by Sarah Terzo
In the news there have been multiple cases of police brutality against Black men and women and even Black preborn children.
Those who’ve protested these outrages have also been targeted for brutality. See, for example,In one week there were at least 9 instances of police using excessive force caught on camera and “The protesters had to deescalate the police”: Demonstrators are the ones defusing violence at protests.
This follows a long history of police brutality against those who protest violence, such as previous calls for racial justice, or opposing the American war in Vietnam – which escalated to killing four people at Kent State University.
Add to this set: pro-life protesters. That’s received less press coverage, but belongs on the list. Below are some examples; a fuller account is given here.
The Rescue Movement
The Rescue movement, which occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s, was a massive movement of pro-lifers engaging in civil disobedience. Groups like Operation Rescue gathered thousands of volunteers to block the doors of abortion facilities, preventing abortions from taking place. All pro-life participants signed an agreement to refrain from any type of violence or violent rhetoric. Generally, the group would have a few people designated to speak to the media and to women trying to enter the facility. The rest of the participants were required to be quiet and peaceful, sometimes sitting quietly, sometimes praying, sometimes singing.
These demonstrations were often misrepresented in the media and characterized as being violent. When there was violence, it was nearly always committed by pro-choicers and police against pro-lifers.
Example: Pain Compliance Holds
Pastor and author Randy Alcorn described a rescue he took part in where he both witnessed and experienced excessive force used by police. The police were using something called “pain compliance holds” which consisted of grabbing demonstrators in ways designed to inflict great amounts of pain. The purpose was to force the protesters to cooperate. Protesters planned to go limp and force police to drag or carry them away from the entrances of the abortion facilities. By doing this, and not simply walking away under police orders, they could keep the clinic closed for far longer than they could if they simply obeyed police commands and dispersed when ordered to.
Rather than hauling them off, however, police often used the tactic of inflicting as much pain on the pro-lifers as possible in order to compel them to move away from the clinic entrances. Alcorn says:
It’s now almost 9 o’clock.… The police started dragging us away 30 minutes ago. I remember the look of horror on a college girl from our church, watching from across the street. She’d heard that it can get rough, but couldn’t believe the way bodies were being manhandled, even though no resistance was offered. She covered her eyes and the tears were flowing.1
Rescue veteran John Cavanaugh O’Keefe describes how police used cattle-prod-like devices that inflicted pain through electric shock at one rescue. He describes witnessing one police officer use the device on a pro-life demonstrator’s testicles.2 He also witnessed, and endured, the use of pain compliance holds.
Pro-Lifer James Trott wrote a memoir about his time in the rescue movement. He describes one police officer, who he identifies as Major Burnette.
[M]ajor Burnette’s approach at the clinic was to apply pain compliance methods – to what end we never could figure out. He was not giving us any orders to which to comply. It seems as though he just had been itching to inflict some pain, and now had the opportunity… I still bear some (small) scars of his ineffectual efforts.3
Example: Jailhouse Abuses
An article in the Wall Street Journal by William B Allen on August 18, 1989 describes more horrific abuse inflicted on pro-lifers. The victims were women who were jailed for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience in front of abortion facilities. They were jailed in Pittsburgh and had emotional and physical trauma inflicted on them by Pittsburgh police:
Women – from college age to grandmothers – are dragged by the bottom of their blouses, their breasts exposed to hooting male prisoners… Complaints are filed with an assistant district attorney, who does not process them, allegedly on orders from her superiors.
These female rescuers also testified to being verbally threatened with being stripped and raped.4
A chronically ill rescuer was also abused:
Jailers deliberately blew smoke in the face of one who has serious respiratory problems, in the presence of the nurse who was supposedly there to care for her, to the point that the prisoner could hardly breathe. After 15 minutes of this, the nurse said she couldn’t stand anymore and put an oxygen mask over the rescuer’s face.5
Even more horrific abuse took place in Los Angeles. Police chief Robert Vernon armed LA police officers with a weapon consisting of two nightsticks connected with a chain. Officers wrapped these makeshift nunchakus around the arms and legs of demonstrators and twisted them. Police spokespeople claimed that this was done in order to compel pro-lifers to comply with police officers’ orders to leave the facility.
But Trott says:
However, in many cases no orders were being given to the rescuers. Those present reported it looked and felt more like open sadism. Many rescuers were seriously injured. One woman was reported to have miscarried following the treatment, and a film taken at the time captured two officers snapping a man’s arm. Although the cameraman was a considerable distance from the officers and their victim, the “crack” can be heard distinctly in the soundtrack of the film.6
Author Sarah Terzo at protests
This overview of examples shows there was a consistent pattern of brutality in police dealings with pro-life demonstrators during the rescue years. Pro-lifers, who were dedicated to saving lives lost to abortion, virtually never fought back against police brutality. Although some police officers were convicted and punished for brutality against pro-lifers, the vast majority never were.
These are historical examples, because people dedicated to saving lives have discovered that civil disobedience is not as effective in reaching and helping individual women, nor in shutting down the abortion centers. If they maintain legal actions outside the facilities, and pursue their legal rights to be on the sidewalk when challenged, they have a longer presence there. Constant cancelled appointments do more to permanently close a facility than sporadic protest events do. See Sidewalk Advocates for Life for an organization that learns from experience and trains people in effective techniques.
What all this shows is that when it comes to police reform to stop police brutality, the picture is far wider than the important opposition to racial discrimination (which consistent-lifers have always participated in). Nor are current protesters encountering anything new when the brutality is aimed at them. When it comes to ensuring police professionalism when dealing with protesters, no matter what the issue of protest is, all protesters are in this together.
- Randy C. Alcorn Is Rescuing Right? (Downers Grove, Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press, 1990)
- Dennis J. Kenney, Melissa Reuland, Deborah Lamm Weisel A Conflict of Rights: Public Safety and Abortion Clinic Conflict and Violence (Police Executive Research Forum, 1999), page 191
- James H Trott Was That Thunder? A Memoir of Pro-Life Rescue, 1988 – 1997 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Oak and Yew Press, 2015), page 64
- Ibid., page 206
- Ibid., page 208
There’s a longer version of this post with many more details:
Here are examples of police brutality against pro-lifers.
For more of our posts on police brutality, see:
by Josh Brahm
Editor’s Note: while the author applies this to abortion, the same principles apply to dialogue on any issue.
