Open or closed? His question hung in my head, a mental metronome undulating. Open or closed? It did not serve as a mantra used to focus the mind. No, the attendant’s question precluded focus and only intensified mental molestation as it required an answer. One would think we could agree upon an answer with relative ease. For me, though, still reeling at the thought of another funeral, the question hung weightless. I knew before asked I preferred closed; yet, there was my mother and sister to consider as well as those only a few months ago dad shunned after the nuclear Thanksgiving not yet four months past but who were certain to come, understandably, to bury their boy. Open or closed? After mom decided we would have a “proper” funeral, after struggling with the patriarchal Gunns on the funeral’s location, and after, against my wishes, a cremation was vetoed, open or closed was the last pressing question. We already viewed the casket show room, kicked the tires if you will, and settled on a practical and accommodating model. We perused the menu of services and opted for the large chapel as we anticipated a crowd. Though dad was not religious, I did not object too harshly when my maternal grandmother offered up her preacher to perform the service. It was yet another peace offering of sorts to the other family who would most assuredly object to a more secular service. Open or closed, though, remained unsettled. My steadfast closed opinion was due to the ghost of funeral’s past. I still remember the first time I touched a dead body, a husk of what was. I was seven or eight years old at my great-grandmother’s funeral. I was intrigued by death as the too young often are, and my cousins and I dared each other to touch her one last time. I remember only cold. Over the intervening years, I attended other great aunt’s, uncle’s, grandparents, and eventually friends’ funerals with some regularity. Coming from a small town as I do, when a teenager dies, you know them even if you don’t, and you attend the funeral in any event as you would any other social or church function. There is no question. You go. When I was 15 a friend shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle ending his relatively young life—he was 22, coincidentally, I believe—and I vividly remember his lifeless body and how obviously different he looked. I cannot see his animated face for the memory of his death face and the obvious attempts to mask the bullet in the head. Four years later after other suicides and drunk driving tragedies, at another open casket affair after my 20 year old friend killed himself and his girlfriend in a drunken single car wreck, I watched his father wrench his carcass from the coffin attempting to shake him back from Tartarus or wherever. I was a pallbearer and even at 19 understood this father’s grief at the loss of his son though I was unnerved by this large and strange man’s sudden grief-epiphany. Closed. I am decidedly closed. My mom and sister both want to see dad, to say goodbyes, to grieve in their own way. I am sure others want the same. Who am I to selfishly deny others what may bring some peace? We reach a compromise. Visitation for family and close friends is open, but the funeral itself is closed. I attend the visitation, but my last vision of dad remains the day he left my apartment three days before his murder, and I never see him lifeless and still. Closed. The visitation and funeral itself could have been one like any other but for the facts of dad’s death, the media frenzy which followed, and the freak southern blizzard of 1993 which significantly impeded what otherwise promised a SRO funeral. In fact, many people I later met and subsequently befriended told me they fully intended to come to Tennessee for the funeral but were snowed out. Before we even confronted the impish funeral director’s open or closed query, the media landed, a harbinger of the coming real storm. Back in ’93 I still had some fairly strong illusions of privacy, and we were amazed at the speed with which the press located us in Winchester, Tennessee when dad was killed in Pensacola, Florida, and my sister, mom, and I lived separately in Birmingham, Alabama. Yet, they sherlocked us down looking for the human interest angle to a controversial and promising long term story. They started calling, obviously, the day the assassination occurred. It did not relent as we prepared for a memorial and funeral. Open or closed, indeed. Press from all over the country flocked to the Moore-Cortner funeral home. People magazine grabbed mom, Wendy, and I for photos and an interview on the funeral home steps. Print reporters mingled with the visitors looking for us and others to quote hoping for bi-lines and copy. I do not recall video cameras at the visitation though I spoke with as many of them as I did friends and family or so it seemed. The media presence and my heightened stress at seeing the patriarchal Gunns lent a surreal air to the proceedings. As if out of ether, they were in the home. I spoke but do not remember what was said and whether it was comforting, remorseful, or cold. Now it seems I felt only a sense of sadness bordering on pity for the parents who lost a son twice before his time: once while alive after the prior fall’s Thanksgiving fiasco and once more with violent finality this time. As the visitation spectacle continued, the family stress mounted, and weariness turned to exhaustion. A caravan of friends from Birmingham was staying at my grandmother’s. We retreated to her house where the proper adults congregated upstairs and the “kids” (we were 22 and younger) hit the finished basement as we had on so many reunions in the past to comfort each other with our company and contraband, “Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why: Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where…” Snow covered the new spring grass and fresh oak tendrils on the day we buried my dad. The freakish blizzard almost postponed the burial, but we soldiered on through the real and metaphorical storm inside and out, open and closed. I have almost no memory of the chapel service. Hollow words and “only God knows” pedestrian rationale from a holy man I did not know held no meaning for me whatsoever. All I knew was my dad was gone; the world as I knew it ended, and beyond there seemed nothing. My mom asked me to deliver a eulogy of sorts, but I was steadfastly closed and refused this request. It may be my one regret from those two days which seemed a lifetime. Of course, the carrion crow cameras flittered about as we were graveside. I laid a last rose on the coffin which was now firmly forever closed. We said graveside goodbyes to those who were not snowbound and stranded and returned to grandmothers for more comfort of one sort or another. In a paper somewhere is a photo of my then partner and I sharing a graveside embrace. The next morning I received a call from a woman I’d never met but who seemed warm enough. She explained she owned the clinic in Columbus, Georgia. This clinic was about sixty miles northeast of my second Alabama home town, dad worked there for years, and it was the first clinic I visited with him. That shared bond gave trust to the conversation. She explained how a friend of her and she were invited to appear on the Donahue show to discuss dad’s murder. She relayed the producer’s interest in having a family member attend as well. I had mixed emotions about discussing such a private matter in public, but also felt a responsibility, a naïve one perhaps, to share dad’s story in hopes no other family would be forced to answer the riddle of open or closed as a result of anti-abortion hatred, fear, and moral superiority. On this point, I opted for open and an ending proved a beginning.
Abortion & Religion
December 4, 2013
November 23, 2013
News stories about investigations into Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) misleading women through deceptive advertising, malevolent counseling and egregious misinformation are pretty common. But one CPC wolf in sheep’s clothing is Real Alternatives. It’s a Pennsylvania state-funded program that claims it “exists to provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion” to women who are financially qualified. Real Alternatives (henceforth abbreviated as RA) boasts that their program has been helping women since 1996 while also abiding by stringent accountability to the state. Even though Real Alternatives claims that they do not use deception to attract clients, in actuality, they use what Heiss, Monge, & Fulk, (2012) call predatory practices that resemble legitimate reproductive health providers (RHPs). In their attempts to appear as a legitimate RHP, Heiss, Monge & Fulk found that CPCs rely on ambiguity in their values and program offerings to elicit positive responses from potential clients and the public. Applying the concept of predatory practices, I argue that while RA’s textual and visual communication practices uses woman-centered advocacy language like “we’re here for you” and “your alternatives to abortion” and “forced abortion and your right to choose” and more, they promote, instead, distorted interpretations of the scientific literature and prescriptive counseling that can be misleading and even dangerous to a woman’s health if she makes a decision based on false information. To that end, I will turn to RAs home page where there is an array of text, images, and hypertext links to videos and where I will focus my attention on the video The Miracle of Life. But first, I want to tour the home page because it provides evidence that pregnancy and women’s sexuality are framed as problematic territory. The tabs in the uppermost section of the page attest to this problematic with labels such as Pregnant? Being Forced to Abort? Worried about STDs? Caring for Your Baby? In the center of the page, are images of young women in poses, arguably framed as pensive and frightened, with the eye-catching, continuous loop of flashing yellow text that underscores what RA frames as the problematic of women’s sexuality with the words: Pregnant? Scared? Concerned about STDs & Sexual Health? Below the flashing text, the offer of services reads:
Whatever the reason, we can help. Call us at 1-888-LIFE AID for free, caring and completely confidential pregnancy and parenting support services. We can educate you about reproductive health concerns, and we can assist you in finding appropriate medical help. You’ll speak to women who will be on your side every step of the way. We’re here for YOU.
