Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why the Republican Platform, not Repudiated by Romney, Would Destroy Women’s Rights: Part II

            Alissa Pugh might be in prison now if the Massachusetts highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, had adopted the Republican party platform’s position on rights of fetuses. Her fetus died during an unattended home delivery. She was prosecuted and charged with manslaughter, convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years in a house of correction. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reversed her conviction. (Commonwealth v. Pugh, decided June 15, 2012.)
            After experiencing pain at work, Ms. Pugh went home to give birth to what would have been her second child. Instead of feeling a baby’s head emerging during the birth as she anticipated, she felt a foot. She somehow managed to give birth on her own, but the baby was blue. She tried to resuscitate it, but failed. This event led to the charge of manslaughter.
            With her attorney, she chose a trial without a jury. The judge determined that she had a legal duty to seek medical assistance. Her failure to do so constituted wanton or reckless acts against her viable fetus. Thus, he convicted her of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser version of manslaughter.
            We must be careful at this point not to blame the judge who convicted her. He was in a difficult spot. The law of Massachusetts at the time was sufficiently unclear that an argument could be made for conviction. The only way to make the law clear was to get the case before the SJC. If he had acquitted her, the case would have ended and not gone to the SJC, so the law would have remained unclear. If he convicted her, he had good reason to believe that the case would be appealed and that the SJC would rule as it did. It is likely that this is what he was thinking. He suspended her sentence pending appeal, so she did not actually serve any time.
            The SJC ruled as anyone familiar with this progressive court would expect. While determining that the facts did not support the conviction, the Supreme Judicial Court, in a unanimous opinion, also determined that Ms. Pugh had no legal duty to seek medical assistance for the birth. “Medical assistance imposed by the judge in this case would amount to a significant incursion on the birthing woman’s liberty interest in freedom from an unwarranted degree of government surveillance and coercion.” In effect, the court acknowledged what I stated in Part I of this series.
            The Republican platform says something quite different.  It states, “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” The Fourteenth Amendment provides that a state may not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The platform also states that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” (These words have been there and repeated since 2004.)
            Thus, the Republican platform treats the fetus, viable or not, the same as a child or an adult. Whereas the Supreme Judicial Court has said that “there are inherent and important differences between a fetus, in utero, and a child already born,” the platform removes that distinction. By taking a slightly different view of the same facts, a court that followed the Republican platform would have upheld Ms. Pugh’s conviction.
            The Supreme Judicial Court was mindful of the implications of a conviction. “Every decision a woman makes during her pregnancy, medical or otherwise, could have a profound impact on the fetal life inside her.” There are “countless ways in which a woman can be perceived to endanger her fetus during pregnancy or childbirth.”
The Supreme Judicial Court realized that a conviction would mean that these “countless ways” could all be subject to governmental surveillance and intrusion to protect the fetus, just as I explained in Part I. The court’s decision protects pregnant women. The Republican platform does not. In asserting the equal rights of the fetus, the platform would open the door to governmental surveillance and intrusion into the lives of all pregnant women. It is likely that some courts in some states will reject the position of the SJC and make every effort to follow the intent of the Republican platform.
As I stated in Part I, since Mitt Romney has not repudiated this part of the Republican platform, it means that, since he is a Republican, we must assume that he supports it. If this part of the platform were implemented, many women who do not seek an abortion will nonetheless go to jail if their fetus dies.
Thus, much is at stake in this presidential election--the rights of women and the very meaning of democracy. But after the election, even if Obama wins, the Republican platform advocating giving equal rights to fetuses will continue to threaten the rights of women and the values of democracy.



Why the Republican Platform, not Repudiated by Romney, Would Destroy Women’s Rights: Part I