I was standing in the exhibit hall in front of our booth at the Students for Life National Conference a few years ago when a student walked up to me. He had just heard me speak on how to philosophically refute the strongest pro-abortion-choice arguments, so he asked:
“Do you change 100% of the minds that you talk to?”
I was taken aback a little, and replied, “No,” and before I could explain further he interjected:
“So, 99% then?”
I exclaimed, “No, not even 50%!”
I could tell he was confused. To him, I should change every mind I talk to because my arguments are better.
So I explained: “If people were perfectly logical robots, then sure, with adequate time, I believe I could get them all to be pro-life. But people are not perfectly logical robots. We are emotionally messy creatures with all kinds of baggage, based on our own experiences, what our parents taught us, what our church teaches, the university we attend, the friends we talk to, and the TV channels or podcasts we listen to, among other things.”
When a pro-abortion-choice college student walks up to my outreach table to talk, they are never walking up as a perfectly reasonable, open-minded person with zero biases. They are in a defensive posture. They have a position they hold on abortion, and they don’t want to change their mind. There’s an invisible wall between us, so when our philosophy team is designing arguments or testing dialogue techniques, we’re always trying to get around that wall. With dialogue techniques, it’s all about helping them change their posture from defensive to receptive and seeing those walls go down. Said another way, I am trying as quickly as possible to make this stranger feel like they’re talking to a friend over coffee, both trying to think more clearly about a topic.
Here are two of the most useful dialogue techniques that our team uses in virtually every conversation that we have:
#1: Be Obviously Open-Minded
Have you ever had a debate with someone who was super closed-minded, meaning there was nothing you (or anybody else) could say that could change their mind? I bet that was a frustrating experience for you. When I’m talking to a closed-minded person, I feel like I’m playing tennis with a brick wall. I might get better as a result of the exercise, but that wall isn’t changing no matter how skilled my tennis moves are, and a closed-minded person isn’t changing no matter how persuasive my arguments are.
I want someone to be willing to talk to me for a long time, because it usually takes a long time for someone to even have a chance to see all of their primary arguments refuted, preparing them to change their own mind about the topic. Therefore, I should demonstrate that I’m open-minded by speaking what we call “open-mindedese.” That means saying the kinds of things only open-minded people say, like, “I might be wrong, but the reason I currently believe this is X,” or “I don’t want to believe false things, so correct me if I’m wrong, but Y . . .”
If the idea of a pro-life leader like me being open-minded about abortion makes you a little uncomfortable, you’re not alone. This topic freaks a lot of people out because they think that being open-minded means being wishy-washy. As I explain in the Equipped for Life Course:
[Being open-minded] means having the humility to believe something based on having good reasons, not because you’re too stubborn to believe anything else. I’m open-minded about abortion because I know what kind of arguments it would take to prove to me that abortion should be legal. I’m not concerned about quitting my day job though, because I’m really confident that those arguments don’t work.
But here’s the key: what is driving my confidence? Is it mere dogma? Is it because my parents raised me that way? No, it’s because I’m following the evidence where it leads, and I’m committed to believing what is true.
#2: Rephrase What They Said
Pro-choice rhetoric can often be vague, and we want to make clarity entirely our responsibility. I don’t merely attempt to make sure they understand what I’m saying, but I also want to make sure I accurately understand what they are saying.
The problem is, even if I’m listening carefully, my brain still sometimes misinterprets what people say, especially when I’m talking to someone from a different cultural background than mine. I think of it like those funny videos in which a singer plugs the lyrics from a famous song into Google Translate and runs it from English to Spanish, then from Spanish to French, and then from French back into English, and then records those lyrics. They come out funny because Google Translate isn’t perfect, and the more iterations you add, the further the words get from the original meaning.
That is why after the person I’m speaking to explains their view, I say something like, “I want to make sure I understand you. Let me repeat back to you what I heard you say, so you can correct me if I’ve gotten it wrong. It sounded to me like you said . . .” and then I rephrase her view in my own words, and ask her to correct me if I got anything wrong.
Sometimes it takes a few tries before she approves of my summary, but that’s okay. People have complicated views about abortion, and it’s well worth a few minutes of my time to understand her perspective instead of just responding to a carbon copy picture in my head of what pro-choice people think.
Then when I make my argument, she knows I’m not about to strawman her, and she is listening carefully to what I have to say, because she knows that I truly understand her view. Only then do I have a chance of changing her mind.
To learn more practical dialogue tips, read our other articles on that topic on our blog archive. Finally, consider purchasing the Equipped for Life Course, which has seven more practical dialogue tips and the most persuasive pro-life arguments we’ve tested in thousands of conversations on college campuses.
Josh Brahm is the President and Co-Founder of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly, and argue persuasively. They use speaking, writing, YouTube videos, podcasts, online courses, and campus outreach to train pro-life advocates in the areas of practical dialogue tips, relational apologetics, pro-life philosophy, and sidewalk counseling.
For another of our blog posts about dialog, see Tips on Dialogue.
As always, our friends at member group Rehumanize International did a great job of bringing together a diverse group of activists to discuss an array of issues encompassed by the consistent life ethic—with the added technical accomplishment this year of doing it all online! Indeed, diversity was one recurring theme of the presentations that made a particular impression on me.
Herb Geraghty, Rehumanize’s Outreach Director, spoke about the importance of “radical inclusivity.” This goal, Herb argued, should guide not only whom activists strive to protect from violence but also whom activists are willing to work with.
Later, a panel discussion on pro-life activism (pictured above) discussed the value of many different types of diversity: racial, religious, and political diversity among activists, but also diversity of focus. Some activist groups may address several different life issues, while others focus on one specific issue; the panelists talked about the advantages of both approaches.
In a breakout talk about Creative Expression, Rehumanize’s Creative Projects Director Maria Oswalt and Consistent Life Board Member Sarah Terzo spoke about how art can be used to promote respect for life. This talk touched on the value of another kind of diversity, diversity of talents. People whose abilities or interests or life situation draw them toward artistic expression should pursue that form of activism. Maria emphasized the importance of doing what you have a talent and passion for, rather than vainly trying to do all types of activism simultaneously. I thought this was a valuable—and heartening—piece of advice.
As usual, this conference was jam-packed with edifying content. As with previous in-person conferences I’ve attended, I appreciated the format Rehumanize has developed featuring multiple mainstage keynote speakers and panels, ensuring that all attendees got the chance to hear from a diverse set of speakers on a healthy variety of consistent-life issues. Two back-to-back panels – one on police, prisons and the death penalty, and the other on pro-life perspectives – provided rich conversation among people working on the same issues from a range of personal backgrounds and approaches.