The second video and the focus of this article, The Miracle of Life, is introduced with the text, View a Short Film about Your Baby’s Development. It provides an emotionally manipulative and factually deceptive video about fetal development. In the 3.33 minute long video, a Miracle of Life is visually appealing, yet problematic in that it symbolically annihilates the complexities of a woman’s private life while it visually and textually offers one solution. In general, the Caucasian-centric video uses a problem-solution format beginning with a series of questions and answers about a pregnancy and the fetus with the invocation at the end to choose life. Through the use of computer-generated graphics, soulful music and emotionally manipulative juxtapositions of imagery, the producers at Catholic Media House drive home the fact that the fetus is a living human entity. In what is arguably an artifact of Catholic propaganda, The Miracle of Life intentionally blurs the lines between fact and fiction about fetal development in an ethically compromised production. While it purports to be truthful, to hold claim to reality and to the authority of science, the video exists as a tool of the Catholic Church to support their religious power structure and their privileged forms of communication within their church and the state of Pennsylvania. While a deconstruction of the video could extend for pages, I’ll give a few highlights to illustrate how the lines between fact and fiction work.
The beginning of the video opens with a black screen and piano music that dissolves to an image of a gestationally-advanced abdomen of a pregnant woman with text floating on and off the screen What should I do? “Is this a fetus or a baby? “When does life really begin? Then the question to the audience “Do you know about the miracle of life?” with the word miracle in enlarged red text that flashes and expands, as if “breathing” in and out on the screen then transitions to an image of a zygote with text that reads “at the moment of conception, a unique human being’s DNA is created, then a flash of the DNA helix and the text “human DNA that never existed before and will never be repeated again.” Thus, the fetal-centric tone of the video is established.
As the video continues, gestational milestones are offered as scientific facts. For example, the video, using the female pronomial reference, claims that at six weeks, “she has fingers and toes” while sources such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) claim that at eight weeks the arms and legs have grown longer and that while the foot and hand areas may be distinguished, the digits are still webbed.
In an emotional framing, the video erroneously claims that at 11 weeks, she can smile and frown, wiggle her fingers and toes and even suck her thumb. And while it’s a charming thought to consider such animation and agency of the fetus, the science provides a more sober response. Piontelli (2010) found that an immature suck-swallow pattern is observed at 32-34 weeks while other sources (Mayo, NIH) note non-directed sucking motions at 26 weeks. It’s a far cry from the Hallmark card version of hegemonic parenting and the preferred reading of pregnancy and infancy.
At 16 weeks, the Miracle of Life video claims that she can open and close her eyes and that she has her own fingerprints while the NIH states that around 11-14 weeks the eyelids close and will not reopen until around 28 weeks. It further states that finger and foot prints do not begin to form until around week 30.
While I’ve provided only a few examples of how the producers blurred the lines between fact and fiction, the overall pattern of enthusiastic support for the fetus in exuberant applications of artistry over reality can easily be discerned. The concern I want to point out is how potentially problematic the video can be for a distraught woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Regardless of circumstances, all women deserve honest and accurate information when faced with a pregnancy. Real Alternatives, is, instead, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Posed to appear as a legitimate reproductive health care facility, RA, instead, disseminates misleading and false information. Like the thousands of CPCs across the United States, I find that RA’s predatory textual and visual communication practices, as illustrated in this very short video, clearly violate ethical guidelines about truthfulness and the admonition to do no harm. It’s a miracle that their work is considered legal.
Heiss, B. M., Monge, P. and Fulk, J. , 2012-05-24 “Predatory Mimicry in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement: Ambiguous Form Communication as an Evolutionary Strategy” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, Phoenix, AZ Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-08-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p552613_index.html
Piontelli, A. (2010). Development of Normal Fetal Movements: The First 25 Weeks of Gestation. Milan, Italy:Springer Verlag.
October 26, 2013
Sudden violent death creates concentric ripples which spread ever wider washing and crashing over the immediate family on to extended family, friends, and colleagues. Those ripples ebb back to the deceased’s family. Sometimes, what rolls back is sympathy and genuine compassion. In other instances, a dangerous rip tide threatens to pull the family back into gothic familial deep water where the recently aggrieved find themselves struggling to maintain their footing and keep from drowning in those passive aggressive human voices whose motives are more self-centered than benevolent, more angry than comforting.
The men from my dad’s side of the family met each Thanksgiving weekend at a hunting cabin in Pickens County, Alabama. It is in actuality an old farm house adjacent to the Tom Bigbee River surrounded by grazing land for cattle and a combination of pulp and hard wood trees unique to the south. What started as a weekend of hunting and drinking two generations prior was now an occasion for the patriarchal Gunn family to meet, enjoy supposed fellowship, watch football, talk politics, and share a few meals—the drunken part of the weekend long banished once my grandfather became the family head. He and his eldest son, my uncle, devoutly subscribed to fundamental Christianity of the hair shirt variety so drunkenness was soon off the weekend’s agenda.
My history with my dad’s side of the family was strained at best due in large part to events prior to my birth. My grandfather expected his children to remain close in proximity and obedient to his will even in adulthood. Most of my aunts and uncles never left Benton, Kentucky a rural western Kentucky town that remained segregated as late as the 1980s which was the last time I had any reason to visit where they were born and either entered into the family insurance business or started other business ventures funded with grandfather’s wealth. Though his parents pushed dad to take up medicine as a career, I always felt they wanted him to return home to practice after meeting the right woman (meaning one they approved), marry, and live their idea of an idyllic Christian American lifestyle.
While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, my dad met my mom. It was an odd relationship bordering on taboo in that they were distantly related and even shared the same last name. As if out of some stereotypical Appalachian folk tale, their father’s knew each other, had grown up together in rural Tennessee, and dad’s grandfather and father fucked my mom’s dad in a business deal which haunted my mom’s dad and tainted his relationship with his cousin/future in law for the rest of his life. I do not know when the respective parents found out about the illicit relationship, but I know neither side approved initially. My mom had to tell her parents when she found herself pregnant in the late 60s with what was to be my older brother. Her father, looking out for his daughter’s welfare, concerned what people would say (about the relationship generally and a child out of wedlock specifically), and distrustful of the paternal half of the relationship, offered her a way out of the pregnancy. Though abortion was illegal, he knew people and offered to arrange one for his young pregnant daughter to save her the embarrassment of single motherhood in 1968 and to prevent a stigmatized union with a family he strongly mistrusted.
Ultimately, mom and dad married and opted to have Chuckie. My mom’s parents accepted the marriage and though dad’s family feigned happiness, looking at how events developed over the years, I believe they never accepted or supported the marriage and looked on their children—and future grandchildren–as abominations. When my older brother died in a car crash as an infant, I think dad’s family secretly hoped it would end the shameful marriage that compromised their beliefs and socially embarrassed them. I also believe they felt it was the result of some divine justice for a sinful relationship. Chuckie’s death, though, kept my parents together, and as my dad finished medical school at the University of Kentucky, I was born in the fall of 1970.
