The Coming Collision of the MAGA “Prolife” Cult and Religious Liberty

When Ruth Bader-Ginsburg died, CC Pecknold, a right wing Catholic who writes for the septic tank of white Christian nationalism that was once First Things tweeted this out:

This act of vice signaling to the Cult accomplished, he then took it down, claiming that it was not a celebration of the death of the Jewish SCOTUS justice.

Uh huh.

Elsewhere, another prominent Catholic prophesied oracles about how their God had struck down the Jewish justice, his wonders to perform.

“At the right-wing Christian site Stream, John Zmirak speculated God killed Ginsburg “… at just this moment for some special reason,” giving the president an opportunity to dramatically alter the court in a way that would please Christians.”

He was joined by various other Christians in nakedly celebrating the death of a prominent Jew. It was… not edifying, but it was instructive because it points to one of the many problems that are going to arise as the nuts in the MAGA Cult attempt the project of wreaking vengeance and punishment on those who do not share their views on abortion.

The problem is sketched in brief by a Jewish reader of mine. He notes:

The Jewish understanding of the morality of abortion is complicated. Reform and most Conservative Jews consider it a matter of choice, as forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term against her will violates her autonomy and dignity as a human being, and these branches of Judaism — and even Orthodox Judaism, to an extent — increasingly believe that defending the autonomy and dignity of each individual is the fundamental point of the religion.

Orthodox Jews mostly oppose abortion, except when necessary to save the mother’s life. A fetus that threatens its mother’s life is deemed a “rodef” — usually translated as “pursuer,” but a more pointed translation would be “assassin” — and can be justifiably killed.

A law that outlaws all abortions without exception violates the religious beliefs and rights of Jewish people.

And that brings us back to the celebration of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by prominent Christians calling her a witch (a term with a rich heritage in Christian attitudes toward Jews dating back centuries) and rejoicing that God killed her. The deployment of such casually dehumanizing language by the “prolife” community, particularly as they smell the chance to finally wreak the vengeance of the law on “blood-drinking babykillers” (a term that has significant overlap between the Christian epithets for Jews and QANON/MAGA “prolife” epithets for pro-choice people) is fraught with danger. The “prolife” community, filled with the false conviction that people like Ginsburg just want to kill as many babies as they can, tend to overlook the reality that the goal of people like Ginsburg (in accord with the Judaism in which she was raised) is not “babykilling” but protection of the rights of persons her religious tradition has always prioritized. So stories like this make perfect sense within that tradition and are only a surprise to radicalized Christians who have convinced themselves of the “fanatical babykiller” bogeywoman of their fantasies:

“It’s disheartening to see the “Pro-life” response to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. It’s very clear that the folks who think RBG was a vehement “baby killer” have never heard of the name Susan Struck.

In the 1960s & 1970s, before Roe vs Wade, abortion was not only legal on US military bases, it was actively ENCOURAGED and basically mandated. Yes, really.

Captain Susan Struck was a combat nurse in Vietnam. When she got pregnant in 1970, the Air Force starkly gave her two choices. Get an abortion or be discharged. Struck wanted to keep her baby. So she was kicked out of the service.

When she got back to the US, Struck sued the US Government for putting women in such a horrible position that they had to choose between either not being able to serve their country or getting an abortion that they didn’t want.

Do you know which ACLU lawyer took her case and got the military to change their policy?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ginsburg approached this case with the same tenacity she would later use to help Congress draft the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. In the dark days after Roe in 1973, it was perfectly legal for employers in many states to put women in the same situation that Struck was put in–“deal with your pregnancy” or suffer the consequences of a lost job, responsibilities or pay.

Ginsburg fought for the rights of women to choose life. She also fought for the rights of women to be able to work without discrimination, purchase homes, have bank accounts and a myriad of other things that make it easier for women in desperate situations to choose life in the first place.

Life is never as black & white or simple as it looks through a myopic lens. It’s never either/or. There’s always “ands” and “buts” to everything.

So before you paint Ginsburg as some satanic villain, at least acknowledge the many abortions that likely DIDN’T happen because of her tireless advocacy for women and families.”

In the prolife dog’s quest to catch the car of overturning Roe for fifty years, the rhetoric of “bloodthirsty baby-killers” has gotten more and more heated and reckless from conservative Christians while there has been almost no engagement by them with the reality of the complexity of Jewish (or other religious traditions, such as Muslim) thought on this question. The braindead assumption that “real Jews” agree 100% with conservative Christians on this and all the rest of Jews are basically just “fake liberal Jews” is one of the greatest havens for anti-semitism in American conservative political discourse. It does not even occur to most conservative prolife Christians, in my experience, to think for one second that Jews who are pro-choice are, by the lights of their Tradition, being faithful to that tradition and not some sort of apostate they can write off and wish into hell without a thought.

