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Abortion Population Reproductive Health Women's Issues

Prevent the Supreme Court from Establishing a State Religion

Ann Telnaes Editorial Cartoon used with permission of Ann Telnaes and the Cartoonist Group. All rights reserved.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”             First Amendment to the United States Constitution

            The United States of America is becoming a theocracy. The Dobbs decision has bypassed the Congress by having the Supreme Court establishing a de facto religion which forces unwilling women to become mothers.

            So far this religion has evidenced itself with the Court’s failure to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision. The Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization gave power to individual states to regulate the legal status of abortion. Remember, the majority of Americans are prochoice, according to several recent polls. There are fears that more is to come, perhaps even resuscitating the Comstock laws which forbad use of contraception.

            Abortion has not always been frowned upon. Back when the Constitution was written, women’s healthcare was in the hands of women, including herbal abortifacients, and it is likely that men had no idea what was going on. It is silly to think that the Constitution would include anything about women’s healthcare, let alone abortion, yet part of the argument in the Dobbs decision is that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. Remember, the people at the Constitutional Convention were all white males! Abortion was acceptable in colonial America and didn’t become illegal until the mid-1800s.

            This new religion was sired by the coupling of rightwing politics and conservative religions, including Roman Catholicism and the evangelicals who have overtaken the South. The primary tenants of the new religion pretend to be in favor of narrowly defined “life”, claiming that human life begins when human sperm and egg meet. It appears that most followers of this new religion don’t care much what happens to the “life” except when it is in the woman’s reproductive tract—with little attention to the person who supports that uterus. After birth, they tend to not support healthcare, social services or education—especially sex ed. Teen pregnancy rates are highest where the evangelicals are strongest.

            In reality, the “prolife” people may be courting death. They are encouraging continued human overpopulation with consequent destruction of Creation. Humans are causing the massive extinction of species, many of which are essential to our own existence. Our clever synthesis and use of chemicals is toxifying the air and water with poisons, some of which last forever. And don’t forget the climate chaos that even Trump cannot ignore.

            The high priest of this new religion is Samuel Alito, the principal author of the Dobbs decision. His bishops are John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett; all supported the Dobbs decision. These 6 justices were all appointed by Republican presidents; the three dissenting justices were appointed by Democratic presidents. It is unlikely that this happened by chance. The unescapable conclusion is that this judgement was politically based.

            What can be done about this apparent incursion of a state religion into the USA? A group of religious leaders have sued the State of Florida, which has one of the most prohibitive abortion laws in the country. These leaders claim that that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new abortion law. One of them, Reverend Laurie Hafner of the United Church of Christ, stated “I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith.”

            Similarly, a patient at Planned Parenthood asked me, after her abortion, “Are you a Christian?”

            “Yes”, I responded. “I am a Quaker. I feel obliged to perform abortions because it is one way I can help people and also help this overpopulated world.”

            Rather than preserving the sanctity of human life, as believers in this new religion profess, it worships the contents of a pregnant woman’s uterus and damns the imagined evil of abortion. This religion ignores the fact that one in five human pregnancies ends in a spontaneous abortion, also called “miscarriage”. If human fetuses are so holy, why does God allow miscarriages to happen?

            I am worried that minority religious beliefs are being imposed on the majority by a powerful minority. We must push back in the upcoming elections and send a signal to the Supremes that we won’t tolerate a state religion.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022

Categories
Contraception Hope Public Health

Discover a Success Story in Africa

Smoking hut in northern Ghana

            Last month I wrote about the 5 countries I have enjoyed visiting in Africa, including citing their amazingly low per capita GDP. Although most of the population growth over the next decades is predicted to occur on that continent, I see some rays of hope.

            There are two places in the world where studies have been done on ways to increase voluntary family planning, along with other important medical research. One is Matlab, Bangladesh and the other is Navrongo, northern Ghana. I had never heard of the Navrongo studies until shortly before visiting there! 

            Both Matlab and Navrongo have shown that community health workers can improve health significantly. In addition to family planning, the Ghanaian studies studied several successful interventions, including vitamin supplementation and mosquito nets treated with an insect repellant. Their family planning research showed that it is possible to increase contraceptive use and slow population growth even in an impoverished, poorly educated population. This is especially important research since Navrongo is close to the Sahel, and the people there are similar to Sahelians in their preference for large families.

            In 1995, the beginning of the Navrongo studies, the average woman had about 5 children. Fifteen years later, in 2010, that number had dropped to a bit over 4, both in the Navrongo control group and in the country as a whole. One of the interventions decreased the fertility further, to 3.7; a significant reduction.  Now, a decade later, the fertility rate for the whole country is 3.7 children per woman. That group was ten years ahead of the rest of the country! This group combined specially trained community health nurses (as opposed to stationing them at a clinic or hospital) and “zurugelu”.

            “Zurugelu” means “togetherness for the common good”, and was male-centered in the past. For a better explanation, I asked one of the investigators who had worked in Navrongo what “zurugelu” meant. Here is Dr. James Phillips’ reply:

“The zurugelu approach is a social engagement strategy that involves merging the organizational system of primary health care provision with the traditional system of social organization and governance.  When gender problems were evident, we attempted to turn patriarchy on end by working with women’s social groups in ways that were traditionally dominated by men.  Social events, termed “durbars”, were traditionally male events that were led by traditional male social leaders.   To build women’s autonomy and roles, we worked with leaders to eventually have women’s convened and women’s led durbars.  We also had gender outreach activities for responding to the needs of women.   As such, the “zurugelu” approach was a gender development strategy.”

(A “durbar” is a meeting of men with their chiefs.)

            It is interesting that neither community health nurses nor zurugelu alone had much effect on fertility. Even though the nurses educated women about family planning and supplied the necessary materials, fertility did not decrease significantly in the regions where they were introduced but didn’t have zurugelu. Nor did zurugelu alone have much effect by itself. It took both working together for the fertility to come down.

            The need for both nurses and zurugelu is a very important observation. The statement has been made frequently that worldwide over 200 million women want to limit their fertility but don’t have access to modern contraception. Since the nurses provided that access, we know that access alone isn’t enough—at least in this group of people. Apparently tradition and paternalism were significant barriers to using contraception. It took zurugelu to change attitudes before people made the most of what family planning was available.

            What difference did zurugelu make? This traditionally male function opened the eyes of men to the needs of women. Furthermore, the Navrongo programs strengthen the roles of women. 

            Now, back to my visit in Ghana. It was dusk as we were driving from Navrongo back to Nalerigu. We passed a straw hut with smoke emerging from its roof.

            “Is it on fire?” I asked.

            “No”, my host replied. “She’s just cooking the evening meal.”

            Although there is much beauty in northern Ghana, and everyone I met was friendly and warm, my impression is that life is difficult. Now that child mortality is a fourth of what it was 50 years ago, people will benefit from smaller families as well as more education.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022