I was particularly heartened to see a stronger position on ethical and practical reasoning for opposing war sketched out by David Swanson of World Beyond War as a keynote presentation, while still finding it unsettling that attendees at a CLE conference remain more evenly divided on making exceptions for this form of violence than for most others.
Differing views throughout the conference, however, were nuanced and respectful. Although I missed the in-depth conversations and personal connections of an in-person conference, the chat feature intriguingly allowed for ongoing discussion of presentations in real time.
A final highlight was the Create/Encounter “release party” showcasing the winners of the annual creative writing & art contests, with an especially strong set of written submissions.
All in all, our friends at Rehumanize did their usual impressive job (even under unusual circumstances) of pulling a full, mutually encouraging and thought-provoking conference together. Bravi.
As organizer Herb Geraghty said at the beginning, we need to practice “radical inclusivity”. By that, Herb meant, we must be inclusive not only regarding the people we are for, but we are also inclusive regarding the people we are with. We don’t dehumanize anyone among those with whom we are fighting, nor even among our opponents. No one should be addressed with hateful language.
Terrisa Bukovinac emphasized that Operation Rescue was originally a completely non-violent movement of passive sit-ins by those who wished to take upon themselves a part of the violence against the unborn. Where possible, let us participate in that non-violent, peaceful movement to reach out at the last moment to the women who are about to undergo abortions inside abortion clinics.
The advantages of an in-person conference are great enough that when we can again I’ll still want to take the travel and lodging in order to experience it. But the conference on Hopin had a huge advantage: there were over 250 people attending, much more than usual, and some of them were from other countries. I’ve seen this also in other conferences in 2020. The on-line format increases the number of participants, and sometimes dramatically.
The program and speakers were excellent, as usual. The “table” wasn’t terribly useful. While we normally have many people coming by, perusing our lit, and chatting, this year we only had one person show his face that wasn’t already active with the group. An on-line “expo” section didn’t cut it.
But I do think one of the developments that will happen due to Covid-19 is the hybrid conference. In some cases, live-streaming speeches and piping in questioners has been done. But it may be better to just ask speakers if they’re willing to do it twice: once in-person, and once online, so they can adapt to the advantages of each, and reach far more people. Adding an on-line component used to be a complication and one that requires learning an extra skill set. But now we’ve been forced to develop the skill set, so adding it on might become simply standard.
As a peace-focused activist, I was thrilled to have World BEYOND War’s David Swanson, 5X Nobel Peace Prize nominee, address a CLE crowd on the issue of whether war can ever be just. I was also reminded of how much I like Aimee Murphy’s presentation that moves from her own personal traumatic story, to relatable experiences of relative innocence, to philosophical arguments, to her powerful assertion that human rights for all humans is central to the CLE. While I missed seeing, talking, and hugging friends, the thoughtful diverse chat comments during presentations were a delight — as was video chats with friends in the CLN booth.
That said, the Not Dead Yet speaker, John Kelly, moved me more than I expected. The killing of Michael Hickson was literally close to home for me, only one mile. Yet John Kelly’s presentation brought the lives lost to euthanasia and assisted suicide closer to my heart than ever.
Some Slides from David Swanson’s Keynote
by Sarah Terzo
Police brutality, which disproportionately affects Black men and women, has been in the news with the horrible deaths of Breanna Taylor and George Floyd, among others. Protests have erupted throughout the country over the past few months. Preborn babies are not exempt from dying by police violence. In fact, there have been numerous cases where a preborn baby has been a victim of excessive force by police.
Emerald Black and Her Baby
Emerald Black, a pregnant Black woman, was riding with her fiancé when the couple’s car was pulled over by police for having “bad registration tags.” Her fiancé had been driving her home from the hospital. At the hospital, she and her fiancé were informed that she was at risk for miscarriage. On the ride home, she was still dressed in a hospital gown.
The police ordered her out of the car. Allegedly, she explained to them that she was at risk for miscarriage and asked if she could stay sitting. What happened next, according to the lawsuit, is that police “yanked Ms. Black from the car, taunted her, piled on top of her and stomped on her stomach leaving a shoe mark.” She suffered a miscarriage soon after the policeman allegedly stomped on her stomach.
Emerald Black had not committed any crime and was not accused of any. She was just a passenger in a car that was stopped for a minor traffic violation. No charges were filed against her.
Black’s lawyer, Patrick Buelna, said that:
[Police] had no probable cause or even reasonable suspicion to use any force whatsoever against Plaintiff. Therefore, the use of any force was unlawful and excessive . . . If officers were adamant about her exiting the car, they should have simply, and gently, assisted Ms. Black getting out of the car. Instead, they treated her like she had just committed a violent felony.
Black is suing for the loss of her baby, physical injuries, emotional distress, and lost wages from missing work due to injuries she sustained.
The incident occurred in 2019 in California and concerned the San Leandro Police Department.
Kenya Harris and Her Baby
Another case of police brutality against a pregnant woman and a preborn baby took place in Georgia. According to a $50,000 lawsuit, Kenya Harris suffered injuries and a miscarriage after she was brutally beaten by police officers Ryan Jenkins and Richard Brown Jr. Harris had not been detained for any crime. Rather, she had come to the Albany Police Department because her son was arrested. She waited five hours at the police station. Then she told officer Jenkins that she could not stay because she had other children she needed to take care of at home. According to the lawsuit, Jenkins did not like the “tone” of her voice.
He, along with the other officer, allegedly assaulted Harris and beat her so badly that she suffered a miscarriage.
An article in the Daily Mail describes the assault:
Jenkins reportedly grabbed the expectant mother by the neck, before ‘slamming her to the ground’, causing her to fall unconscious. When she woke up, Jenkins was sitting on her, the suit states.
‘Defendant Officer Jenkins, without provocation, grabbed the plaintiff, who weighs less than one hundred twenty (120) pounds, by her neck and slammed her to the ground,’ it reads.
‘Plaintiff momentarily blacked out and came to with defendant Officer Jenkins sitting on her back, and with his knee on her arm. Plaintiff was pregnant at the time.’
Jenkins handcuffed Harris, then allegedly threw her against a wall.
Injured and fearing for her baby, Harris begged to be allowed to go to a hospital. Police ignored her pleas and locked her in a jail cell. She was held overnight. The next day, out on bail, she went to a medical facility and discovered that her baby had died. She was also treated for what were described as “serious injuries.”