After entering into what his parents considered an incestuous relationship, dad broke the unwritten family code by moving his family out of Kentucky via Nashville, TN to south Alabama upon completion of his residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1977. For an old southern patriarch with deep religious convictions, this decision, I believe, solidified the rift between son and father: a rift my sister and I would suffer though we had no part in its creation but because we were the embodiments of dad’s sin and betrayal.
The Faulknerian twists of my family took years to unravel and now that most of the principals are gone, I still have only a fraction of what I can only describe as something resembling understanding; yet, I realized by early adolescence I wanted limited interaction with my paternal grandparents. After turning away from their faith at an early age and in light of their distance toward my sister and I, my summer visits stopped just before I turned 13 leaving the Thanksgiving get away my only regular contact.
By the Thanksgiving trip of 1992, I attended college in Birmingham and was dating a woman who asked that I spend the holidays with her family. Dad called me on Monday Thanksgiving week and asked that I go with him to the cabin. I refused and told him I had plans, adding that I did not want to see those people (his family) anyway. He asked again to the point of telling me I was going whether I liked it or not. Our relationship was strained, at best, since he and my mom divorced when I was 13, but we were making in roads toward piecing it back together. Due to his persistence and despite my reservations, I agreed to meet him in Aliceville with the intention of spending the long weekend with his family.
This year’s trip was mere days after Clinton defeated Bush 41 and with that victory came the hope that 12 years of harsh, trickle down conservatism was at an end. Conservatives nationwide were shell shocked and angry to the point of histrionics similar to what our current president experiences. Anti-Clinton propaganda and conspiracy theories were rampant even before he took office. The country was seriously divided then—almost foretelling how it is now, and the anti-big government conspiracy theorists’ tales only heightened a pejorative Clintonmania. In this atmosphere, my dad and I drove up to the cabin where our bathed in blood Christian Conservative moral majority relatives waited.
The first night went well enough. Sons, brothers, and cousins exchanged some slightly barbed jabs but the conversations remained civil enough, and we shared some laughs. I went to bed that first night thinking maybe I misjudged my relatives. It had been a year since I last saw them, and I thought this trip could be different.
By lunch, the next day, I could feel antipathy as clearly as I could smell the beginnings of Thanksgiving dinner—that recognizable mix of celery, carrots, and onion. I noticed my dad mixing a drink early from the back of his car, and thought how odd that a 47 year old man had to hide a mixed drink, and there was palpable disapproval in the air. It was not necessarily disapproval of the drink, or the current political developments, but a morally superiority that tinted and tainted the air as the Jack Daniels darkened the water in my dad’s glass.
I stayed outside most of the afternoon avoiding the heated political debate going on indoors. As night came on, the conversation grew louder and more heated. I walked back into the cabin where my dad was seated in a recliner obviously buzzed if not just plain drunk. His father and brother were on his left, and his cousin and brother-in-law were on his right. It looked as though he was holding court, but besieged on all sides. Everyone around dad described how Clinton would destroy the country, how more regulation would kill small business, and how a pro-baby killing president would ensure the country’s damnation.
I realized it was time to leave as voices got louder and it looked as though things might get physical. I remember my dad saying something derogatory about the Pope, at which point his brother had heard enough. Though he was no Papist, my dad’s defense of abortion outraged my uncle. As I continued to pack, he approached my father as though he intended to hit him. There existed between them an odd brotherly rivalry which bordered on sadism. Dad had polio as a child which limited and stunted his physical development and also, I think, impacted the brothers’ relationship. Instead of violence, he looked into his brother’s eyes with hatred and told him, “if you keep talking this way, there will be no one to bury you.” I was done at this point, told my dad we were leaving, and we spent the night in a hotel away from the abuses of his closed minded family.
Four months later, an anti-abortion protester named Michael Griffin assassinated my father. According to dad’s side of the family, they were unaware he performed abortions though he performed them for the better part of two decades in part or exclusively. After years considering his motives and silence, I think I finally have some degree of understanding. If his family was willing to write him off over a presidential candidate and some offhand remarks about the pope, then they clearly would have disowned and damned him to hell for murdering babies. He hid the abortion portion of his career, not out of shame or fear, but as some perverse familial life preserver. He wanted and needed that familial connection and feared he would lose it if his family knew the truth. Ironically, they disowned him over vagaries as opposed to the issue that took his life.
He never spoke to or saw his family after that November night in Aliceville. Though my mom and dad had long ago divorced and he was remarried, he opted to spend his last Christmas with us at my maternal grandmother’s house in Tennessee. Whether he was too proud to call his brother and father, or whether pride held back their hand makes little difference: he was dead to them and they to him.
My first conversation with any of my dad’s family was later in the afternoon of 10 March 1993 when my uncle called to ostensibly see how we fared. I do not remember him expressing any sympathy for the loss; rather, he wanted to tell me how we (meaning he) would arrange the funeral. He wanted to control all arrangements and return the prodigal son, in body only, to his old Kentucky home. I was initially dumbfounded that my uncle, the supposed adult in the room, was more concerned about a dead body than his niece and nephew. In his mind, he knew best, I was a child, and I should simply obey. In clear terms I told my uncle to fuck himself, that we had things under control, welcomed him, as well as the rest of the family, to the funeral we planned, and asked that he kindly leave us alone unless he had some honest assistance or sympathy to offer.
We buried dad during the worst winter storm in recent southern history. It was in mid-March less than two weeks prior to spring’s beginning, but Winter Storm ’93, as the media dubbed it, hung coldly over the funeral and attendant proceedings. Though my dad’s parents attended, they refused to sit with the family in the chapel of Cortner’s Funeral Home in Winchester, Tennessee—an antebellum home converted into a funeral parlor whose walls are as familiar to me as a childhood home given my 40 year history of funerals in that discomforting comfortable ritual death house. Moreover, they did not attend any of the mandatory post burial potlucks which may or may not be uniquely southern. Instead, they sent two of my cousins as emissaries seeking information but providing little. They ensured my sister and I need not worry, our grandfather had our interests at heart, and he would see we were protected (she was 17 and I was 22). Of course, these entreaties proved false.
The family rift which began as a small fissure before my birth evolved into an unbridgeable canyon in death. A murder which should have strengthened family ties unalterably crushed what little connection remained. I never had any meaningful exchanges with my father’s side of the family after that November night in 1992.
Almost 150 years ago, two brothers from the Gunn family donned uniforms: one was grey and the other was blue. Family lore holds at their last meeting they crossed swords, turned, and walked away never seeing each other again. Twenty years ago, in a somewhat devalued sense, history repeated rendering a family into bits due to one brother’s adherence to outdated traditionalism and religious fundamentalism while the other looked forward toward equality and inclusion. They did not realize at the time, though perhaps they should have, that the future was murder. Dad’s politically and religiously motivated murder perfectly reflects the harsh and unbreachable polar divide which is increasingly entrenched and present in our country today. Micro recapitulates macro on occasion does it not?
My children know their uncles, aunts, and cousins as phantoms, if at all—their great grandmother and father died long ago. Like me, they must live with the repercussions of choices and actions which occurred well before their births. While my eldest once expressed interest in meeting the family he’s never known, my youngest may not even know they exist. Surely, I bear responsibility for their ignorance; however, I selfishly never pursued reconciliation though there have been overtures. Unfortunately, I doubt the sincerity of such invitations and after 20 years of solitude from those who were my family, I choose exile over guilt riddled reconciliation. It is not an exile of hatred but of indifference which is admittedly worse I suppose.
