Feminist Utopia Podcast
Transcript for Episode 8
Benita: Welcome to Feminist Utopia, a community dedicated to envisioning and creating a more just society for all.
Debby: Welcome to Feminist Utopia, episode 8. In today’s feminist utopia, we’re going to try and imagine a world where the alleged “pro-life” movement was really pro-life and really based on loving religious principles! As we mentioned in a previous episode, Benita and I have discovered there is so much we didn’t know about the creation of the current anti-choice movement that came about from Benita visiting with her family. It was an interesting conversation.
Benita: Yeah! At my mom’s 80th birthday party, which thoroughly enjoyed. We did get into some heated debate about the abortion issue. In any case, my family raised Catholic. My parents go to church everyday. Catholic in their retired years… regular church-goers. And my brother Wayne is a very faith-ﬁlled person and believes very strongly that life begins at conception. And he is also a pro-life activist. He has been praying for aborted fetuses and on the picket line against the pro-choice activists and organizing people in his church to do the same. So as you can imagine, we really do have some spirited discussions. And he told me that he would like to change my mind based on facts and to no force me to change my mind, but to really convince me. So we left our heated discussion with the understanding that we would come back to it. Because he didn’t feel like he had all the facts that he needed to convince me. And I feel the same way. I really want to convince him based on facts. And I feel like I didn’t have all the facts. So it kind of sparked this desire for me to look at the pro-life movement more closely and ﬁgure out when it started and what the Bible does say about life beginning at conception. And it was really eye-opening.
Debby: You know, it was interesting you told me that your brother saw it as a moral high ground position because it was based in religion. And it was eye-opening when you and I had a personal discussion that not all religions feel the same way…
Debby: …necessarily about when life begins or what abortion is or isn’t in terms of a “sin.” And you realized that your own sibling doesn’t know either.
Benita: Right, and to be fair, it isn’t something that we always think about. We take what we have been taught…
Benita: And fed this misinformation and it’s been reinforced and reinforced… But I went back and I want to talk about when Roe vs. Wade was decided. It was not as divisive as an issue as it is now! In fact, many Republicans supported legalized abortion. It was in line with the ideology that they have of “small government” and individual rights. They wanted to let women, not lawmakers decide! And they were more likely to prefer over the cost of subsequent years of taxpayer funded support for these children.
Debby: And it was interesting because there was a large emotional movement at the time highlighting the plight of these women who were literally dying from illegal abortions because of government interference. That’s how it was presented. And there was a woman named Gerri Santoro, mother of two who died I want to say it in 1962 I could be wrong about that but she died in a hotel room after she and her boyfriend tried to perform their own abortion. The photo of her lying there dead in her own blood, bloody towels everywhere was galvanizing! Especially to Republicans who saw this as a sign of government interference that caused someone to die! That isn’t the conversation that we’re having now.
Benita: No, it’s not, and it’s unfortunate. Because early on there was a clergy consultation service on abortion or CCS. It was founded in 1967, and it was an international network of clergy that publicly challenged restrictive abortion laws as infringement on their religious freedom. These were clergy, trusted members of the communities, who their followers turned to for counseling and even referrals. In the 1950s and 60s, prohibitions against abortion drove anywhere from between 200,000 and 1.2 million to obtain illegal abortions. And by the end of ‘72, that clergy consultation service helped between ¼ and a half a million obtain safe and legal abortions from physicians. So not only were the clergy not preaching “ﬁre and brimstone – these women are going to hell and their own fault that they got pregnant,” they were lovingly oﬀering them safe and aﬀordable solutions!
Debby: It was almost like the women’s heartbeats mattered as well. That’s we keep hearing about these heartbeat bills. Women have heartbeats, too.
Benita: Right. Yeah, this was one of the most shocking things that I learned. That this clergy consultation service on abortion existed and that they emphasize that no single religion had a right to impose its religious values upon others. And freedom of religion had to include freedom from those religious groups that thought to place restrictions on abortion. I would love to see a group like this today. Where are they!?
Debby: Well, I’ve seen some people from… individual clergy members… But I would deﬁnitely say the UU could head something like this up. But I think they’re scared to because they know all these interfaith councils and all these other things are going to be blown apart if they create something similar. And so clergy people I look at you… and say step up!
Benita: And just to be clear, when you say UU, you mean the Unitarian Universalist churches?
Benita: And there’s a broad spectrum of religious beliefs that come under that umbrella…. and there’s even secular UU communities. So yeah that would be a logical place. I’m certain it’s not… I mean I’m sure some clergy… They did say that after Roe V. Wade was passed and abortions became legal, that the coalition wasn’t as necessary, and they volunteered with Planned Parenthood, and they diversiﬁed and supported other areas.