Martini Smith and Her Baby
Martini Smith, a 20-year-old Black woman from Ohio, was pregnant when she was arrested in a domestic disturbance and taken to jail. She had stabbed her boyfriend in self-defense and was being charged with a misdemeanor. The charge against her was later dropped. At the jail, she was tasered. There is a video of the incident.
Male police officers stripped her naked from the waist up, and she was ordered to remove her nose ring. According to a video of the incident, she tried to comply but was unable to remove the nose ring because her fingers were numb from being in tight handcuffs for six hours.
As she struggled to obey the officers, one officer, identified as Corporal Matthew Stice, tasered her and she fell against the wall and then to the ground. When she was able to speak, she said to him, “’Why did you Tase me? I wasn’t harming nobody. I can’t just take it out.’
She lost her baby due to the police action.
She reached a settlement with the city for $27,500, but this cannot compensate for the loss of her child.
Between 2000 and 2017, 104 people died in the same jail as a result of being tasered. All but two were unarmed at the time.
Two other incidents could have led to the death of preborn babies, but fortunately did not.
Miami police officer Jody Martel was arrested and charged with battery and official misconduct after he used excessive force during the arrest of Safiya Satchell, who was pregnant. Satchell went into premature labor as a result of Martel’s actions. According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Martel “went into Satchell’s car without any evidence that she had committed a crime.” A video of the incident shows Martel reaching into Satchell’s car and Satchell saying, “Don’t reach into my car.” The video then shows Martel dragging Satchell from the car and tasering her, then choking her by putting his knee on her neck. This is the same police move that killed George Floyd.
Satchell then went into premature labor. Fortunately, she and her baby both survived.
There was another incident where off-duty police officer Ambar Pacheco kicked a pregnant woman, Evoni Murray, in the stomach and caused her to go into premature labor. Murray was visibly pregnant and was eight months along. Pachecho and her sister attacked Murray and her companion, Joseph Predelus, in a Miami neighborhood. The two sisters believed that Predelus and Murray were talking about them. The two victims denied the allegation.
According to Pacheco, she lost her temper and “beat the s** t” out of Murray. The officer who arrested Ambar Pacheco said Murray “appeared to be in severe pain.” She was also having contractions. Fortunately, she gave birth to a healthy, albeit premature, baby at a local hospital.
The new mother says that she hopes Pacheco “gets her life together and gets the help that she needs.” Pacheco faces up to 15 years in jail for the assault.
These incidents show that preborn children are not immune to death or injury at the hands of police who use excessive force. Most of these women had not committed a crime. Even people who do commit a crime don’t deserve to be beaten, kicked, or tasered if they’re not resisting, whether or not they’re carrying an innocent and helpless preborn child.
Pro-lifers should care about babies who die by police violence. A baby killed by a rogue police officer is just as dead as one killed by abortion. And pro-lifers should be concerned for the mothers too – as well as everyone else killed or injured by police brutality.
Addendum, September 1, 2020: Clarification
Since this blog post was published, a claim was made that Emerald Black’s story wasn’t true and that there was police body cam footage contradicting it. The original story came from Newsweek and The Daily Mail. After some digging, I found a blog that claimed body cam footage showed Emerald Black admitting she had miscarried at the hospital. It was difficult to find the footage, but I eventually did. While it did contradict Black on some minor points, the bulk of it confirmed her story. Here are some things from the video:
- When the car was pulled over, Emerald Black said to the police “I have something for you,” and then reached towards the floor of the car. Police immediately drew their guns and demanded she put her hands up, which she did.
- Police officers then decided to arrest her for reaching for a weapon. When they accused Black of this, she said she was reaching for her wallet.
- The police insisted that she had a weapon, saying that, “we didn’t ask you for ID.” This ignores the fact that it is common knowledge that police ask for identification and Black could’ve simply anticipated that request.
- No weapon was found in the car after the arrest and no charges were pressed against Black.
- However, Black in her deposition did not give a reason why the police dragged her from the car. The video shows that there was a reason, even though the reason turned out to be unfounded.
- In the introduction to the video, police said that the video showed Black admitting she had just had a miscarriage, thus meaning that the police could not have caused it. However, I watched the video twice and never heard Black make that statement. It’s true there were times the police and Black were yelling and/or talking over each other. But I never heard Black say that she had already miscarried, only that she had come from the hospital. She said repeatedly, “I just came back from the hospital.” At one point, she also said, “You don’t know what happened today.” In this, she could have been referring, as her deposition claimed, to the fact that doctors told her her baby was in danger of miscarriage. Neither of these are admissions that she had already had the miscarriage.
- The video shows police dragging Black from the car and throwing her to the ground. We hear her screaming and eventually cursing at the cops. But I did not see her struggling with the cops before she was thrown down.
- After she is thrown to the ground, the angle of the camera doesn’t allow us to see what the cops did next. The video, therefore, could not prove or disprove that she was kicked. However, we can hear Black shout at one point, “Don’t kick me in the stomach!” Multiple cops were involved in the arrest and were actively using physical force or restraining Black as she lay on the ground. But it was impossible to see what exactly was happening.
- Interestingly, if each cop was equipped with a body cam, it is notable that the police only released the footage from one – and the footage from the one they chose to release doesn’t show what happened while Black was on the ground.
- The video cannot determine to what extent Black was struggling with police on the ground or what they were doing in response.
The claim was also made by the police that the couple was not pulled over due to a broken taillight. Rather, police said that Black and her companion had just been to a convenience store where they purchased alcohol. Rather than checking out, Black’s companion left the money for the purchase on the counter. Therefore, no crime was committed – the alcohol was paid for; it wasn’t stolen. However, the owner of the store called the police anyway, and the police decided to apprehend the couple for reasons unknown. Whether these reasons had to do with race cannot be determined. However, it doesn’t seem to be common police practice to hunt down people who have not committed a crime.
For our posts on similar topics, see:
by Maria Horan
At the end of June, the Irish government released its first official abortion report: 6,666 abortions in 2019, with another 375 women traveling to the United Kingdom for abortions. Prior to abortion being legalized in Ireland, the number of Irish women traveling to the UK for abortions had been declining. Even the pro-abortion Irish Times admitted that in 2015 the number of Irish women going to the UK for abortions—3,451—was the lowest since 1980.
