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Can you reason with an anti-choice religious person on abortion or reproductive rights?

I’m listening to Emily Bazelon on Political Gabfest’s new episode about why evangelicals are so angry and I can hear both exasperation and panic in her voice about whether Missouri’s new legislation preventing women seeking abortions from leaving the state is constitutional. You may be surprised to find that legal scholars differ on that. This would set up a truly dystopian Handmaid’s Tale scenario where women who don’t want to be mothers are hunted down, apprehended and returned to their owners (parents, husband, state) to wait out their pregnancies and then relinquish the infant at birth. Or they could be coerced to take responsibility for their immorality even if that means giving up all expectations of a better life for themselves and future children. They must be punished.

Honestly, I’m so fed up with the extremist religious right trying to force women to be mothers that I don’t really care what they’re thinking. But I have observed the species in the wild so I can give you my observations on their behavior.

You are dealing with people who are very rigid, inflexible, controlling and legalistic in their thought patterns. If you were to ask them what their favorite book of the Bible is, it would probably be Leviticus. That book is very straightforward. It’s eye for an eye, eat this, don’t eat that, 10 easy to understand not nuanced commandments. They are in every way your typical authoritarian with a twist. Your typical authoritarian focusses their ire on poor people or gay people or black/Hispanic/non-white people. Religious authoritarians focus with laser like intensity on women.

Have you seen the Duggars? You know, the high control family from Arkansas with 19 kids? That family is the anti-choicer’s role model. Forget about the number of children they have for a moment. Those kids are monitored to an inch of their lives. The only difference between the way those Duggar girls are raised and the way I was raised by a strict Jehovah’s Witness is that I went to a public school and could wear jeans and shorts. In every other way, it was identical.

A Duggar girl is not allowed to express any emotions or wants or desires of her own. Their lives are scripted by their parents and the most valuable characteristic of a daughter to a religious authoritarian is O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E. Do what you’re told, don’t express an opinion, never get angry. Their clothes are selected for them, of a prescribed length, their belongings are selected for them, their sleeping arrangements in the house, the chores they do, their friends, the music they’re allowed to listen to, their activities or lack thereof. Everything. They have zero agency about anything. In my case, it was made clear to me that education beyond high school was strictly prohibited. Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly discourage college. (I got one anyway but it meant leaving home early)

The primary extracurricular activity that is allowed for the Duggar girl is tending to children, either their own siblings or some other family’s kids. Their whole lives are ordered by babysitting chores regardless of what is going on in their age group. This was my life as well. I got paid for all the babysitting I did for friends of my parents but I watched people my age get to do things on the weekends that I wasn’t allowed to do because I was spending it with toddlers. I feel for those Duggar girls because the toddlers never stopped coming.

For a religious authoritarian parent, it’s their way or the highway and resistance is useless. And it doesn’t stop when they’re adults. The Duggar girls are given to their husbands in a very literal sense. At no time in their lives do they have any decision making ability unless it is to turn down an arranged marriage to someone their father has selected. Some of those Duggar girls married more reasonable men. A few of the oldest have started wearing jeans, gotten their noses pierced and have an occasional glass of wine. To Jim Bob Duggar, this is unacceptable behavior of a jezebel. Jill Duggar, kid number 4/19, has gotten so upset at having to subject herself to this kind of control from her father even though she’s married and no longer has to report to him, that she’s had to go to therapy to be able to learn to establish boundaries that she was never allowed to erect when she was a child.

Here’s an indication of how important it is to reinforce the chastity and subjugation of women to the religious authoritarian: Jim Bob Duggar gives his son Josh, who is currently facing sentencing for conviction oh child pornography charges, moral support, money, excuses and presumption of innocence. He’s right by that scumbag’s side through the trial. Josh deserves second chances, third chances, a get out of jail free card. But if his daughters come home to visit wearing nose rings, they’re lectured and told not to return because they are a bad influence on their younger siblings.

You can’t make this stuff up.

And this brings us to the thing other than complete and total O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E that is a feature of the religious authoritarian households and that personal privacy is not allowed. They will go through your things looking for signs of defiance or anything you want to keep to yourself. You are constantly under surveillance. In my case, instructions were delivered to my teachers to make sure I didn’t do anything than what I was explicitly allowed. I have a report card from second grade where my teacher made a note that I was a nervous wreck. That sounds about right since it’s at about the age of 7 that you’re told that your salvation is completely on you. You know the difference between right and wrong and if you step out of line even a little, god will kill you. This was the message that was delivered to me personally right after my seventh birthday.