Debby: It’s really interesting to me in the conversation we had that we discussed how Catholicism and Judaism presented abortion diﬀerently to us as children, as members in learning about these faiths. And you did some really interesting research on early Catholic views.
Benita: Yeah, actually it’s a view that was the oﬀicial position of the Catholic Church from the medieval era to the mid 1800s, was that the rational “soul” has to be united to a body which may be a suitable organ of sensation. So before the body has organs in any way, it can’t be receptive of a soul. So the basic teaching of church Fathers Augustine and Aquinas, the soul had to have a body to go into. Because I interpreted it as until the child is viable, it isn’t able to receive a soul and therefore not a sacred person.
Debby: Which is very similar to Jewish teachings that the soul comes with breath. When the baby is coming out is when it really begins to matter. And then there are some arguments about whether or not it even matters then, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Benita: Yeah, that isn’t to say that the embryos weren’t seen as valuable. In 1984, David Garreth Jones published a book Brave New People where he argued for a more moderate position on abortion saying that embryos are morally valuable, but not equivallent to children. And other religious scholars later presented those views as well, arguing that the Bible does not actually teach that life begins at conception, and we shouldn’t support a right to life amendment that would grant personhood to fetuses from conception.
Debby: Well and it is so clearly a religious principle, but it’s clearly a Christian religious principle. It’s not even across all Christians that that same view is held. I look at the Babylonian Talmud which actually tells women how to give themselves abortions by drinking concoctions of herbs! So there’s a religious based text not only saying it’s not bad, here’s how you should do it according to Jewish law.
Benita: You know how Christians claim that homosexuality is against biblical principles, and you can’t ﬁnd any biblical principle that supports that? Well, I found no less than ten scriptures in the Bible that talk about how infants are not really people. I mean if you look at Numbers 5:11-31, it’s a purity test which a wife accused of adultery must abort her fetus if she’s guilty. So obviously…
Debby: That’s pretty clear!
Benita: According to Numbers, the fetus does not possess a right to life. And there’s a bunch of places where God talks about his punishments for disobedience causing women to lose their babies. In Deuteronomy, it says “cursed shall be the fruit of your womb.” And He talks in 2 King’s about how He would attack the Israelites, burn their cities, crush the heads of their babies, and rip open their pregnant women.
Debby: And so, just to clear: In case people think well, if it’s God doing it, it must be okay ‘cause God’s good. In Exodus 21:22-25, it talks about the punishment of someone, a regular human, causing a miscarriage in another human being and it’s a property crime. That ties in closely with the Jewish view of life at that point… it’s just water till 40 days… literally nothing. And then it’s the loss of the potential of life, you didn’t lose a life. You lost the possibility of it. And it’s just not a thing that you really consider murder because there’s no soul involved, there’s no breath involved. There’s none of that. We’re going to post the list of the scriptures that you found. Rather impressive… there’s even a New Testament on there.
Benita: Right, from Matthew… And they don’t speciﬁcally say abortion but it really rips apart this whole “sanctity of life” argument when God is continually punishing people with murder and death and not sparing pregnant women or their newborns. Matthew is the quote that says “Woe to pregnant women and those who are nursing.”
Benita: Like we’re not going to spare them either so… I think we’ve eﬀectively illustrated that this idea that life begins at conception isn’t even supported by the Bible. One of the places where it came from… and this is really interesting, I thought! So okay, Roe V. Wade wasn’t that controversial when it came out. Evangelical community showed little interest in combating abortion until almost 1980. And one of the things that happened in 1980 that made that change was Jimmy Carter wanted to deny Christian schools tax-exempt status if they were segregated. So, Paul Weyrich was one of the evangelical right’s most inﬂuential founders, and he said in his words, “What galvanized the Christian community wasn’t abortion, school prayer or the equal rights amendment. And I know this because I was trying to get these people interested in those issues, and I failed. What changed their minds was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools trying to deny them tax-exempt status on so called de facto segregation.”
Debby: So yet again, something else crappy that springs from white supremacy!
Benita: Right. I mean, here is one of the most inﬂuential pro-life founders crying the alarm, trying to get people to act against abortion, school prayer, and the equal rights amendment and failing. But come for my money, and all of a sudden it’s a crisis! So, the pro-life movement, the moral outrage doesn’t come from a place of a moral higher ground. It comes from a place of racism, basically.
Benita: It rests its intellectual foundation on non-scholarly arguments advance by this guy named Francis Schaeﬀer. So Francis Schaeﬀer mobilized the evangelicals, not by telling them to be concerned about the tax-exempt status but by twisting the whole abortion debate and telling them the Bible teaches something it doesn’t actually teach (that life begins at conception). And he actively suppressed the scholarship of evangelicals who held alternative viewpoints, those two guys I mentioned earlier David Garreth Jones Brave New People and Hessel Bouma of Calvin College. So their words were twisted and ignored, and this Francis Schaeﬀer had a better PR team and was able to plant that seed (that life begins at conception) and continually hammer away at that until people just accept it.