- The abortion that could cost a mom her family (salon.com)
October 23, 2013
Let’s face it. Most of us are here on this earth because our parents had sex. As honest as this statement is, it likely makes people squirm. Who wants to think about their parents naked, sweaty and humping one on top of the other or grinding side-by-side on the dining room table or in the back seat of the car or in the tent next to you in Yosemite National Park? Certainly, not me. I’d rather scratch my eyes out. Our squirminess and discomfort points to a huge problem in our nation. While the common hegemonic sentiment of America is one of superiority, in reality, we Americans have failed miserably to accept and fully embrace our human sexuality. More specifically, we have failed to apply scientifically-sound and medically-accepted knowledge in public health and public education to benefit those who engage in sexual activity safely and responsibly. And who is responsible for this failure? I’d argue that those responsible are a misguided minority with their knickers in a knot over human sexuality. They go by many names but together they’re really the self-appointed morality police who run for political offices mostly on a conservative ticket, who prey on women outside abortion clinics, and who work for or are members of organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Catholic Church or Operation Rescue. These morality cops are all about promoting abstinence only sex education in schools, sustaining propaganda campaigns about the evils of masturbation, telling bald-faced absurdities about a raped woman’s body shutting down a potential rape-related pregnancy, denying the spectrum of sexual expression, and ignoring the scientific data about the safety and efficacy of contraception and abortion. Sexual behavior for these folks certainly seems, well, icky on so many levels. And we as a nation pay a stiff (no pun intended) penalty.
In addition to their narrowly informed heteronormative perspective on sexuality, this minority further constrains natural human sexuality with their religiously informed myths about intercourse being only for procreation. Doesn’t that just take the fun out of an afternoon romp in the sack for post-menopausal Auntie Joyce and Viagra-defunct Uncle Tony? Such a heterosexist view clearly ignores the sexuality of our LGBT brothers and sisters. It also ignores the perfectly natural practice of going it alone because, in their worldview, the two concepts—pleasure and masturbation—are the work of Lucifer. And such a view surely ignores those lovely, lively priests with predilections for little boys. But I digress.
Let me say a bit more about some of the religious conservatives’ bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships of a sexual nature, and against same-sex relationships of a sexual nature—aka, what is called heteronormativity. The problem here is that they take their sexual bias to an extreme in educational settings. In many states, their bias has rewarded with state funding to discriminate against LGBT children. Specifically, their homophobia is rewarded with adopted state laws – sometimes referred to as “neovouchers” – to transform state money into private Christian school scholarships used at religious-based schools that prohibit gay, lesbian or bisexual students from attending. These schools are essentially given a license to emotionally and physically bully and expel children who fail to be straight.
Listen, I have no argument with being sexually conservative, heterosexual and/or abstinent. It’s a right that should be respected just as individuals who are not hetero should be respected. But, I do have a big argument when their penchant for prudery and balderdash leads to serious health consequences for real children. I’m talking about their misguided drive to demand abstinence-only sex education in public schools and as the price to play for charter school funding (at the cost of decreasing public education funding). Abstinence-only sex education is a well-documented financial waste as well as an epic education disaster that has resulted in the United States having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the highest rates of sexually transmitted infection rates in the industrialized world. Thanks, in part, to abstinence programs, female teens are more vulnerable to sexual violence because abstinence isn’t a realistic response to peer pressure. Among the general teen population, one out of four has a sexually transmitted infection. The STI rate for African American teens averages 50%. And for all teens, if left untreated some of their STIs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility and even death. Of course, the response of the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd, this bastion of heteronormative bias, is to point a judgmental finger at the individual teen and wag their tongue about the evils of having sex. But my response to the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd is to illustrates the impact of states with predominantly conservative and religious views and the teen birth belt.
A further response to this uber conservative minority is say that their work is disingenuous. Teens are sexual beings. Not providing comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education is the moral failure of conservative, religious thinking.
And speaking of moral failure, consider all the bickering over the Affordable Care Act and contraception. Church-going entities like Hobby Lobby, the Catholic Church, and Chik-Fil-A went ballistic over their obligations to provide contraceptive insurance for their employees. Let’s be honest here. We’re talking about white men making a fuss about paying for health care for the women in their organizations because it goes against their beliefs while making no religiously-informed complaints about paying for Viagra or Cialis for men. Let’s also be clear that statistical studies illustrate the majority of women (Catholics, Christian Evangelicals alike) who are married to these men use contraception. Hypocritical much?
Access to contraception, while clearly a smart response to reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions, is seriously problematic for many who protest outside abortion clinics and for those who legislate morality in the state and federal government. They believe that contraception causes abortion, is dangerous, and is immoral if outside heterosexual marriage. The bigger issue with those who don’t believe in abortion or contraception is their attempt to impose their beliefs on others. A comparison of the United States to countries where abortion is legal reveals that other countries have much lower rates of abortion, have healthier perspectives on human sexuality, have better health care systems and have normalized sexual education for children and teens. What we have here in the United States is staggering puritanism informed by a peculiarly aberrant form of Christian ethos that is seriously harming our children with the abysmal failure of abstinence education. So much for the claim to be pro life, to uphold family values.
Those with their eyes wide open have witnessed the stunning waste of taxpayer dollars over legal battles about DOMA, about the Affordable Care Act and contraception, and about targeted regulations against abortion providers based on nothing more than willful ignorance of science and, no doubt, their god-deluded sense of moral righteousness. Like the epic failure of prohibition on alcohol during the early 20th century, this ongoing battle against our God-given sexual nature has failed our nation. Attempting to prohibit or constrain sexual behavior according to the mythically-constructed boundaries of the sexually thwarted and perverted minority, is dishonest, unhealthy, disingenuous, and immoral.
- Sexy Sunday: The problems with sex education (velociriot.org)
- Theory post about Abortion (violetlightning.wordpress.com)
- Chlamydia on the rise in girls as young as 12 (abc.net.au)
- Texas Will End Teen Pregnancy By Spending $1.2 Million Telling Teens To Keep It In Their Pants (wonkette.com)
- Steep Costs for Abstinence Only Programs (atheistrev.com)
- Texas Tries To Combat Teen Pregnancy With Abstinence-Only Website That Doesn’t Mention Birth Control (thinkprogress.org)
- The Budget: Issue 2 opinion story (niadrutledge.wordpress.com)
September 27, 2013
You are forever talking about what you know is right for women, what women want, and what they really need. You’ve even told clinic staff, doctors and nurses that you know they could do better in another line or work. With your particularized notion of moral righteousness, you’ve lodged complaints with police about what you know are your rights to free speech at abortion clinics. You’ve written letters to private citizens, neighbors of doctors and clinic directors, asking them to tell these professionals to find a new job, because you know better, you know what’s right. But your self-obsession as well as your presumptuous omniscience conveniently ignores the rights of others and summarily dismisses the knowledge women have of their own lives. Behaving, as you are wont to do, foolishly believing you are right when you are really wrong on so many levels, you reveal more truths about your nature than you might imagine or want. Let me spell it out for you.
- To begin, it’s not right when you call escorts, staff, and doctors murderers because they don’t murder anyone. The carnivalesque act of calling someone a murderer is convenient because it frees you from thinking about the sacredness of women and men who offer and choose abortion services.
