ART HOBSON: Resisting religious extremism

Liberal policies more likely to reduce abortions

Humankind received stunning good news on May 28 when Ireland voted to repeal its constitutional ban on abortion. The vote had been expected to be close, but the margin turned out to be an overwhelming 2-to-1. It bodes well for Ireland's future that the vote for repeal was highest among the youngest voters, and positive in every age group except 65 and older.

This was a disaster for Ireland's formidable Catholic Church, which has lost public respect due to long-running sex abuse scandals and has shot itself in the foot by zealously opposing abortion. Prime Minister Leo Varadka said the date will be remembered as "the day Ireland stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light. The day we came of age as a country."

The Irish vote should inspire us to resist our own religious extremists, namely those who seek to prevent American women from obtaining safe, legal abortions. Their aim is to overthrow the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision permitting abortions during the first two trimesters and, if the birth would threaten the woman's health, the third trimester.

Religious conservatives want to put American women back into the predicament they were in before 1973, the predicament Irish women were in before their recent vote. Richer Americans will then purchase abortions illegally or in foreign countries, while the working class and especially the poor turn to drinking bleach, jumping off ledges and using coat hangers as abortion devices.

It's a dangerous superstition to think a fetus is a full-fledged human from the moment of conception. A fertilized egg, smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence, is incapable of thought or other human functions. Most fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus, and half of all implanted eggs miscarry. So nature, or God, is apparently by far the planet's most prolific abortionist. Our humanity lies primarily in our brain's ability to reason. Organized brain waves don't appear in the developing fetus until the third trimester, a development time that is also suggested by Roe v. Wade's criterion of viability outside the womb.

We can all agree it's wise and humane to try to reduce abortions. However, there is no reason to think rigid anti-abortion legislation can accomplish this. In fact, there is considerable reason to conclude more liberal laws would reduce abortions.

For example, The Netherlands recently achieved the world's lowest abortion rate, about six per 1,000 women of reproductive age, and also a low teenage pregnancy rate of five per 1,000 women aged 15-19. The Dutch achieved these goals since the 1960s through a purposeful program of modern contraceptives, subsidized family planning clinics, sex education, and open mass media discussions about sexuality. The Netherlands' decline in abortions also coincided with a decline in religion and easy access to safe abortions.

The U.S. abortion rate is far higher than The Netherlands', about 15 per 1,000 women, and our teenage pregnancy rate is a shocking 52 per 1,000 women. We tend to avoid sex education in schools, and what little we do teach tends to focus on abstinence.

America's restrictive approach -- avoiding real sex education, discouraging contraception, preaching abstinence, banning abortions -- results in high abortion rates. Instead of trying to ban abortions, why don't fundamentalists advocate measures that actually work: honest sex education, family planning, contraceptives and legal abortions? I can think of only one reason for such ironic and irrational opposition to legal abortions: misogyny.

Arkansas has made legal abortion nearly impossible. Only three facilities remain: two Planned Parenthood clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville that perform only pill-induced abortions, and a clinic in Little Rock that provides surgical abortions. The Legislature passed a law in 2015 that would effectively shut down the two pill-only clinics by requiring their doctor to have a contract with a gynecologist having hospital admitting privileges. A judge in 2016 issued an injunction against this law, noting there is evidence such gynecologists "risk being ostracized from their communities and face harassment and violence toward themselves, their family, and their private practices." It seems that, just as in some Mideastern nations, radical religion is terrorizing our own citizens.

An appeals court then threw out this injunction on grounds that it lacked specifics, and the U.S. Supreme Court backed the appeals court. Thus Arkansas may soon be down to a single abortion provider, in Little Rock.

It's time for Arkansas and America to follow nations like Ireland in opposing religious extremism.

Commentary on 06/19/2018

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