It tends to make a kid anxious.

The religious authoritarian is absolutely obsessed with the idea of pre-marital sex. It’s like the worst thing you can do. It’s worse than murder. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how independent you are or any of the accomplishments you experience in life, pre-marital sex never loses its shamefulness to them. Absolutely nothing else in your character or success or kindness or courage is as important as violating the proscription against pre-marital sex. Your whole being is reduced to the area between your legs. Nothing else matters. Pre-marital sex freaks them out.

It’s ok if you’re married. But then, the particular sect you’re in could spell out exactly what is and isn’t sinful sexual behavior. There are certain things that you can’t do with your spouse. It could cost you your salvation.

It sounds crazy but if you’re brought up this way, it seeps into your consciousness and can distort where you end and where your elders begin to the point where confession of even the smallest infraction is the only way to achieve some kind of peace of mind. I’ve known engaged couples who went too far, felt overwhelming shame, confessed to their elders, were disciplined, disfellowshipped and had to change their wedding plans because of it.

These are the people who want to ban abortion, keep you from traveling and will prosecute you for homicide. They’re not f}#^ing around. They don’t see women as independent beings and their minds have not evolved out of the Bronze Age.

I honestly don’t care why they’re angry. I’ve seen it up close and personal and it never did make a lick of sense once birth control became widely available and parents had reason to have pride in their daughters’ academic and professional achievements rather than if they were having sex. But that sex thing never gets old with them. In the vast universe with the billions and billions of stars and myriad of possibly inhabitable planets and wars, atrocities, man’s inhumanity to man, famine and disease, the thing they have chosen to guide their lives is preventing women from enjoying their bodies and especially outside of marriage.

Their world is small, their concerns are small, their god is small and their control is paramount.

I keep saying that the right is wired differently. The religious authoritarian is even farther along on the spectrum. It’s hard wiring that is very resistant. It’s because any control they get is like a rat hitting a bar for that extra hit of cocaine. It’s very pleasurable to them to make sure women are walking a very straight and narrows path. They are the equivalent of the Iranian committee for the enforcement of Vice and virtue who beat women walking around without their chadors on the streets of Tehran. It gives them purpose in life and that purpose seems to be that god wants women to be confined within an inch of their lives to being wives and mothers who will submit to having other people do their thinking for them.

Good luck trying to reason with that. I spent the majority of my life trying and it never worked. It was a waste of energy.

As far as I can see, we are asking the wrong question about reproductive rights in this country. The vagueries of when life begins depending on faith or cultural traditions are like counting the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

The question should be: do you really want to hand the country’s enforcement agency over to these people. Be prepared. It’s going to be the cultural equivalent of Ukraine breaking away from Russia. Women thought they were free already and now they find themselves fighting all over again to be taken seriously as free and equal human beings. I will not be surprised if the religious authoritarians commit atrocities. There is nothing they will let stand in their way of getting the women of America to shut up, go home and stop making demands.

We’re going to have to fight back with all our might because they’re never going to stop and living under their thumbs is a nightmare. I’ve been there.

11 Responses

  1. As a man, I perhaps should not inject my my thoughts into this, but I will say that I always have believed that the real motivation, conscious or unconscious, of the anti-abortion zealotry, was to punish women, and to a much lesser extent, men, for having non-marital sex, or any sex within marriage which is not for the sole purpose of having children. If you choose to have premarital sex, you risk being forced to bear the child, no matter the physical pain and risk, and either bring him or her up for years, or else try to give them to some kind of facility, with the attendant shame and heartbreak. If you are a man, your punishment is child support for eighteen years, if the mother raises the child.

    As we know, the Religious Right does not seem to care about babies, nor about baby formula. They just want the participants in the sex act to suffer. The fate of the child is not a concern for them. Some of them have actually said that even if the mother is sure to die in childbirth, she is of less importance than the fetus. Again, once the fetus becomes a child, they lose interest, and they look for someone else to terrorize or punish.