- It’s not right when you use grotesque images that defy the reality of abortion. Aborted fetuses look remarkably different from all the manipulated grotesque images you use in your visual propaganda. Using such images only serves to shame, hurt and demonize women and, consequently, alienate them to your message.
- It’s not right to say that All Women Regret Their Abortion. Documented scholarly evidence illustrates that overwhelmingly women have no regrets about their abortion. Not one bit. People make choices and live with them. It’s called life. Some women have sadness about their choice to end their pregnancy, but choose abortion anyway because they know it’s right for their situation. Your bombastic overgeneralization only makes you look ignorant and desperate.
It’s not right to scream at women we’re here to help you. Take a good look at yourself. You’re a stranger who is screaming. What reasonable person would want to trust you or anything you say? It makes you look doubly foolish and deceitful when you follow with the disingenuous high-pitched scream God loves and so do we and, immediately afterward, shout, you’ll regret this day the rest of your life. Again, take a good look at yourself for you are nothing but a vacuous and mean-spirited provocateur.
- It’s not right to publicize your own sexual fears and perversions. Telling women that the doctor will perforate their rectum and uterus illustrates your own salacious fascination with debauchery. Telling well-endowed women with cleavage, “You look like you’re all set up for breastfeeding” reduces you to a common pervert. Telling women to abstain from sex reveals your prudish anxiety about human sexuality. In your ill-conceived attempts to lie about body parts and sexual matters, you embarrass yourself in a most undignified way, earning a big fat 10 on the Ick Factor Scale.
- It’s not right to lie. Remember thou shalt not lie? Until you have an M.D. after your name, you should rely on reputable medical and scientific sources and not junk science in LifeSiteNews. The evidence is there for you to read. Let’s face it. You rely on the scientific and medical credibility of pediatricians, cardiologists, dermatologists and internists. Yet you throw out medical and scientific evidence when a gravid uterus is involved. Here’s the evidence: There is no post abortion stress disorder. There is no abortion-breast cancer link. There is evidence that the morbidity and mortality in pregnancy and childbirth can be more dangerous than abortion. It’s also a fact that the United States is 50th in the world for maternal health. Such transgressions illustrate the disturbed fascination with fear mongering that is your lingua franca.
- It’s not right to inflict your religion on others. Humiliating and dehumanizing women is morally unacceptable. Manipulating your faith to justify your heinous actions displaces your responsibility onto your God. Like the Nazi war criminals that claimed they were only following orders, you antiabortion protesters claim you are doing God’s will. Barking like a madman “in the name of Jesus” as preface to a hurl of toxicity hardly seems godly. Face it; your morally bankrupt behavior only serves to show how unchristian and blindly intolerant you are towards others.
When I think about the pornography of your madness, your frothing, detailed rendering of humiliation of women and men who choose and provide abortion services, I have to say that the unintended consequences of your own behaviors illustrate how karma works. In plain English, you get what you give. And what you give is intolerance, disdain for truth, misogyny, desperation, alienation, and misanthropy.
- GOP’s secret anti-choice plot: The crackdown on abortion doctors (salon.com)
- GOP’s Secret Anti-Choice Plot: The Shady Crackdown on Training Abortion Doctors (alternet.org)
September 16, 2013
Dear M and S,
I do not ask for understanding, but comprehension. You both have questions. Some I’ve answered, insinuated, or obscured for the normal parental reasons. I owe you, though, the story as I remember it so you may understand through comprehension how dangerous it is, even in the 21st Century, to contradict and undermine conventional thinking. I hope our family’s historical facts illustrate our ongoing obligation to confront fundamental Pentecostal thinking so we move forward, not backwards. I am now a mere four years younger than your grandfather when one blinded by fundamentalism and the hate it naturally engenders created a symbol of the man who you never knew.
I last saw my father on Sunday, 7 March 1993. We did not see each other often, but we talked with relative frequency and were repairing a fairly entrenched rift in our relationship that began 10 years prior when he left our family for another woman after moving us—your grandmother, aunt, and I—to a shit small hovel of an antiquated old southern town in Alabama split between the poles of old blue blood southern aristocratic antebellum money and dirt floor poverty. Dad came and stayed the weekend with me in Birmingham as he did infrequently. Three days before his visit, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed. He called, as he was want to do, late in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday and announced he was coming into town and would be staying with me. It was a conversation like any other and I don’t recall any real detail other than he was coming.
I know he stayed over at least Saturday and Sunday 6 and 7 March 1993. I have no memories whatsoever of Saturday night; yet, I do vividly remember Sunday dinner, can still see the round wooden table and mismatched chairs I took from home when I moved away in 1989, and know we grilled cow protein of some form or another—it was probably a New York Strip as I’d not developed an appreciation for the rib eye yet. Due to the recent dental surgery, the steak, though cooked appropriately, was difficult to chew which made it more difficult to swallow. We enjoyed our meal, some more than others, while Billie Holliday gently but huskily sang in the background. Our conversation drifted from school, to my sister—she was 17 and in the final days of her senior year, to politics—President Clinton had just been inaugurated, to my progress in school, and to his work.
Dad explained the protesters were becoming ever more aggressive and confrontational. The few protesters I personally encountered a few years prior when I traveled the circuit with dad were the typical abortion porn sign holders and silent layers of hands. In my teen years, I found his weekly schedule nothing but normal though it took him from our small town hell to Columbus, Georgia then to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Mobile, Alabama, and finally to Pensacola, Florida only to resume anew the next week. Other kids’ parents traveled so what was so different about his schedule? I did not figure out until much later that he made this circuit because no one else would. I certainly never took it a logical step further and deeper to ask why no other local doctor in Columbus, Montgomery, Mobile, and/or Pensacola serviced these clinics. It was my normal and I was 14 when I first started driving him on some of his trips; yet, as we discussed the present situation, I noticed he seemed preoccupied. We finished our meal, drained a few more beers, and awoke March 8 and said our goodbyes.
I was aware clinics were bombed in the past and even asked him once if he ever worried about one of the clinics he serviced getting attacked. He reassuringly told me it did not concern him, and he went on with his day. Over the weekend of his last visit, though, I thought about the heightened protests, and the ever increasing threats of violence; additionally I remembered my mom calling me one afternoon about a year before this final visit to tell me strangers were in town passing out wanted posters of dad which included his weekly schedule. When that incident occurred, he again brushed off our concern and said he was not preoccupied with the actions of some crazies.
That Monday morning, prior to seeing him off for the last time, I confronted him about the posters, the renewed threats, and told him I was scared for his safety. Dad finally told me he had been carrying a gun for a few years, that he suspected he was being followed frequently, and that a strange protester approached him that previous Friday (would have been 5 March) while he was in the car leaving the clinic in Pensacola heading my way. He said this man had an eerie look about him and spoke to dad through his car window while staring deeply at him with glazed long staring maniacal eyes. I remember asking when the stalking started, and he indicated it had been going on at least as long as the wanted poster’s origination about a year or so earlier. I asked if he considered quitting the circuit and going back to less controversial OB/GYN care. He told me if he stopped, it would be difficult to find a replacement and he was committed to his patients. He left headed south, and for the first time I admitted to myself that he had a dangerous job and as anyone whose parent has a dangerous job, I wrapped myself in the warmth and security of “not mine”, “not this time”, and drank the Lethean water temporarily cooling my angst and trepidation.