Before the 2018 referendum repealing the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protecting the unborn, the then-Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Leo Varadkar assured the Irish public that if legalized, abortion would be rare. He had claimed that only 60 GPs would be needed to deliver abortion pills, as approximately 6 Irish women a day sought abortions. With his estimates, this would have been around 2,190 women per annum, almost one-third of the numbers that have been released.
A major selling point of repealing the Eighth Amendment had been that the majority of abortions would be via abortion pills, distributed by GPs, who would receive €450 per abortion. With new figures released, €2.9 million was paid to GPs for such abortions in 2019. The Prolife Campaign states that approximately 6,542 abortions by pill were performed. (The cost of surgical abortions for 2019 has not yet been released.)
It is worth noting that in 2019, the Irish Department of Health spent €3.1 million on the National Women and Infants Health Programme, which means that the Irish government spent nearly as much on killing pre-born children as supposedly protecting them. In 2019, former Minister for Health, Simon Harris depleted most of the money from the National Maternity Strategy to fund abortions, contributing to two mothers’ deaths on maternity wards. A patient advocate’s resignation due to this funding abuse. Ironically, the Strategy had been set up after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis and not denial of abortion as the media had claimed.
Varadkar claimed that if abortions weren’t legalized in Ireland, a woman was going to die from abortion pills bought online. And yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, he gave Minister for Health Simon Harris permission to post them out to women who are under ten weeks pregnant with remote medical consultations instead of physical checkups. This is despite Harris’ previous claim that no telemed abortions would occur.
We will probably never know how many Irish women suffered abortion complications such as hemorrhaging or death during COVID-19. At least two women in the UK have died from abortion pills in the last few months, and many others have suffered complications, ectopic pregnancies and the possible murder of a child born alive after the mother ingested pills at a late stage in her pregnancy.
Those who reluctantly voted to remove protections for the unborn somehow failed to look across the Irish Sea and observe that in the UK, abortion numbers continue to rise as they have done since the 1967 Abortion Act. They have now surpassed 200,000 a year. One brave young Irish woman who campaigned for “yes” and said she told people that legalizing abortion would lower rates was shocked by the abortion numbers released, admitted that she was wrong and has since become pro-life.
Pre-Referendum Promises Broken
One by one, every pre-referendum promise made by the pro-repeal politicians is being broken.
Ireland’s maternity hospitals, now being used to perform surgical abortions, no longer have room for pro-life OB/GYNs. Despite assurances that pro-life doctors wouldn’t be forced to perform abortions, only a month after the legalization of abortion, in February 2019, the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin (where both my husband and I were born) advertised positions for consultants “willing to contribute to the provision of termination of pregnancy services.”
When obstetrician and 2019 AAPLOG annual conference speaker Dr. Trevor Hayes decided with his colleagues that their hospital in Kilkenny was not a suitable location for surgical abortions, Simon Harris attempted to bully Hayes and his colleagues into providing abortions, which they have continued to refuse to perform.
Ireland’s public health services provider, the HSE is currently planning a retraining program for pro-life medical staff to ensure that they are with the new abortion program.
Despite being informed by “an Garda Síochána” (the Irish police force) that it is not necessary and even Leo Varadkar admitted it may be unconstitutional, the Irish government is currently trying to pass a law to ban pro-life vigils outside hospitals and GPs’ clinics.
Such is the contempt that the Irish government now has for pro-life groups that Simon Harris promised to stamp out crisis pregnancy centers that offer the only lifeline and support available to many pregnant women and girls in desperation. These centers receive no government funding.
Even the attempt to collect data on abortion, standard in the UK and other nations, was shouted down by pro-abortion Irish politicians, claiming that such amendments to the law legalizing abortion were simply to shame Irish women. One TD [member of the Irish parliament], Joan Burton, bizarrely suggested that questions on ethnicity were reminiscent of South African apartheid. Another, Brid Smith claimed that the data-gathering amendments were “filled with malice.”
And now “Abortion Rights Campaign” (ARC) is pushing for later abortions due to the fact that 375 women still went to the UK last year for terminations, due to being over 12 weeks pregnant (before which point no reason for abortion needs to be given) but not having a “fatal foetal anomaly.” ARC’s ultimate goal is abortion for absolutely anyone who wants it for any reason, fully Irish taxpayer-funded.
It is worth observing that abortion is currently the only medical procedure that is completely free in Ireland, due to a two-tiered healthcare system, where two-thirds of the population pay for all their own medical expenses (including many low-income families who earn too much to qualify) and that of the other third, who receive a medical card and receive a wide range of services for free.
Ignorance is Bliss
As a spokesperson of the Iona Institute commented, ignorance is bliss. Irish abortion advocates do not want questions to be asked. As far as they’re concerned, every abortion was needed, each was a victory, and coercion and ambivalence about abortions do not exist.
When I contacted “Together for Yes” campaigner Bernie Linnane about her thoughtless remarks that Ireland’s abortions had been “6,666 victories,” she complained that my letter had upset her secretary and that my accurate facts, statistics, and evidence were “ill-advised comments.” Now that they have accomplished their goal, Irish abortion advocates are no longer interested in discussing abortion.
In the Irish Times letters section two days before the abortion referendum in May 2018, one Dublin woman commented:
Those expressing concern about the introduction of a ”culture of abortion” to Ireland may be reassured to know that in countries where abortion is made legal and safe, rates of abortion have been shown to decline significantly over time. In fact, the abortion rate in countries where termination of pregnancy is tightly restricted or outlawed remains higher than that in countries where it is accessible in a safe and regulated manner. The evidence is very clear. Ireland already has an abortion rate, and legalising abortion is very unlikely to make that rate higher.
Despite the lack of logic and evidence in her letter, the IT published it. This was typical of the letters that were published on a daily basis before the referendum.
Shrouded in Shame?
For many years, we Irish were told that women’s reproductive lives in Ireland had been shrouded in secrecy, thanks to the Catholic Church. And yet hidden pregnancies in Ireland appear to have now merely become hidden abortions, still silenced and censored. Concealed abortions that were previously performed in Britain have simply become concealed abortions in Ireland, where the government isn’t even interested in properly recording them and the nation’s abortion advocates don’t want to discuss them.
This is eerily reminiscent of a former era where pregnant Irish women were frequently hidden away in Magdalen laundry homes, their identities and stories erased. This is exactly what is happening in 2020, except it is the now Irish government, not the Catholic Church, that has stepped in to police and monitor what the public is being told about crisis pregnancies in Ireland.
