By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])
Part 1: The birth of fetal worship & extremism
Personal body integrity
In the United States we have the right to personal body integrity. This means that I am legally protected from being forced to donate my blood or bone marrow—from having my body invaded against my will— even if it means someone else will die. It means that if a baby were to be medically attached to me to keep it alive, but without my consent, I could have it removed, even though it would then die. Yet, prior to 1973 there was one major exception—an exception where a person’s body could be invaded without her expressed consent and with potentially dangerous consequences, but where it was against the law for her to have the invasion removed. I’m referring to the millions of women with unwanted pregnancies who were being forced to carry to term and give birth. In 1973 Roe v. Wade changed all that. One half of our entire population now became legally and safely protected from forced childbirth—from being unwilling embryo incubators.
The right to personal body integrity is threatened
Yet, for the last several decades Catholic, Fundamentalist and Evangelical male leaders and their political allies/lackeys have attempted to turn back the clock and once again force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant and give birth against their will. Today, women’s bodies are once again in real danger of being involuntarily conscripted by a religiously conservative patriarchy to preserve the lives of tiny mindless senseless embryos and fetuses. Many of these anti-choice religious and political male leaders are driven by power, money, male domination desires, and/or moral zealotry. Many are also driven by an obsessive desire to prevent any further weakening of medieval religious dogmas devastated by hundreds of years of scientific and ethical advances. And many want to punish “loose” women and those women who are trying to “selfishly shirk their maternal duty.”
Fetal idolatry is born
These anti-choice men in power have largely disguised their real (but politically unacceptable) motivations. Instead, a strategy was born that would emotionally galvanize tens of millions of committed followers. This strategy elevated tiny human embryos and fetuses to a reverence, an exalted status, a God-planned sacredness that, according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, could only be described as fetal idolatry. “Fetal idolatry [becomes] the major battleground issue for both the patriarchal and clerical control of women,” declares Swomley.
These powerful religious and political leaders willfully ignore the fact that a five-week embryo is no bigger than a pencil eraser—that it has no face, hands or feet, no higher brain centers, no functional sense organs to see, smell, hear or feel anything. They suppress the fact that the large majority of abortions occur while the fetus is still smaller than my thumb. They deny the fact that as late as the 19th week the human fetal brain still has no nerve connections to the sensory environment and thus is incapable of experiencing pain or touch, or that the fetus doesn’t have a brain capable of the most rudimentary level of human consciousness until well into the 3rd trimester.
None of this well-established embryology makes any difference to those bishops, televangelists, pastors, elected politicians and other men who promote fetal idolatry. They dismiss all these “pesky” scientific, medical and embryological facts. Terms like “zygote,” “blastula,” “embryo” and “fetus” are replaced with “child” and “baby”. The fetus is elevated to a kind of demigod—“a helpless, innocent, unborn baby with awareness and feelings”; “a baby that is playfully sucking its thumb and only needs to grow”; “a pre-born baby with the sacred, inalienable, self-evident, fundamental right to life.” Ultrasound images of “our baby in utero” now grace the family fridge, with the “baby” imagined to be smiling, waving, or sucking his thumb. Such ultrasound images have become an important propaganda staple for those who attribute to embryo and fetal life a sacredness and mythical level of awareness that has taken precedence over all else.
The “ultimate civil rights issue”
With the idolatrous creation of “conscious pre-born babies undergoing excruciating pain as they are torn apart by the baby butchers”, the abortion battle metamorphosis into the “ultimate civil rights issue of the century—the vital issue of protecting the weakest, most innocent and most vulnerable among us.”
The anti-choice male power structure ignores the fact that our country outlawed abortions in the past, not because embryos and fetuses had a right to life, but because abortions had been extremely dangerous and deadly for women. Also, Protestant clergy had been motivated more by the declining birthrates of adherents than by any concern for the embryo. In addition, clergy had been opposed to abortions because women were seeking out abortions to try to escape the shame and punishment for the sexual sins of extramarital sex and non-procreative sex.
These men ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s findings in Roe v. Wade that there was little agreement among scientific, medical, religious, political, philosophical and social groups as to when personhood (and thus the right to life) appears (if at all) during fetal development. In fact, the last several decades of widespread acrimonious disagreements among ethicists, theologians, politicians, medical personal, clergy, and the public clearly confirms the fact that when the “right-to-life” actually occurs in fetal development is not a specific point in time ever to be discovered scientifically, or agreed upon religiously. And they also willfully ignore or dismiss the fact that the large majority of civil rights groups in the U.S. support Roe v. Wade, as do numerous public health, psychiatric and pediatric associations, along with various medical organizations representing hundreds of thousands of doctors and medical students. So do dozens of religious organizations and women’s groups.