I spoke with your grandfather again on 9 March 1993. We did not discuss anything specific. I was preparing for exams; he was in another of the endless line of hotel rooms and sounded lonely. Sadly, our terminal conversation was brief and unremarkable. He indicated he was well and heading to Pensacola, and I told him to be safe. In retrospect he seemed to hang on the line as though he did not want the conversation to end; yet, neither of us could find a way to carry it forward.
I drove to class the next morning on what was, otherwise, an exceedingly peaceful and beautiful spring day in Birmingham. I’ve always preferred living in Birmingham than other cities as it is big enough to provide some degree of needed anonymity; yet, small enough to retain remnants of its prior smallness which is both sides of the pole simultaneously. As I was studying for a Semantics class, dad was driving to work. As I got into my car to head home, he was very likely getting out of his for the last time.
You guys have never seen a real answering machine as far as I know since everyone has digital voicemail these days. In ’93 you were lucky to have the kind with a microcassette (I’ll explain that later) that was the size of a stereo component. I don’t recall who checked the messages on the afternoon of 10 March—my at the time girlfriend or me—but I remember thinking it odd to get a message from my grandmother in the middle of the week in the middle of the day. It was an altogether cryptic but clear message. She simply said “call me when you get home.” Both of you are still too young to know there are certain messages you don’t want to return. I don’t mean the messages from people you’ve left behind or don’t want to talk with at that particular moment, but the messages from family purposely ambiguous so you are intrigued enough, but not too scared, to return the call as soon as you hear the message. Of course I sensed something was wrong, and, logically, I feared it involved dad.
Dad called me one night in January surprisingly upbeat and happy sounding. It was the night of the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion as you may or may not know when you read this; I’ll get to abortion proper later), and he actually to and was genuinely excited to share his day with me. First, he said someone from Rolling Stone magazine contacted him recently looking to do a profile on his experience as one of the few Southern abortion providers; secondly, he told me how he had finally had enough of the protesters and their bullshit. He then described how he sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the protesters outside one of the clinics in Montgomery and in the penultimate verse added, “happy birthday dear Roe v. Waaaade.” He subsequently aimed a small boom box at those gathered outside the clinic and played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” singing loudly along.
For some reason, I thought of this event as well as the suspicious protestor dad described over the weekend as I returned my grandmother’s call. When she answered, I immediately knew what I suspected was true; yet, we had to play out the charade. I asked her why she called. She asked if I had seen the news. I told her I had been at school studying. She said good. I asked why. She then told me what I intuitively knew. “Your dad was shot,” she said and I could hear her sadness as she said it. I asked if he was ok thinking people survive gun shots routinely. She told me he wasn’t and that he died e route to the local hospital. She said she was sorry, that she loved me, and asked that I call my mom.
One day both of you will confront my mortality. Let’s hope it is much longer than four years from now when I’ll be 47 which is how old your grandfather was when he died. I know that seems old, but it is really very young, and when you hit forty, you’ll both realize how young it is. My desire is you are prepared for it and it doesn’t pounce on you from behind a corner while you’re busy reading some goddamned semantics notes.
I drove to my mother’s house where some friends and my sister had gathered. We hugged, cried, and watched cable news run the story of dad’s death and label him “the first abortion doctor to be murdered” ad infinitum. You have to contextualize the nature of the event and times to truly understand. On one really used the internet, e-mail was barely in anyone’s vocabulary, and few people had cell phones. CNN was the only 24 hour news source (it’s hard to conceive of life without Fox, but it was pleasantly non-existent at the time). Abortion clinic violence was still considered fresh news and had not yet matured and then expired. In laymen’s terms, your grandfather’s assassination was a big fucking deal, and was the news for days, months, and years as more doctors and nurses in the abortion field died violently. Cable news still had some decency about the images they showed, or they were simply too late to get images of your grandfather’s body. The image I recall from that spring day is a shot of his bloodstained glasses disfigured and broken in the grass where his body most assuredly fell.
Within hours of the killing, my mother’s phone started an interminable ringing which would not abate for months. On the other end of the line was a New York Times reporter looking for comment. I considered whether or not we wanted to talk, I had mixed feelings of surprise and anger at being asked for comment on the day I found out my dad was dead, and I had no idea what to do given our family’s life capsized, up righted, capsized, and sank in the span of a few hours that afternoon. We had large issues confronting us: burial, finances, familial relations, loss, and grief, and it was overwhelming to add media and politics into the mix. Initially, I wanted to simply hang up on the woman from the Times; yet, I remembered how joyful dad was when he thought someone was finally going to tell his story and write about the insane conditions under which he worked all at the hands of fundamentalists. I also remembered his calm happiness when he relayed the events of 22 January 2010 and how he joyously sang in defense of his profession and services. I made a decision, asked for the reporter’s name and number, and said I’d call her back later as we had other pressing needs to address.
I always wondered if the protester dad described to me the weekend before he died was Michael Griffin, the man who assassinated your grandfather. If so, he looked into the eyes of his assassin five days before he struck, and it was the last time he looked into his eyes as Griffin attacked from behind too cowardly to face the person he hated, stalked, and still feels deserved to die. I am still convinced others were involved in dad’s assassination. There was an organized protest in front of the clinic the day
Griffin struck, and the organizer of the protest had witnessed to Griffin in the weeks leading up to the assassination. This self styled minster had an effigy of your grandfather in his garage, and I do not doubt he influenced or seduced Griffin to take his violent action. I will tell you more about these events as I continue the story.
To this day I cannot forget the image of his glasses. I also continue to celebrate his fine voice which was inspiring to me personally and has proven inspirational to others. I am now the dad where I once was the son, and it is my obligation and duty to pass this history on to you so, perhaps, in some minor way, it helps you understand the essence and roots of hatred as well as how one fine voice can make all the difference if you simply sing out.
PS. The title was taken from Treblinka by Jean Francois Steiner
August 27, 2013
A few days ago we were driving along the pine and oak dappled streets passing the brick and wooden houses we pass everyday on the way home. We saw ranchers, split levels, and A-frames as well as the odd gentrified monstrosity that was formerly a 50s, 60s, or 70s styled family home but is now some garish example of conspicuous consumption out of place among the two and three bedroom homes in our neighborhood. Those houses. Damn, they reek of pride and anticipation that soon, very soon, they shall overcome their common surroundings occupied by elderly holdouts and first time buyers as if they are a giant extended middle finger to those adjacent and across from their projected omnipotence.
We rounded Teller Lane turning left as we passed the soccer and basketball goals in the yard of the family on the corner.
She was beside me in the passenger’s seat and had not said much since I liberated her from those dastardly day care teachers—she hates daycare because they only give plain chips for snack, and though I appreciate her sentiment since I’m no vanilla chip fan, I’m glad her primary school stressor is chips because the pending divorce keeps her sufficiently distracted, confused, and just plain sad. Typically, she is abuzz with grade school drama or wiped out from hard play—she is a self professed tom boy after all; however, today she was a bit pensive and hesitant. I could tell something was clearly on her mind, and it appeared she was working out how to unwind the thread of thought as if in some Theban labyrinth. I prompted and prodded her about her day without getting overly interrogational. She is adept at avoidance.
She could sense our proximity to home meaning dinner anxiety, homework, and distraction combined with parental tension. Quickly, and in a sense angrily, she unburdened herself, “Why don’t I have gandpas?”, she asked. Her shoulders slumped forward slightly but her eyes engaged mine—as if my eyes regarded themselves—in fixed, intense precision awaiting parental profundity.