And that means there is a huge train wreck ahead when GOP dolts, with the passionate approval of vengeful MAGA Christians, have the bright idea of rounding up, jailing, and (if the wack jobs in the Cult have their way), executing for murder the gynecology, obstetric, and pediatric staffs of every hospital that has ever trained or performed abortions (as the nuts in the MAGA “prolife” cult of death are already urging in their struggle for demagogic dominance over sane Consistent Life Ethic people:

If the spectacle of 13% of the population calling for the imprisonment and possible execution of Jews for living according to their religious beliefs troubles you, consider also the effect on the infant, maternal, and child mortality rates when the bulk of the medical professionals competent to deal with their health needs are all imprisoned or hanged for murder.

Criminalizing abortion is an idea so stupid and dangerous that only the people who have been so wrong about so much so many times for so long–MAGA Christians–could possibly think it was either good or smart.

Tomorrow, I will address the incredible question slowly forming in the crazed brains of so-called “prolife” people who have battled the Consistent Life Ethic for forty years: namely, “Well, gosh, Mark! If we can’t even launch a pogrom against mothers and doctors and nurses to stop abortion, what else is there?”

Update: I posted this several weeks ago to run today. Two days ago, the story broke that a Florida synagogue is filing suit against Florida on the grounds that their religious liberty is being infringed by a new abortion law. Not to say “Toldja so”, but, well, toldja so.

“In Jewish law, abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman, or for many other reasons not permitted under the act [the new law]. As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and thus violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”


19 Responses

  1. Thanks first of all for a correct and concise summation of Jewish teachings on abortion. I’d observe that Orthodox Jews oppose casual attitudes toward birth control of any kind, and that’s the context where they place abortion.

    It’s important to be clear that there is not one single pious religious view on abortion, no matter what people currently believe, and that time and experience has shaped these views.

    I remember hearing Rush Limbaugh ranting that feminists would only accept a woman as a feminist if she’d had an abortion, and that feminists got pregnant on purpose just so that they could have an abortion, and they competed with each other to have the largest number of abortions to prove their feminist credentials. Of course that would be monstrous, but equally of course, it’s not true. But falsehoods like that formed the hearts of many of these “Conservative” “pro-life” individuals.

  2. > Captain Susan Struck was a combat nurse in Vietnam. When she got pregnant in 1970, the Air Force starkly gave her two choices. Get an abortion or be discharged. Struck wanted to keep her baby. So she was kicked out of the service.

    When you first mentioned that bit a few months ago, I was struck by one observation I had when reading the biographies of celebrated US armed forces officers, especially higher officers and generals/admirals.

    So I went to research this further online and found that, up to the 1990s, there were very few women officers in the armed forces. Those that were officers were usually very smart and were promoted young, but many dropped out of the service in their late twenties.

    It would be easy to chalk it up to sexism, but what was surprising is that those women that did manage to get promoted through the ranks, managed to do so with relative ease, which suggested that maybe sexism a red herring.

    What one characteristic they all shared, however, was that none of those women had children and a lot of them stayed unmarried for life.

    It’s at once damning for armed forces that these women were faced with a choice to kill their unborn children for the sake of their careers or quit, and at the same time it’s inspiring how many women decided their children were more important than their careers after all.

    And just to prevent whataboutism: Soviet Union at the time had many more female officers. All of them were faced with exactly the same choice as their counterparts in US armed forces. And they mostly chose their careers.

  3. It sounds very much in bad taste to refer to a baby as an assassin or an aggressor. They are victims of something that has gone wrong. You could make an argument for toddlers!

    If abortion on demand is ever made illegal, it shouldn’t be on religious grounds. It is a human rights issue. If I was an atheist, I wouldn’t have the heart to have an abortion without medical grounds.

    Pregnancy and childbirth are devastatingly difficult. I can’t imagine forcing anybody to be pregnant against their will even though I consider abortion a horrendous sin.

    I also can’t bear the idea of orphanages with rows and rows of crying babies and nobody to take them home and love them. If the government hardly puts food on the table of those that are disabled or low paid, how could Republicans ever think people would believe those orphans would be well cared for? We had eight kids when the Republican governor of CA took our child tax credits away. It was low hanging fruit for self important fat cats who think you can “balance the budget” on the backs of children. These people have dark, shriveled up consciences.