“As a public relations weapon and grass-roots organizing tool, [abortion] was the perfect smoke screen for the launching of larger political salvos” wrote Conway and Morris. “Abortion was almost guaranteed to ignite the apathy of unregistered ‘born agains,’ and to sway many Democrats over to the conservative Republican side.”
Fetal idolatry and extremism
Fetal idolatry fuels moral zealotry and extremism. It justifies lying, distorting, misquoting, libeling and repressing, all in the service of defeating the enemy. There is no room for compromise. Fetal idolatry fuels the mass production of incendiary flyers which refer to emergency contraception as “baby pesticides” and to doctors who perform early abortions as “blood thirsty child killers” and “baby butchers comparable to those who ran the Nazi death camps in World War II.” Abortions are called “America’s holocaust” and pro-choice supporters “Nazis”. Congregations are told that atheists are “slaughtering God’s children” and that “tearing a developing fetus apart, limb by limb, simply at the mother’s request, is a barbaric act of depravity that society should not permit.”
Truth is the first casualty of zealots. Those who label the morning-after pill a “baby pesticide” and early abortions as the “murder of unborn children” have stooped to error-filled propaganda and dishonest rhetoric designed to inflame. Also, equating the abortion of embryos to the Nazi Holocaust is rationally absurd and morally repugnant. It raises the temperature of the abortion debate intolerably. It is harmful, extremist propaganda. Such incendiary phrases have been a major contributing factor in the terrorizing, bombing and burning of reproductive health clinics for the past three decades. Tragically, tens of millions of conservative Christian Americans have swallowed this dishonest, inflammatory rhetoric.
Fetal idolatry has been a major factor in the terrorizing, bombing and burning of reproductive health clinics in the U.S. for the past three decades. It has resulted in intimidation and even murder of those who take a different position. Since 1980 the National Abortion Federation has identified more than 10,000 reported acts of terrorism and violence against lawful reproductive rights supporters in the United States. There have been thousands of abortion clinic blockades. Clinic workers have been regularly stalked. There have been several hundred clinic arson attacks and bombings. There have been kidnappings and shootings. Doctors must wear bulletproof vests. Nine abortion providers have been murdered so far. And according to Swomley “There is no evidence that major religious leaders of the “pro life” movement have engaged in any effort to stop this violence.”
Religious violence, writes Rabbi Robert Wolkoff, never needs a political purpose, since religious extremists “identify with divine power in annihilating the forces of chaos”. Extremists believe they are engaged in an apocalyptic war between light and darkness. Their role in this cosmic conflict is to demonstrate the destructive power of the One True God against evil. There is little room for compromise, since human laws are irrelevant next to “God’s Laws.”
Some final thoughts
Fetal idolatry is only able to thrive in religiously conservative, scientifically ignorant, patriarchal cultures with seriously flawed anti-rational educational systems. It has no place in any civilized, rational society that values the separation of church and state and values female equality. “Glamorizing” and “personalizing” mindless, senseless human embryos has distracted us for decades from the fundamental question: Do we really want to live in a country that tries to force women to use their bodies against their will to incubate unwanted embryos—a country that outlaws a woman’s right to have herself freed from this potentially dangerous and unwanted bodily invasion? Historically, the answer has almost always depended on the beliefs, needs and interests of MEN in religious and political power, certainly not on the needs of those who were actually burdened with unwanted pregnancies.
 J. Mohr, Abortion in America (1978).
 A national organization known as Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) has chapters in over 100 medical schools and represents more than 3000 medical students nationwide. Also see Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (www.PRCH.org).
 The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, represents over 40 different denominations and faith groups in this country. (www.rcrc.org).
 Examples include the American Association of University Women, the Association for Women in Science, Women’s Law Associations, the International Women’s Health Coalition, League of Women Voters-U.S., National Education Association (NEA), Women for Racial & Economic Equality, and the YWCA.
 Conway, F. and Siegelman, J. Holy Terror. 1981
 Using words as they were never intended in order to emotionally galvanize people to various causes has long been an indispensable propaganda tool. Propaganda is not education. It is one-sided communication designed to tell people what to think. To do this it must deaden the power of reasoning; it must stifle thought, not stimulate it. Some main ingredients for successful propaganda are:
— Greatly simplify the issues down to easily remembered slogans.
— Be repetitious. If a falsehood is said thousands of times, people will actually start to believe it.
— Appeal to the emotions, not to the intellect.
— Have no gray areas, no room for compromise.
 For further updates on anti-abortion terrorism check
Wolkoff, R., “The Clash of Darkness and Light,” L.A. Times, 3/3/94. B8.