Ireland is still “shrouded in shame,” only now it is women’s shame of coming forward and admitting that they didn’t want an abortion, that they felt abandoned by the Irish medical system, that they were left alone in their crisis, with no real choices. Many people in Ireland are now too afraid to criticize the new status quo, so they choose to remain shamefully silent rather than face the repercussions.
Shortly before the referendum in May 2018, Leo Varadkar stated that GPs would not be permitted to refuse to refer women for abortion services through their conscientious objection, as to do so was the equivalent of telling women “you’re on your own, love.” And yet this is exactly where Irish women are being left – on their own, to self-abort, with no proper alternatives to abortion, no real support to continue their pregnancies, no willing discussion of where abortion is at in Ireland, after the first pitifully poor records have been released to the public. It’s a pity that Varadkar lacked sufficient self-reflection to realize the true meaning of his statement.
And yet the pesky pro-lifers have not gone away, much to the irritation of so many Repealers. On the 3rd of July, Rally for Life hosted its fifteenth Rally, this time a virtual one due to COVID-19, featuring lots of local and international speakers, including Live Action’s Lila Rose and March for Life’s Jeanne Mancini. The number of people who watched Rally For Life live events was 40,000. The organizers plan to grow the numbers to 400,000 online. All videos are currently available online as replays. At least thirty-two local rallies joined Rally For Life as well, in socially distant witnesses, thus demonstrating that the pro-life voice in Ireland fights on, despite the increasingly hostile opposition to such views.
It’s also worth noting that Ireland’s pro-life vote in 2018 to save the Eighth Amendment was just under 33%, a similar number to the Irish who voted against establishing the Eighth Amendment in 1983. Being in the minority did not deter Ireland’s abortion advocates for the next 35 years. In global terms, a third of the electorate in a Western nation having voted against the legalization of abortion is a high number indeed, and it is something that Ireland needs to celebrate and develop. There is a saying in the Irish language: “Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach,” meaning that we will live to fight another day. Ireland will have her moment again.
For more of our posts from Maria Horan about Ireland, see:
by Sarah Terzo
Major protests against police brutality have occurred around the U.S. in recent weeks. While many demonstrators were peaceful, some rioting occurred. There are many documented cases of police using tear gas and other chemical agents on both violent and nonviolent protesters. A New York Times article says that chemical agents were used on protesters in at least 100 American cities.
There’s a very compelling reason why pro-life activists should be concerned about tear gas: a great deal of anecdotal evidence and one study showing that tear gas may be an abortifacient that can cause miscarriages.
A 2012 report on the use of tear gas against civilians in Bahrain documented many miscarriages linked to tear gas. Investigators from Physicians for Human Rights interviewed women and medical professionals. They were able to examine ultrasounds and medical records to document many of the miscarriages.
The report states:
Local medical professionals also reported to PHR that they had begun to associate miscarriage with women’s exposure to toxic chemical agents.
One obstetrician/gynecologist said that she had seen an increase in miscarriages—especially in the first trimester—in her practice at a private hospital in a predominately Shi’a community exposed to toxic chemical agents.
Two other female physicians, who live in neighborhoods regularly saturated with toxic chemical agents, also reported an increase in miscarriages among their patients; one physician exposed to toxic chemical agents reported she herself had recently developed abnormal menstrual periods and suspected a miscarriage.
A nurse who works at Salmaniya Hospital told PHR investigators, “There are many, many miscarriages. We believe the miscarriage rate has increased, although there is no quantitative evidence. What I want to know is: What is this gas . . . and what will be the future complications?”1
The women who were interviewed told investigators that when they went to the hospital while miscarrying, doctors asked them where they were from and told them they were seeing many similar cases:
One woman from Sitra who miscarried during her 11th week of pregnancy reported that the first question her doctor had asked her, after finding that her baby had no heartbeat, was whether there were problems related to “political unrest” in her village. Presumably, this doctor knew that political unrest in a village implied that toxic chemical agents would be omnipresent.2
Many other women reported miscarriages but were unable to get their medical records. According to one woman:
Many Bahraini women are suffering from the psychological effects of losing a baby and extreme fear. They are not able to speak out and they lack their medical records. The hospitals are not giving us the medical records to document the miscarriages and the birth defects that are happening, so I must speak out.3
Miscarriages after tear gas were also seen among Palestinian women in 1988 when tear gas was heavily used in the occupied Palestinian territories. According to the UN, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas cannisters into enclosed spaces such as houses, schools, and even hospitals. In one case, multiple patients had to be evacuated from a hospital, and 41 Palestinians died from these chemical attacks.Many of them were infants. Women also had miscarriages.
A report from the AP says:
Among the victims was a 35-year-old woman in the Gaza Strip who died along with her unborn child after going into labor prematurely as a result of inhaling tear gas, the U.N. representative said.
He said the gas apparently causes muscle spasms that can cause miscarriage, and dozens of such cases have been reported.
A study at the University of Chile linked miscarriages with tear gas and actually led to the Chilean government banning the use of it by their police. Andrei Tchernitchin, a toxicology expert at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chile, said of the study, “There’s a probability that the chemical substances in tear gas can affect reproductive function, damage the fetus in the last trimester of pregnancy and children in the first years of life.
Dealing with Counter-Arguments
Col. Ranaan Gissin, a military spokesman, did not deny that a large number of miscarriages occurred but claimed they were the result of “stress” on the women due to being involved in riots:
According to doctors, not just Israeli doctors, when pregnant women participate in riots their blood pressure goes up and they have miscarriages caused by overexcitement, not by tear gas.
This ignored the fact that, according to a spokesman for the UN, most women were at home and not protesting, much less rioting, when they were exposed to tear gas.
The Washington Post described one typical case:
For two days, Ikkram Said, a slender, 27-year-old woman who was four months pregnant, said she could smell fumes wafting into her courtyard from outside. Even with the windows closed, she said, her eyes stung, she coughed constantly and had trouble breathing. Then one day she noticed blood when she went to the toilet and became frightened.
She had a friend drive her to the camp’s United Nations health clinic and was advised to go to Shifa Hospital in nearby Gaza City. By the time she got there she had stomach cramps and uterine contractions. Soon after, she miscarried.
The article spoke of local doctors:
While they concede they lack hard data and autopsy results to verify many of their claims, these sources contend the weight of circumstantial evidence clearly indicates that tear gas is at least a significant contributing factor in deaths and miscarriages among a refugee camp population that, even in the best of times, is in a precarious state of health.