    • This sounds right to me and I think it was the direction that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was pointing to as far as reworking Roe. The religious authoritarian is failing to acknowledge that unlike in the Bronze Age, science has made it possible that biology is NOT destiny. Also, all pregnant women could potentially have medical abortions in the privacy of their own homes If they take the pill cocktail before 12 weeks (we’re headed that way anyway).
      So, there’s no consequence potentially for pre-marital sex. Theoretically, there would be no unwanted pregnancies. You can positively identify the parents with DNA analysis so there’s no question about inheritance rights. And with contraception, the chances of accidentally having a dozen children the community can’t take care of is significantly reduced. If you look back at all the laws in Leviticus you’ll see that the laws around deflowering a virgin, adultery etc were constructed the way they were because biology WAS destiny back then.
      So, you would think that the religious authoritarian would embrace modern medicine because now they don’t have to follow these rules. They serve no useful purpose. Instead, they are doubling down. It’s because they are getting something else from these laws that have nothing fo do with keeping track of who begot who.
      One other thing that I used fo think was kind of irrelevant but now I think might be worth considering. At one point in time, there was a female counterpart to the Canaanite god. I think Elohim is the Canaanite name, Yahweh was the other name. I guess they merged after the Jews returned from Babylon. Anyway, the asherah was supposed to be the female counterpoint but she faded away over time until she was nothing but a pillar. History is written by the winners and the Yahweh fanboys must have been brutal about suppressing the any remaining goddesses. I’m starting to see them as the Taliban of their day. Militant, taking women and children from the cities they sacked, keeping them as slaves and concubines.
      I have no idea why the religious authoritarian wants to perpetuate the subjugation of women through control of their reproductive abilities. It doesn’t serve humanity at all to have intelligent, innovative women tied to the cradle for a good chunk of their adult life. But there’s something about repressing women that is addictive and intoxicating to them. It’s not just control of a few outliers or strangers. It’s half the population.

  2. Abortion was pretty non-controversial for the first few years after Roe. Then Nixon’s men, in concert with evangelical zealots, realized that anti abortion sentiments correlated highly with racism. Nixon’s folks wanted to peel off Catholic voters who before then had largely voted Democratic. The evangelicals were angry that their segregated schools and colleges had lost their tax exemptions and saw a way to fight back — being anti abortion sounded more respectable than fighting for schools that existed solely to avoid the strictures of Brown v. Board.

    And so an evil marriage was consummated. Rich Republicans and their richer donors had found a way to get more lower and middle income Americans to vote against their economic interests. Conservative donors brought the money and the Jerry Falwells brought the votes.

    Many of these religious zealots have no idea that their anger has been ginned up, manipulated by televangelists who exist only to separate them from their money.

    • I’m going to say something controversial and I hope you aren’t offended.
      Can we please, just got once, concentrate ONLY on women??
      Yes, MAGA thrives on racism. Yes, the LGBTQ community will be affected by reversing Roe as well.
      But I have noticed that time and again that the minute we start to talk about legislation and rulings that affect people with a uterus, EVERYONE else starts clamoring for attention. I’m tired of having the importance of these decisions and how they affect women, who after all are the majority in any population except where sex selection is a thing, well, the impact is almost always diluted. Some other underrepresented group bogarts the mic and women, who are the primary subjects of these outrageous rulings, are relegated to observer status while everyone else is shouting “ME!ME!ME!”
      If you solve the problem of equality for women, if all of those other interests rally around them, that will have a momentum of its own. You can’t ignore more than 50% of the population unless you start divvying up the limited public media that we have.
      Differing views welcome. But I’m sick to death of this stuff. It’s how Obama won the primary in 2008. Women, well, their concerns were just not that important and they would jump on his bandwagon in the end. We lost a shitload of women from the party with that attitude. Let’s avoid it this time.

      • Hear hear! Very glad to hear somebody articulate the feelings I have been having this week.

      • Warmest greetings, RD!

        At the risk of answering a rhetorical question foolishly, of course you have the right to be as controversial as you wish on your own blog. And I have been grateful for your work in providing a place where I have usually felt comfortable.

        That said: I had no intention whatsoever to slight your concerns about the rights of women or to engage in comparison regarding whose grievances are “more important” or more “worthy of sympathy.” To my mind that competition is a tiresome dead end.

        The intended thrust of my post was to highlight a NYT article that for me was an enlightening, long form, deep dive in how the anti abortion movement came to be. And what struck me the most is the story of how the high powered Republican political operatives like Kevin Phillips and Paul Weyrich, the ones with corporate money behind them, joined forces with the Falwell types, and got Catholics on board with them, too. The article explained, at least for me, how the Republicans built their powerful conservative coalition and what we are all up against.

        The Tmes also discussed your points regarding misogyny as a driving force behind anti abortion ideology but I didn’t go there in my earlier post because you had discussed them with more authority than I could.

  3. “10 easy to understand not nuanced commandments”

    613 😉

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