I was not surprised by the question. She has asked it before and asks some form of it regularly. Perhaps, after learning to live in two separate houses as opposed to the one she’s known for seven years, she hoped to immerse herself in the past longing for heritage’s familial fealty; or, she could have merely been curious. Who truly knows the motivations of others much less those of the ones we love, and I love her to the moon and back which obviously means I’m an utter failure at discerning her unstated motivations.
I navigated these waters when the man-boy—your grandson is 16, 6’5’’, is a brunette Pa, and I’d describe him as an old soul if I believed in one—was growing up, and I attempted to answer his inquiries with honesty as opposed to supposed soothing southern platitudes ending in “better place”, “God’s ways are…”, and/or “you’ll reconcile one day”. Yet, he knew his mom’s dad, had a close relationship with him for seven years, and, therefore, knew life with a cantankerous yet playful grandfather. Michael’s death was the first man-boy experienced and it shook him terribly just as the recent death of our traditional family shakes my daughter who’s now the Inquisitor.
Prior to having my own children, I seriously studied and in some way practiced how I would answer the inevitable questions. Unlike the deaths of other forbearers, details of yours are as loaded as the gun that killed you. I knew I had to tell the grandchildren the truth at some point, and, if nothing less, thought a written record would best address the problem of evil I had to narrate. In the event I croaked prematurely, I wanted them to hear the stories from me—or in my words, but never mustered the courage to write the answers until now.
I, therefore, am left looking at your granddaughter on an otherwise typical sunny and humid southern Friday in August. I look into her eyes which are mine, her brother’s, and yours. I try to summon the wisdom to explain a religiously motivated and condoned murder while searching for a method to breakdown how your job, controversial to some but legal and protected nationwide, was the primary cause of your death while realizing an understanding of that fact is the only way to make any sense of the senseless.
She should not know the term abortion though she’s heard it. Likewise, it is incomprehensible how she, through no fault of her own, must grapple with the issue at such a young age if I tell her the whole truth. She does not yet have any sexual understanding, but her tender years are hardening and hastening toward experience quickly especially as she struggles to understand a murdered grandfather, let alone one whose murder has the implications of yours. Relatively soon—too soon in my eyes assuredly–abortion will be an all too real and relevant issue for her as a burgeoning young woman. It remains to be seen whether or not she has the freedom other women have enjoyed for 40 years. She lives in dangerously fundamental times in an even more dangerously fundamental state. If I know anything about your granddaughter, it is that she has your strong will and hunger for justice. Though I cannot predict with certainty where she lands politically as she develops her own identity, I have little doubt her convictions will remain consistent with yours and mine.
Her brother, eight years her senior, knows you were assassinated and understands it was an act of terror. I had to share the causes and conditions of your assassination with him, and he carried that burden as I did before him and continue to do twenty years later. I do not remember at what age I told him the whole truth. I asked him if he recalls, and he doesn’t. Simply stated, he’s always lived with abortion just as I did. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he also realizes the motives of your assassin and has grown up under that shadow. I am happy to report his dedication to our family’s cause.
On that Friday two weeks ago, I mitigated the facts and told Sam again you were killed without getting into the whys and wherefores; instead, I simply said someone killed you and that he is still in prison. She asked why. Why is what I dread for her at such an early age. She’s beginning to learn the mythos of our civilization. While I will facilitate her struggle to differentiate facts from fiction in what she is taught, on this particular Friday, I decided she was not yet ready to learn the whole truth of your assassination or that it was an assassination. It is sufficient and tragic enough to know of and contemplate murder which she has done since she can remember. No granddaughter, regardless of her grandfather’s profession, should have to ask, “but why was he killed.” No father, in the land of the free, should be forced to provide that answer even if the whole answer must wait for the time being.
June 23, 2013
It makes sense that a healthy media system, one with widespread informed public participation, would be essential to a flourishing democracy. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism states that the “central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society” and identified nine core principles. Among the nine principles is the obligation of loyalty to the public and the obligation to truth, both principles which seem suspect in most of mainstream journalism. Problems with loyalty to the public and variations of truths are part of our current media system and that’s not healthy. As media scholar Robert McChesney claims, our current media system is set up to maximize profit for a relative handful of large companies and not to maximize public participation. Moreover, rather than act as watchdogs, the current media system operates more like lap dogs who act primarily as megaphones of government, military and corporations. The implications of the erosion of mainstream news reporting for women’s reproductive health means that stories are told but are not interpreted, investigated or contextualized.
For example, the Republican Party platform embraces anti-abortion language with no mention of exceptions for rape or incest. Stories about their platform on abortion have been dutifully reported in the NY Times and Washington Post. Meaningful journalism would go further by illustrating how a substantial number of Republicans, working from this ideological party platform, have become overtly aggressive in their efforts to restrict access to abortion. Calling these restrictions a seismic shift, the Guttmacher Institute claims that states have become increasingly hostile to abortion rights, especially during 2011. This seismic shift in the loss of abortion rights has been and continues to be addressed and contextualized in alternate media sources such as RH Reality Check, Moyers & Company and Democracy Now while mainstream media reports stories about individual state legislation without mapping out the larger picture. What this means for the public, particularly women of reproductive age, is that they are without accurate, comprehensive and reliable information about legislative actions in their state and, thus, are unable to fully participate as first class citizens. This may seem a bit of an overstatement but consider further evidence from polls that point to general approval for legalized abortion, from GOP survey findings that complain about attacks on abortion and from the rise of the Christian right–all issues that are essentially silenced in mainstream news.
Polls Favoring Abortion
abortion, yet the Republicans legislators act according to their own party wishes, disregarding the voices of those they represent. Discrete stories about support for abortion in most circumstances appear in mainstream news sources. What is missing, I argue, are stories that illustrate the complexities of abortion rather than painting it as a black and white issue.
Young People frown on GOP’s Abortion Attacks
Another bit of evidence comes from the College Republican National Committee survey of young people. Among the findings is the call for Republicans to become more tolerant and open on women’s reproductive health particularly around the definition of rape, funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion access and even contraception. The GOP’s response concerning reproductive issues was to claim victimhood by responding that they had been “painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — in holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions.” Forget the fact, that no one forced Republicans to attack contraception or redefine rape or cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Essentially, they opined that they needed to avoid allowing the abortion debate to be “conflated” (as if this was something done to Republicans instead of something they openly and oftentimes eagerly do to themselves) with debates over contraception, rape and Planned Parenthood but not change its stance on the issue of abortion itself. Again, mainstream media picked up the story about the findings in the survey but took it no further. It was other sources, such as Salon, Politico, RH Reality and Huffington Post, that connected the dots for those who follow alternate news sources.
The Rise of the Christian Right within the GOP
In yet another news oversight is the rise of Christian right as a powerful voice within the Republican Party and the Party’s further shift to the right in legislating morality and legitimating its ideological myths about America. Under the influence of conservative Christians, Republicans have sought to defend a traditional concept of family through debates that opposed abortion, feminism, stem cell research and gay rights. Religion is at the heart of these debates which blurs the boundaries between separation of church and state. And, according to evangelical radio broadcasters, this boundary blurring seems to be exactly what is desired as they march toward the front line of the culture wars fighting against their perceptions of judicial tyranny that legalized abortion and outlawed school prayer.
