who upset God, so he punished the woman and all her future descendants by making her the chattel of men, whose role was to serve men and bear children.

Both these beliefs are nonsense and trivially easy to refute, of course. The first because both the sperm and the ovum are alive before conception, so there is no new life created. Life is a continuous process which never ceases. And the notion that there was divine intent to make that particular individual, with that particular genetic composition, is nonsensical considering that millions of sperms compete to be the one to reach the ovum and fertilise it. If God wanted just the particular one to be successful, what are all the others for?

The second because there never was such a founding couple as the ancient Middle Eastern origin myths relate. Humans are the result of millions of years of evolution where an archaic species gradually becomes more and more ‘modern’. There is no defining point at which a new species can be said to have started. The evidence is also that not only was there never an ancestral couple, there was not even a single ancestral species. Most modern humans are the result of hybridization between two or more archaic hominins. In a future article I will explain why there is actually more Neanderthal DNA around today than there has even been!

The nonsense about Adam and Eve probably tells us all we need to know about the gender and sexual inadequacy of the people who wrote it.

But the most telling argument against divine intent is the fact, as explained in the following article, that most embryos die naturally and are aborted spontaneously. If this is part of some divine plan, then the god who is making it happen, causes millions of abortions to happen naturally. If God uses abortion to correct his mistakes, why should women be denied the same right?

The article was written by Professor Kathryn Kavanagh, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA, USA, in the online open access magazine The Conversation The original can be read here.

Many state legislatures are seriously considering human embryos at the earliest stages of development for legal personhood. Total abortion bans that consider humans to have full rights from the moment of conception have created a confusing legal domain that affects a wide range of areas, including assisted reproductive technologies, contraception, essential medical care and parental rights, among others.

However, an important biological feature of human embryos has been left out of a lot of ethical and even scientific discussion informing reproductive policy – most human embryos die before anyone, including doctors, even know they exist. This embryo loss typically occurs in the first two months after fertilization, before the clump of cells has developed into a fetus with immature forms of the body’s major organs. Total abortion bans that define personhood at conception mean that full legal rights exist for a 5-day-old blastocyst, a hollow ball of cells roughly 0.008 inches (0.2 millimeters) across with a high likelihood of disintegrating within a few days.

Since so many pregnancies end naturally in their very earliest days, early embryo loss is exceedingly common, though most people won’t know they’ve experienced it. I believe that new laws ignoring this natural occurrence lead to a slippery slope that can put lives and livelihoods at risk.

Between 1973 and 2005, over 400 women were arrested for miscarriage in the U.S. With the current shift toward restrictive abortion policies, the continued criminalization of pregnancies that don’t result in birth, despite how common they are, is a growing concern.

I believe that acknowledging massive early embryo loss as a normal part of human life is one step forward in helping society make rational decisions about reproductive health policy.

It’s tragic that the SCOTUS justices based their opinions not on scientific evidence but on right-wing Christo-fascist superstitions and disinformation, such as the lie that research by an Italian scientist, Giandomenico Iannetti, then working in London had shown that the foetus can feel pain before the development of the cerebral cortex at 24 weeks, despite Dr Iannetti’s vigorous denial that his work had shown any such thing. SCOTUS took the word of Christian layers working for religious fundamentalists, at face value and never bothered to fact check it.

The overturning of Roe vs Wade, which had been on the statute books for 5 decades, should stand as a warning about what would happen if the Christian right ever got the political power they crave. It’s a fundamental law of religion that all religions support freedom of conscience until they acquire the power to abolish it.

Rosa Rubicondior (a pseudonym) is a retired data analyst, biologist, blogger, author and atheist.

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