  4. With respect, “bad taste” doesn’t enter into it. This is Talmud scholars more than a thousand years ago, working out ways to apply religious analysis to the material world. In this case they are working by analogy; how should they understand the two parties in pregnancy that is killing the mother?

    In some schools of Talmudic thought, a woman carrying a lethal pregnancy is not merely permitted, but has a proactive duty to terminate the pregnancy and preserve her life.

    And whether or not it’s upsetting, there is no sense in pretending that that such medical situations never happen.

    1. Um, maybe something was lost in translation. Calling a baby an assassin is in bad taste. My opinion. Assassin implies intent, when the fetus didn’t even ask to be there. An unfortunate medical problem is simply an unfortunate medical problem. Nothing against their scholars. Catholic scholars have said more wonky things that I can keep up with.

      If you’ll notice, I stated, “I wouldn’t have the heart to have an abortion without (strict!) medical grounds.” I’m not pretending “that such medical situations never happen.”

      Mark is 100% correct to call out the antisemitism that lurks in the dark corners of the supposedly Christian populace. Our pastor recently referred to a bumper sticker he saw on the road which stated: “Lord, please protect me from your followers.”

  5. So if laws restricting abortion constitute an unconstitutional establishment of the Christian religion (as I’m often told), does this mean laws allowing abortion constitute an unconstitutional establishment of the Jewish religion?

    1. Let’s pretend you’re not just grandstanding.

      The notion of “laws allowing abortion” is awkward at best, legislation more usually proscribes than permits behavior. It’s a subtle point, but the Roe decision isn’t a law that establishes abortion rights; rather it says that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is protected by rights to privacy rooted in the Constitution. That’s the reason that abortion will not suddenly and automatically be illegal if Roe is set aside.

      So where does religion enter the argument? In the notion that a human embryo is a person in the legal sense the minute cells start dividing, and that person has full individual rights and is protected by the Fifth Commandment against willful murder.

      Do you see it yet?

      Different religious and philosophical systems come to different conclusions about the question of full individual rights. It’s not obvious outside of a religious context that 16 dividing cells are equal in human dignity to their mother. Some faith traditions say those cells are a person; others say “not yet”. It’s why Roe took evidence on fetal viability; the court was seeking an objective standard of sorts.

      Do you see it yet?

      If a government decides that a human embryo has an immortal soul and is called and recognized by God within the mother’s womb because of a Psalm, or a Preacher, or a Papal encyclical, that government establishes a religious definition as law.

      Which the 1st Amendment prohibited.

      And I am pretty sure that you don’t see what I’m getting at.

      1. Counter-question for “Elisabeth Paterson”.
        From your screen name, I am going to assume you are biologically female, and that you have been, or intend to be, pregnant at some point in your life.
        Q.1 When you were pregnant, did you reduce your consumption of alcohol?
        Q.2 If yes to Q.1, what was your basis for taking this step? Was it adherence to the Catholic belief that a foetus has a soul? Or to the Muslim belief that consuming alcohol is sinful? Or some other reason with a secular, scientific basis?
        Q.3. It’s 2028. President DeSantis signs the Parental Discipline Rights Act, which nullifies any and all State laws that purport to prohibit or penalise use of corporal punishment of minor children by a parent or parent’s delegate. The Act’s preamble cites various Black/Douglas supreme court judgments about the private sanctity of the home. What is your view about the justice or otherwise of this hypothetical law? Would your view depend on whether any Trumpist congress people had cited Proverbs 13:24 in the course of the legislative debates?
        Q4. The real litmus test for people who boast about being “pro-choice”: do you think doctors and nurses whose religious beliefs are anti abortion should be compelled to take part in pregnancy terminations?

      2. Just to clarify: I agree with Mark on his policy position. I have argued in other comments that conservative Christians can live with legalised abortion by viewing it as akin to the seal of the confessional: yes, it allows people to get away with evil deeds, including harm to children, but the alternative is worse because it gives the state too much surveillance power. We could probably stamp out child abuse if we had security cameras installed in every private home, and government agents monitoring them, but the cure would be far worse than the disease. We need to be honest about what abortion is and involves, and Mark does just that: but that’s not incompatible with concluding that decriminalisation is the least-worst option and that pro-lifers will be checkmated if they try to legislate and enforce a ban.
        Where I disagree with Mark is not sharing his newfound trust in the good faith of the pro-abortion side. For all the misty-eyed talk about individual choice, people who fall over themselves to accommodate vegetarians and vegans seem very keen to conscript anti-abortion doctors and nurses into performing operations that the latter consider repugnant. Look at Sweden, or even Canada. Hence that is my litmus test for whether I take a self-proclaimed “pro-choicer” seriously and bother listening to their arguments.
        It’s a good example of how Mark says “Sin makes you stupid”. If the “pro-choicers” were genuine about their slogan “Don’t like abortions? Then don’t have one”, then a truce could possibly exist. But if the next step to “Abortions shall be lawful” is some Julian Savulescu figure popping up to declare “No one may legally refuse to perform a lawful medical procedure”, then it becomes perfectly logical for anti-abortion people to fight to keep, or make, abortion unlawful. Rule One of politics is you don’t force your opponents’ backs to the wall: make them drop their weapons, sure, but don’t make them kneel and kiss your boot. If they’re that bigoted and reactionary, why do you need their approval? (and why would you want them wielding scalpels anywhere near your reproductive organs…?)