In 1995, amidst the tumultuous events of far-right militia actions against the perceived corrupt and tyrannical federal government and the anti-abortion activists’ destruction and murders against clinics and doctors, Laura Flanders, writing for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), astutely asked, “When will media see the connection?” Citing expert testimony that far-right militias and anti abortion activists were one and the same, as well as citing the 1994 Supreme Court’s agreement with pro-choice groups that anti-abortionists could legitimately be investigated for conspiracy, she argued that “the national media’s gentle handling of the anti-abortion story has amounted to a quasi-conspiracy itself” by turning a blind eye to the connections. In 2013, I would repeat Guttmacher that there has been a seismic shift away from abortion rights. The obvious lack of investigations about the actions of the far-right legislators (militia) documented attacks against a woman’s right to access abortion and other reproductive health care is more than turning a blind eye. The lack of better reporting is indicative of what Pew cites as the continued erosion of news reporting due to financial cutbacks, increased use of advertising dollars spent on digital technology, and a shift toward digital news consumption. The good news for reproductive rights is that majority of Americans have increased their news consumption after hearing about an event or issue from friends and family. Social networking is now a part of this process including sources such as Abortion.ws, RH Reality, Moyers & Company and others to provide in-depth news about reproductive health care issues.
So it seems that while mainstream news sources such as the NY Times and the Washington Post continue to report on discrete reproductive health issues, it will be up to us to connect the dots for ourselves, to act as cartographers to map the abortion landscape, and to share our work with our readers, particularly in the coming elections where we should seize opportunities to speak publicly about supporting the rights of women through political donations, petition signatures and plenty of Facebook and blog postings.
March 17, 2013
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to comment on the new Pope, huh?
There’s lots of talk about him taking the Church in a “new” and “refreshing” direction because he seems kinda cool and he used to ride the bus in Argentina. Well, don’t hold your breath folks. Just because he has already abandoned some of the fancy Pope clothes doesn’t mean big changes are in the future. Take, for example, the Church’s long held opposition to abortion (good segue, huh?).
On October 2, 2007 then-Cardinal Bergoglio told an audience that “we aren’t in agreement with the death penalty but in Argentina we have the death penalty – a child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.” He went on to say that abortion was a “death sentence for unborn children.” I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for a woman sitting in that audience that day who had had an abortion. Even though this occurred in Argentina where abortion is basically illegal, make no mistake that there was a woman there who had had an abortion and she was now forced to hear the Cardinal talk about how she gave the “death sentence” to her child. Pretty harsh stuff.
So far, I have not heard Pope Francis say anything about abortion but rest assured that it’s coming soon. Indeed, the pro-life news service, LifeNews.com, has already reported that “Newly-elected Pope Francis used his second-ever blessing as the head of the Catholic Church to bless a pregnant mother and her unborn child. The blessing a symbolic overture to the pro-life movement and underscores the importance the Catholic Church places on protecting women and unborn children from abortion.”
I looked at the video that accompanied this statement and it shows the Pope in a crowd, surrounded by lots of people. They are kissing his hand and he is “blessing” all of them and one of the women happened to be pregnant. So, the pro-life media is already stretching things but rest assured that the new Pope will jump in soon on abortion.
I certainly wish the Pope well and I hope he uses his position to make this world a better place to live. But, as far as the abortion issue is concerned, wouldn’t it be something if when he inevitably condemns abortion, he also condemns the cold blooded murder of real live people who happen to perform those abortions? Once – just once – I would like to see a Pope (or a priest for that matter) condemn the violence against abortion providers. Indeed, for him it would be an easy one because no doubt the vast majority of Catholics condemn the killing as well. But I’m not gonna hold my breath.
That’s because the Catholic Church is locked in their ways and the new Pope will not stray far from the flock and stir things up. Indeed, just the other day I was reminded of the Catholic Church’s head in the sand approach to our world. I run a local charitable organization for needy children in my area. Right up the street from me is a Catholic Church which gives out grants to organizations like mine. Yesterday, I looked at the application and in big, bold letters it said it would not give money to any organization that was in any way connected to “abortion” (and to other causes like the “promotion of homosexuality.”) Ultimately, I decided I don’t even want their money.
Maybe the Pope can help change this dangerous, myopic outlook and take a more charitable view of those who do not necessarily agree with the Church. But I doubt it.
- Pope Francis Clear on Denying Communion to Politicians Who Facilitate Abortion (thegatewaypundit.com)
- New Pope Francis Called Abortion the ‘Death Penalty for the Unborn’ (joemiller.us)
- Pope Francis Clear on Denying Communion to Politicians Who Facilitate Abortion (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- New Pope: No Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians (conservativebyte.com)
January 10, 2013
Some of my detractors know that I teach in a private, liberal arts college. From comments collected over the years, it’s apparent that they worry about the negative influence I might have over young lives. In their uninformed perspective, they seem to imagine that I push a pro-abortion agenda (whatever that might mean) in every course I teach. In reality, I don’t worry about such an influence because my teaching aligns with our school’s mission statement. In particular, my goal in teaching is to help students become independent critical thinkers who are intellectually agile, who value vigorous and open-minded debate in a civil context and who challenge intellectual orthodoxy. Somehow, abortion simply does not figure into this goal.
So, in a course that examines mass media, students choose a controversial topic to analyze how it is framed in the media. This aim of this semester-long project is to provide them with the fundamentals of thinking like a scholar—to equip them with the resources and habits of mind to reflect critically about the impact of our media-saturated culture on issues that are often hotly debated in the media. The topics range from gun control to foreign policy, from funding the Head Start program to gay marriage, from immigration to the fiscal cliff and so on. The assignment is not to form opinions about a topic or to be persuasive in their end-of-semester presentation. It is to examine closely how media present the debates. For example, much of the gun control debates in contemporary media frame the issue as a second amendment issue versus and gun violence issue. As always with controversial topics, the media frequently does a poor job at providing much beyond the superficial sound bytes. The abortion controversy is no different. The media use humpty dumpty terms like prolife versus prochoice when in fact the controversy is much deeper.
This controversial issue project affords students the opportunity to look beyond the superficial by developing skills to research and evaluate resources and to see who and what is powering the ubiquitous media. The project also helps expand the awareness of how controversial issues are framed in the media and how these issues impact their thinking, their sense of identity as a citizen and their participation as a citizen in the global community.
In my classroom, students who believe abortion is murder, as some do, hear students who believe that abortion is a woman’s right. Both views are protected. My job is not to persuade them to choose sides. Education is not about competition or proselytizing, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s about teaching them to think critically, to evaluate the validity of arguments, to recognize loaded language, and to identity the power inherent in any mediated text.
But if my sole concern was to push an abortion agenda, a fantasy of some of my detractors, I’d probably begin with video clips of protesters and reviews of prolife web sites. I’d invite them to consider the definitions of compassion, respect and civility. I would encourage them to think critically about ethics, religion and violence. I would address the rights of women vs the rights of men. With this imaginary abortion agenda, my courses would definitely change. In organizational communication, my abortion agenda would require students to study the mercenary aspects of organizations like Priests for Life, Operation Rescue or Life Dynamics. We’d compare the celebrity machinery of Hollywood to the celebrity machinery of the anti abortion industry, including the actors and the fans. In Documentary Film-Social Justice, I would definitely focus on reproductive rights from a global perspective including family planning, abortion doulas, the women who die from illegal abortions and the impact of religious fundamentalism around the globe. I could go on and on. But I won’t. Abortion is a topic that is critically important for women. But I won’t let it interfere in my teaching. I’ll guide students to think for themselves and leave the proselytizing to the Taliban Club members wherever they live and work–whether it’s in the U.S. or Afghanistan.
- Irish PM dismisses Pope’s criticism of change in abortion laws (thehindu.com)
- Poll: Most of Ireland Favors Wider Abortion Access (abcnews.go.com)