            The Republican platform contains two sentences that would spell the end of women’s rights. The hidden threatening consequences of these two sentences must be exposed.
            These two sentences advocate equal rights for fetuses. The platform states, “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” The Fourteenth Amendment provides that a state may not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The platform also states that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” These words have been there and repeated since 2004. They will continue to be repeated if their implications are not fully exposed.
These words have been misinterpreted to merely state an opposition to all abortions. But giving equal rights to fetuses is much more devastating than that. You cannot give equal rights to fetuses without taking away the rights of those who carry fetuses--or who unknowingly might be carrying fetuses--within their own bodies.
Giving equal rights to fetuses support the following shocking consequences:
            Consequence 1: All states have laws that protect the health of children to the extent that state agencies may remove a child from the parents if the appropriate state agency determines that the parents are abusive or the parental home is not in the best interests of the child. But what if that “child” is a fetus? The Republican’s position gives the fetus the same rights and protections as a child. The platform would empower the state agency to do what it can to protect the fetus, just as the agency is already empowered to do what it can to protect a born child. Thus, a state agency could determine that the best interests of a viable fetus require that it be removed from the pregnant woman against her will, and handed over to medical personnel and foster care. This might occur, for example, if the pregnant woman does anything that might increase the probability of harm to the fetus, such as taking illegal drugs, having unprotected sex, drinking heavily or not eating well.
            Consequence 2: If a fetus does not survive, and that failure to survive can be attributed to any behavior of the woman who carried it, the woman could be prosecuted for causing the fetus’ death. This could result in charges ranging from manslaughter to first degree murder. Part II of this two-part series will give a real example of such an occurrence.
            Consequence 3: Since conception cannot be immediately determined, every woman of child-bearing age would have to be treated as a potential carrier of a fetus. To protect the equal rights of this potential fetus, the state not only would have to monitor the sexual activities of every woman of child-bearing age to see if she might be pregnant, it also would have to require her to behave in certain ways so as not to harm the fetus that might be within her--whether or not she is actually pregnant. If a woman failed to behave in those prescribed ways and happened to get pregnant and the fetus did not survive, she would be subject to Consequence 2.
            In short, the consequences of the Republican platform’s position would potentially lead to placing all women of child-bearing age, not just pregnant women, under governmental surveillance and control. Thus, this extreme “pro-life” position would destroy the equal rights of women. This is a threat to women’s rights that must not be glossed over or ignored.
          We must all take notice and do what we can to expose these consequences of the Republican platform. We cannot have democracy without equal rights for women. Giving equal rights to fetuses would destroy women’s rights and thereby destroy a necessary component of democracy.
          Where does the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stand on this issue? Given that he has not repudiated this part of the Republican platform, it must be assumed that he supports it. That would be a significant danger were he to become President.
          Even if President Obama wins the election, we must not forget that the continuing presence of this part of the Republican platform will remain a lurking threat to women’s rights. Imagine what would happen if the Republicans controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court. Fetuses would have equal rights, and women would suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Get Religion out of Politics: Part II

            Those who argue that the “Founders” were religious, and that, therefore, religion should be a part of politics today, are wrong on two counts and correct on none. (See for example, Jeff Jacoby’s “Faith enriches politics, on both sides,” The Boston Globe, Page K9, Sept. 9, 2012). First, many of the founders were not particularly religious. Second, and more importantly, the Founders wrote into the U.S. Constitution clear instructions to keep religion out of politics.
As I stated in Part I, beliefs in God should be personal, not political.  Far from enriching politics, appeals to God are barriers to compromise, nationally and internationally. Such appeals are also disrespectful of those who are atheists or agnostics, as well as disrespectful of those whose beliefs in God do not fit traditional views. (Read Dialogues on God: Three Views, for further discussion of this point.)
            In deciding how we should approach this issue today, it does not matter what the individual Founders’ faiths were, any more than it matters today what the Founders thought about slavery. Are we going to say that, since some of the Founders had slaves, that it is OK to have slaves today? Thus, appeals to the Founders’ faiths is not relevant.
But we would also be wrong to accept the commonly stated view that the Founders were strongly religious people. Some of them, at least, kept their religious beliefs to themselves, so we do not know how religious they were, if at all. Historians are still not clear what religious beliefs George Washington and Thomas Jefferson actually held. There seems to be no record of George Washington ever mentioning the name of Jesus, and his references to God were not easy to find or interpret. Thomas Jefferson may have been a deist, one who believes that God set the world in motion and kept out of it thereafter. This is not the kind of God who would bless America. The point is that this uncertainty about their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, means that they did not make it a public matter. (See “The faith (and doubts) of our fathers,” The Economist, Dec. 17, 2011.)
            More important than the different faiths, or lack thereof, of particular Founders are the words in the U.S. Constitution that they agreed upon. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Article VI states, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” These statements establish the separation of government and religion. They do not support the view that “faith enriches politics.” Instead, they support the view that religion and politics should not mix. “No religious test” means that belief in God, or in any particular view of God, is not a prerequisite for public office.
            In spite of the clear separation of government from religion that is supported by the U.S. Constitution, successful efforts to put religion back into politics have been going on for decades. The words “under God” were put in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. The words “In God We Trust” became the national motto and were added to the currency in 1956. Every presidential speech today ends with “God bless America.” President G. W. Bush went further. By frequently adding the words, “and continue to bless America,” he changed the meaning of “God bless America” from a desire that God bless America (which nonetheless assumes the existence of a particular kind of God) into an historical assertion that God in fact does bless America. With those words (along with others), he completed the identification of America with God. For decades, beginning even prior to the 1950’s, we have been increasingly headed in the wrong direction and continue on the same dangerous path.
Bringing faith into politics is contrary to the values underlying democracy. When we identify our political views with God, we are doing nothing more that asserting, “We are right!” This assertion generally implies that those who have other views are wrong. God is with us, not them. There is no need to think about it. Facts are irrelevant. Bringing God into politics is the means by which we disrespect those with differing views. (Read Chapter 4 of How We Are Our Enemy—And How to Stop for further examination of this point, with an historical and ethical perspective.)
            If we get God out of politics and stop identifying God with America, we will become more open-minded, more thoughtful, and give greater consideration to opposing points of view. It will help replace belligerence--the kind that led to the invasion of Iraq--with peaceful negotiation of agreements. Identifying God with America is a rejection of the very values that underlie democracy, the values that assert the equality of all people regardless of their religious beliefs.