Debby: And that’s so interesting to me, coming from a Jewish perspective. There’s actually… there’s an old joke that says if you have 5 Jews in a room, there’ll be 10 opinions there. That level of debate and discussion is so important, there’s a term “machloket” to refer to disagreements about religious things. My ﬁrst time going to a Christian Bible study, it was completely diﬀerent because… you’ll see people arguing Torah and they’re like getting mad and waving ﬁngers… and it was all, let’s sit around and talk about how this verse made us feel. And I was not ready for that.
Benita: Well, when you look at the Catholic church it’s even one step back from that. Because growing up… it’s gotten better over the years, it’s certainly gotten better since my parents… well since the Latin Mass, but the faith is such that the Bible is a sacred text and not everybody can interpret it or you shouldn’t be reading it.
Benita: It is read to you in pieces from the pulpit and then the priest explains and interprets it. You are not encouraged to read or interpret the Bible for yourself.
Debby: Whoa! Okay… well we’ll have to do a whole episode about that…
Debby: …and the feminist issues that it brings up so…
Benita: And coming from that perspective I certainly don’t fault my brother for not examining this and for not doing the research himself because that would be acting against his faith.
Debby: Okay… I get that. Wow, that has to be a really uncomfortable position.
Benita: And he’s a very faith-ﬁlled person. So of course, he wouldn’t question what he heard from the pulpit because who’s he, who are we, to read and interpret the Bible! That’s not our place.
Debby: Wow… okay!
Benita: So, we’re talking about this pro-life movement and how it was founded and started and really gained traction based on the concerns about segregating schools. So that’s one example why the pro-life movement isn’t really pro-life. But there are a myriad of other examples about what they’re not pro-life. And ﬁrst of all, let’s get back to: If your goal is to reduce the number of abortions, it would stand to reason that you would ﬁgure out why people were having abortions, and work backwards to ﬁgure out what you can do to reduce that number, right? Strong evidence suggests that increasing access to birth control signiﬁcantly drives down abortion rates. And there is veriﬁable data supporting the conclusion that empowering women with the ability to plan whether and when to have children increases an economic prosperity. And all of these things reduce abortions. None of these things are supported by the pro-life movement!
Debby: It seems to be they’re not really against abortion, as much as they are against women having sex. If they were against abortion, there’s statistical data available saying if you give people birth control, it stops. And it’s really about controlling women and shaming them and requiring people to live by their religious principles as they view them to be.
Benita: Well, if you look at the reason why Catholics and other religions want to have multiple children. Most of it isn’t for the gloriﬁcation of God, it is for strength in numbers and for defending themselves against attackers. When we look in the history of religions, it’s the strength in numbers that gets your ideas through. And winning those religious wars and raising soldiers for Jesus, they meant literal soldiers. for. Jesus. in conquering…
Benita: Even… I mean we talk about the pro-life movement isn’t really pro-life. Having a bunch of babies wasn’t necessarily for the glory of God, it was for propagating a religion and becoming the superior dominant belief.
Debby: And so that lines up nicely as to when the Catholic church began the push towards thinking life began at conception was after the industrial revolution and the increased urbanization. And urban families have fewer kids. And if your base is shrinking, and if people aren’t having 12 kids to work on the farm, they’re factory workers, and they only have 3, That’s a problem! You’re not going to keep growing. Ironically, at the same time as they were getting all excited about trying to restrict abortion, was also the rise of the welfare queen myth during the Reagan years. And demonizing the very social programs that would be necessary to help take care of all these babies they wanted born.
Benita: Right. I mean, they want it both ways. They don’t want to pay for these children that they caused to be born by making family planning unaﬀordable and inaccessible. But yet, we’re horrible for utilizing the services to raise kids.
Debby: To the point where prosperity theology even paints poverty as a… almost a sin against God! You must have done something, and this is your punishment. If God loved you, you’d drive a Cadillac or some other fancy car… I don’t know.
Benita: I live in the hotbed of prosperity Christianity, here in Texas. Joel Osteen has his megachurch. I even went one time! Another episode for another day.
Debby: Oh yes!
Benita: Getting back… you know these pro-life and evangelical Christians are obsessed with protecting the life of the unborn, but they really are either indiﬀerent or hostile towards protecting life in other circumstances!
Benita: They use the 14th amendment to say that medical termination in the womb should be entirely prohibited, but they don’t claim that same 14th amendment protection when a living, existing person that needs access to life-saving medical procedures is a matter of liberty.
Benita: They’re saying that essentially the right to life is sacred for the unborn, but not for the adults who can’t aﬀord life-saving medical procedures.
