C Rulon: Abortion and fetal idolatry – Part 1 (The birth of fetal worship & extremism)‏

By | March 28, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College (ruloncl@yahoo.com)

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.[1] “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.[2]

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.[3] So do dozens of religious organ­i­zations[4] and women’s groups.[5]

“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.”[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.”[9]

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.
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[1] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

[2] J. Mohr, Abortion in America (1978).

[3] 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).

[4] The Religious Coalition for Repro­duc­tive Choice, repre­sents over 40 dif­ferent denominations and faith groups in this coun­try. (www.rcrc.org).

[5] 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.

[6] Conway, F. and Siegelman, J. Holy Terror. 1981

[7] 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.

[8] For further updates on anti-abortion terrorism check . Also google [Abortion Terrorism], or check and .

[9]Wolkoff, R., “The Clash of Dark­­ness and Light,” L.A. Times, 3/3/94. B8.

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