UNRWA’s chief health officer in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Samir Badri, was quoted saying:
There is until now no solid scientific proof, but certainly the accumulated evidence is strongly incriminating.
When you see a woman with no previous history of miscarriages or bleeding, and after exposure to tear gas she bleeds and aborts, you can say safely it is the gas.
It turns out that much of the tear gas that was used in Israel was manufactured in the U.S. A Report to House of Representatives titled “ISRAEL Use of U.S.-Manufactured Tear Gas in the Occupied Territories” tried to debunk the link between tear gas and miscarriages by saying:
Although allegations of large numbers of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages were widespread in the Palestinian community, the physicians who the factfinding group spoke with had found no obvious change in the rate.4
The authors make the argument that there was no increase in miscarriages in official statistics. However, the Washington Post says:
Medical experts say . . . accurate statistics . . . are largely unobtainable in the chaos of civil unrest and military crackdown that has reigned in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since December.
The argument that tear gas isn’t statistically linked to miscarriages ignores the fact that medical records may not be accurate in an impoverished, chaotic area in the middle of civil unrest.
Also, another reporter states:
According to physicians at one hospital in Gaza . . . .over 35 deaths of foetuses had occurred in the last three months of pregnancy in their hospital alone, all from tear gassing. One should bear in mind that this is one hospital which serves one sector of Gaza, and many cases from the refugee camps do not reach the hospital. Doctors say that most cases are not reported, as mothers are fearful of military retaliation at hospitals and simply recover at home. The same applies throughout the West Bank.5
This further suggests the miscarriage rate may be higher than the official statistics show.
Interestingly, after denying that miscarriages increased, the report to the House says in the very next sentence that the increase in miscarriages was caused by “other factors, such as the stress and excitement of being present during a violent confrontation,” thus contradicting itself.
Those who try to debunk the miscarriage/tear gas link generally rely on a study done on rats and rabbits, which exposed pregnant animals to tear gas for five minutes on several consecutive days. All the animals carried their pregnancies to term. However, the rats that were injected with tear gas gave birth to litters with “skeletal deformities.” showing that there is a potential for the tear gas to cause problems.6 The study design was quite cruel; further humane research is needed for a definitive answer.
But it is clear that doctors on the front lines and women who miscarried believe there is a connection.
- Richard Sollom, Holly G. Atkinson, Physicians for Human Rights “Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians” CUNY Academic Works August 2012, pgs 28-29
- Donald E Wagner “CS Tear Gas a Form of Chemical Warfare?” “Developments in the West Bank and Gaza, May 1990” Hearing Before the Subcommittees on Europe and the Middle East and on Human Rights and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred First Congress, Second Session, May 9, 1990
- Eugene J. Olajos, Harry Salem “Riot Control Agents: Pharmacology, Toxicology, Biochemistry and Chemistry” JOURNAL OF APPLIED TOXICOLOGY 21, 2001 pgs 355–39
For more of our posts on similar topics, see:
Police Brutality to the Preborn / Sarah Terzo
by John Whitehead
The nuclear age turns 75 years old this summer. Over seven decades have now passed since the first test of a nuclear weapon in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, and since the first use of nuclear weapons in wartime, against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (on August 6) and Nagasaki (on August 9). Multiple generations have lived their lives in the knowledge that because of nuclear weapons humans can now kill each other on a massive scale, or even wipe out humanity, in a matter of minutes.
The nuclear threat’s severity has waxed and waned since 1945. In the 1960s and 1980s, during the tensest periods of the Cold War and nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, global nuclear war seemed all too likely. The danger lessened in the 1990s after the Cold War’s end. Yet in recent years, escalating conflicts among nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have again made nuclear weapons’ use plausible.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began 2020 by warning that “Civilization-ending nuclear war—whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication—is a genuine possibility.”
Recognizing the Threat
Ending nuclear weapons’ threat to humanity is imperative. Among the many obstacles to reaching this goal, however, is that while nuclear war may be close to us politically, it remains all-too-distant psychologically.
Only two nuclear weapons (relatively small ones, by contemporary standards) have been deliberately used against human beings, and those attacks are now 75 years in the past. Humanity has never experienced an actual nuclear war—if we had, I would not be writing this post and you would not be reading it.
Peace activists’ work against nuclear weapons is of necessity work against an evil that must never be experienced but only anticipated beforehand. As a result, the nuclear threat can seem shadowy and unreal and can end up pushed to the side compared to more immediate evils. This problem of truly comprehending what nuclear war would mean is a major theme of Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth (1982), a great book that remains all-too-relevant today.
One way to appreciate the danger of nuclear war is to learn about those two occasions when nuclear weapons were used against cities. Remembering the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a way of not only recalling injustices committed many years ago but reminding ourselves of what the future may hold if the nuclear danger is not checked. The testimonies of atomic bombing survivors (hibakusha) serve as warnings for all of us.
Current events have also provided a lesson in our own vulnerability that is very much applicable to the nuclear threat. The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us of how dependent we are on a complex and fragile network of people—doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers; farmers and other food producers; those who transport goods around the world—that is easily disrupted by a crisis. We have learned of hospitals being overwhelmed by sick people and struggling to care for everyone. We have read about people losing jobs, income, or supplies necessary to grow food because of the pandemic’s effect on the global economy.
These disruptions would be immeasurably multiplied in a nuclear war. Hospitals would be stretched much further past the breaking point, if they even still existed. Economies would collapse altogether, not least because of the terrible environmental consequences of the bomb.
The pandemic’s effects give us just a glimpse of the social breakdown that nuclear weapons can cause.
The nuclear bombings of Japan provide an even more direct example of such breakdown. Drawing on survivor testimonies and post-war studies, the writer William Craig described the situation in Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped:
Much of the city was in flames. Lines of refugees streamed out of the inferno. Many were walking dead, soon to collapse to the ground and expire. Not only had heat charred and destroyed their skin, but the invisible gamma radiation from the split atoms had invaded their bloodstreams and marked them for a sure death. They croaked continually for water.