Debby: I completely agree.
Benita: There’s a lot of hypocrisy there.
Debby: The other interesting thing is I noticed in Texas when I was living there, that there was a huge movement by the Texas legislators to defund and get rid of Planned Parenthood oﬀices throughout the state. And they were somewhat successful. And you know what happened the next year? There was a dramatic rise in abortions in Texas! It was almost like a 7% increase. I’ll have to look up that data and I’ll put it in the show notes. But that’s a lot more abortion and lot less clinic care, a lot less birth control, a lot less prenatal care that’s available that need low cost easy access care. So again just like what you said, restrict the access to actual healthcare required in order to keep this thing alive.
Benita: We talked about defunding Planned Parenthood, but they also want to repeal the Aﬀordable Care Act and cut Medicaid money. And cut budgets for SNAP and other welfare programs that really help young kids.
Debby: And education budgets too!
Debby: They want more kids, less school.
Benita: Right, and also they discourage female contraception and abortion on moral grounds. But they don’t say anything about insurance coverage of Viagra. You know, when it’s a men’s issue, used more often for sexual gratiﬁcation than legitimate health concerns, they don’t debate that! But when it’s a women’s issue, with serious life-altering consequences, then all of a sudden that’s okay to regulate.
Debby: Hasn’t God spoken!? If you can’t get a boner, aren’t you just supposed to sit back and not get boners. Why are we allowed to interfere with that?
Benita: Oh everything is God’s will, right? Everything is God’s will.
Debby: Yes! So God doesn’t want you to get a boner, maybe there’s a reason and you should go pray on it.
Benita: Yeah. So just to recap, we don’t think that the pro-life movement is pro-life at all. I don’t believe that life begins at conception, and I don’t think the Bible supports that view either. And we will have those scriptures so you can look it up for yourselves, along with some of the other research. Also, I really feel that the abortion issue is a separation of church & state issue. We really are allowing some kind of… It’s not Sharia law, what is it called?
Debby: I call it them the Christo-Taliban.
Benita: Oh yeah. I thought there was another term.
Debby: Well in Jewish terms, there’s the Halakha which is the Jewish law, but I don’t know if there’s a word like that for Christians.
Benita: But you get what we’re saying here. People freak out about Sharia law, but when it’s the Christians imposing their religious views on our constitutional rights, all of a sudden that’s okay.
Debby: You know, can you imagine the outrage if Orthodox Jews starting protesting outside grocery stores saying no more bacon for anyone?
Benita: Oh wow, yeah. There would be protests!
Debby: You know, if Jewish people decided that they were going to ban cars from their entire city on Saturdays ‘cause you’re not supposed to drive a car on Shabbat.
Debby: There’s a lot of stuﬀ… a lot of other religions don’t do that, and it’s a sign of Christian privilege. And I think you’ve been very kind in what you said. I honestly think the anti-choice movement is based in racism, misogyny, anti-science, controlling, toxic stuﬀ… See Benita’s the nice one…
Benita: You’re talking about my family here, too! And here’s the thing, we talked about last episode. We need to talk about these things. We need to bring these things up. And it goes the other way, too. If you’re able to talk about your abortion story, it’s important to talk
about it and humanize it and let people know what you’ve experienced. And to me, it’s important to understand the other side, and try and ﬁgure out where they’re coming from. And I love my family. We disagree on this issue but we still have to ﬁnd a way to get along and make it work, so…
Debby: That’s going to be a great episode around the holidays.
Benita: Yeah, but there are other things that you can do if you feel that safe, legal abortions are important. There’s a couple of diﬀerent organizations that we invite you to check out in our call to action.
Debby: Haven Coalition is an organization in New York City that supports women coming to New York City from other places that heavily restrict abortion. And if Roe V. Wade is overturned, places and organizations like Haven Coalition are going to be increasingly important to allow women to travel to states where it’s going to be legal.
Benita: There’s also the National Network of Abortion Funds. You don’t have to necessarily just give money. You can become a member. It’s a community that works lovingly and strategically to dismantle barriers to abortion access while organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice to build power. I got that from their website. We’ll put that link in the show notes so you can check it out yourself. But if you’re like me, post-menopausal having a personal abortion isn’t an issue anymore for me, but it certainly is a right that I think others should have and I’m going to support that with my ﬁnancial resources.
Debby: Okay! Thank you so much for joining us today at Feminist Utopia. If you like our work, please give us a review on Itunes, Stitcher, or wherever you access our podcast so others can ﬁnd it as well. You may also become a Feminist Utopia patron at Patreon.com to show your appreciation. Remember, patrons get perks!
We appreciate you taking the time to listen and grow with us. Feminist Utopia is created by Debby Williams and Benita Malone.