  6. Q4 first: Doctors and nurses should absolutely not be compelled to perform abortions.

    And no, pharmacists filling a prescription are not in the same position ethically. I tend to think that from a Catholic perspective, providing medicine prescribed by a doctor would be considered remote cooperation with evil, at worst. But if a pharmacist is losing sleep over whether birth control pills might function as abortifacients in some patients, and can’t bring herself to fill dispense some medications, she’s in the wrong job.

    Q3 is a fairly silly hypothetical, though it’s easy enough to imagine a President DeSantis signing a law like that.

    As to the alcohol use in pregnancy line of questions, of course you’re heading towards whether I would ever consider a baby in the womb to be worth care and protection from conception. We could take that line even further, inquire whether a woman hoping to become pregnant would take on a regime of diet and exercise, or quit smoking in advance of conception. Would that somehow make the embryo that didn’t exist yet a person with legal rights? Of course that’s just silly.

    1. Okay, we’re on the same page (if at opposite ends) so I’ll consider your points.
      As far as I can tell, anti-abortion pharmacists may take one of three different positions on birth control: (a) those who oppose all birth control (usually Catholics but also a few old-school Protestants) and won’t even sell condoms, which cannot in any universe be considered abortifacients. (b) Those who are happy to sell contraceptives that only work before conception or implantation (ie, need to be activated pre-sex) but not those that could conceivably (sorry) cause a miscarriage. (c) Those who are happy to sell contraceptives you have to use before sex but which may have a carry-over effect for days afterwards and may abort a very early conception.
      (I suppose there’s probably also (d) those who oppose later-term abortions but don’t care about very early ones, sometimes by choosing implantation or some other stage over fertilisation… This seems to include Mormons but I have also heard some very conservative protestants say “abortion for rape is not needed if the rape victim obtains very prompt medical treatment” which would inescapably imply post-sex usage).
      Most Catholic pharmacists I know, even the anti-abortion ones, are in (c) although a few do come under (b). I have heard that type (a) ones do exist but don’t know any these days. In past decades there may have been those for whom “unmarried” was the tiebreaker but I doubt that is an issue any more. Caveat that I live in a country other than the USA which has managed to avoid importing most of America’s weird culture-war pathologies – from either side – so far…)
      Note that there is quite some daylight between “X is a person with rights” and “X warrants legal protection”. Dogs, trees, and the Mona Lisa are not persons with rights in any sense, but have some legal protection. Aha, you say, but animal protection laws and bans on tree-feeling don’t interfere with human privacy and autonomy the way abortion bans do. Well, not as directly. But there are people who are dead today because the law banned them from clearing trees around their homes to make a fire break. There are people who have been badly mauled by dogs that should have been put down earlier. So our law protects non-human-persons’ interests even when this imposes some costs or risks to humans. I’ll leave out the Mona Lisa…

      1. … Tree FELLING not feeling. although I’m sure Scalito would have been all for laws banning the feeling of trees.

  7. Also and for what it’s worth, I completely accept the “least-worst” characterization for decriminalization abortion (with apologies for that horrendous sentence.)

    I’ll accept arguendo that there are people trying to force medical professionals to perform abortions; but that’s both horrifying and disgusting. If you’re arguing for reproductive choice from a position of bodily autonomy, particularly so. The death of irony accompanies the banality of evil really nicely in that case.

    1. More than arguendo:

      “Sweden: Where conscientious objection to abortion is not recognised in law”

      “The Midwife’s Tale: Conscientious Objection to Abortion after Grimmark and Steen”
      10(2) Oxford Journal of Law and Religion (June 2021)

      Applauded outside Sweden:
      “The National Secular Society has welcomed a European court’s decision to reject an appeal by two nurses who were rejected from positions as midwives because they refused to perform abortions….”

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