Almost one half of the medical personnel in Nagasaki had died in the first minutes, and, as a result, casualties received little or no relief from their wounds. The burned continued to scream, the torn bled to death, and those dosed with radiation never received the transfusions which might have saved them. Over everyone hung a wall of crackling fire which rained down sparks and consumed the slow of foot…
Some of the doctors and nurses were so shocked by the enormity of the catastrophe that they turned their backs on the helpless survivors and scurried away to the safety of the high ground. By the time their consciences functioned, it was too late. (The Fall of Japan, 1967)
As evocative as they are as warnings, however, Covid-19, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and indeed all prior disasters differ from nuclear war in a crucial respect. In prior disasters, fresh aid or supplies could at least hypothetically be brought in from elsewhere to help those suffering. For example, one doctor struggling with the current pandemic recently expressed a wish for the US government to send a naval hospital ship: “That gives us 1,000 beds with all the personnel attached to it,” he commented.
By contrast, the extent of destruction in nuclear war would be such that any humanitarian aid for survivors would be very limited, if it existed at all. As Schell commented in The Fate of the Earth:
Normally, a locality devastated by a catastrophe, whether natural or man-made, will sooner or later receive help from untouched outside areas, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki did after they were bombed; but a nuclear holocaust would devastate the “outside areas” as well, leaving the victims to fend for themselves in a shattered society and natural environment. And what is true for each city is also true for the earth as a whole: a devastated earth can hardly expect “outside” help.
Looking to the Future
Disturbing though it may be, contemplating the consequences of nuclear war is necessary if we are to recognize the danger that faces us all. The history of other disasters, past and present; the experiences of hibakusha; and books such as Schell’s can make us more sensitive to the nuclear threat. This short video also explains the threat in a concise, forceful way.
Merely appreciating the danger is not enough, of course. We also need to act to end this threat to humanity. Such positive work is being done. The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017 and has been ratified to date by 40 nations. Once 50 nations ratify it, the Treaty will become international law and serve as a powerful sign of global opposition to these weapons. A crucial group involved in the campaign against nuclear weapons is the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Within the United States, the Back from the Brink campaign works to build support for policies that will make nuclear war less likely. These policies include taking nuclear weapons off high alert, so they can no longer be used at a moment’s notice, and cancelling plans to invest vast sums in new nuclear weapons. The Consistent Life Network is among the many organizations that have endorsed Back from the Brink, and more groups—peace, environmental, faith, or other—are invited to add their endorsement.
Whatever the group one might work with, however, what is vital is to recognize the nuclear threat and to work to end it. If we join together in that effort, we can ensure that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries are no longer a reminder of a catastrophic danger looming over humanity but a remembrance of a terrible evil we have overcome.
For more of our posts covering nuclear weapons, see:
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons
To Save Humanity: What I Learned at the “Two Minutes to Midnight”
The Adventures of Prolifers for Survival: Scorned by Mobilization for Survival / Carol Crossed
by Sophie Trist and Alex Christian Lucas
First section by Sophie Trist:
In Japan, where the culture emphasizes communal welfare over individualism, wearing masks is common even outside of a global pandemic. Japanese people often wear surgical masks if they have a common cold, to reduce their chances of spreading germs to others. In countries where wearing masks, and the mentality of sacrificing comfort and convenience for the community, are commonplace, Covid-19 cases and fatalities remain relatively low. In America, where wearing a mask has become politicized, we’ve lost over 130,000 people, more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.
Information about Covid-19 is constantly evolving, but the CDC and WHO unequivocally agree that wearing a mask saves lives. Masking is the most pro-life thing we can do in this current moment.
Masking Statistics and Controversy
The politicized movement against face masks sprang from the protests against shutdowns and stay-at-home orders which swept across America in April and May, often led by far-right and white nationalist groups. Anti-mask sentiment stems from the belief that the Covid-19 pandemic has been exaggerated or outright fabricated for political gain or that wearing a mask shows weakness.
Viewing masks as a sign of weakness is a slap in the face to immuno-compromised and disabled people who need to wear face masks, and perhaps more importantly, need us to wear them, in order to survive.
Instead of a simple and life-saving sacrifice, some Republican politicians and their followers see face masks as an attack on individual liberty. In Texas, a group of legislators and GOP activists filed a lawsuit to block Governor Greg Abbott’s mask mandate. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order barring cities from requiring face masks and sued the city of Atlanta when they did anyway. While ill with Covid-19, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry railed against Governor John Bel Edwards’s recent mask mandate, arguing that it is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced, ignoring the Constitution’s clause to “promote the general Welfare.” Some people wear ineffective mesh masks and abuse the Americans with Disabilities Act to justify not wearing a mask, presenting bogus, quasi-medical documents to assert “their right” to endanger others.
Our Most Unalienable Right
According to the CDC, near-universal masking could bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control in just one or two months, saving thousands of lives. In refusing to make this small, common-sense sacrifice for community well-being, anti-maskers are prioritizing their own comfort and an ableist semblance of strength over other people’s very lives.
They dismiss Covid-19’s one percent fatality rate, ignoring the fact that one percent of the American population is over three million people, each of whom has infinite value and worth.
Our Declaration of Independence states that we have three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Foremost among these is the right to life, because without it, all other rights are meaningless.
Those who refuse to do their part in slowing the spread of Covid-19 are effectively denying other people’s right to life. If wearing a piece of cloth over your face will save even one life, it is worth it.
Second section by Alex Christian Lucas:
Masking, Christian Ethics, and the Consistent Life Ethic
My mom runs an Intensive Care Unit in one of New Orleans’s largest hospital systems. Since mid-March, I have seen firsthand the physical exhaustion and emotional devastation Covid-19 has wrought not only on patients, but also on my mom, her staff, and other healthcare professionals as they lose multiple patients a day.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, over a hundred and sixty nurses have died from Covid-19. Knowing that any one of those nurses could have been my mom, and knowing that masks are statistically proven to save lives, the fact that so many refuse to take this simple measure is mind-boggling.
Many citizens, especially certain groups of Christians who consider themselves pro-life, state that masking, limiting the number of church attendees, and not singing at services are violations of their personal freedom and religious rights. My first question is: Exactly what right of yours is being violated and how? God doesn’t become any smaller because we wear masks and temporarily don’t worship through our voices in public out of love for our neighbors.
Science has proven that large crowds and singing are super-spreaders of the virus. Asking you to perform your daily activities or church services more safely is not a violation of your freedom or religious rights; it is sheer common sense to comply with these guidelines for the safety of others.
I am a devout Catholic and a professional singer. Amid these restrictions, I still go to Church every weekend wearing a mask, and I haven’t sung unmasked in a public setting since mid-March (which is hard, trust me).
Wearing a mask isn’t about you; it’s about others. It’s a not-so-radical act of love and Christian charity to place the health of our neighbors above our own comfort. Remember Jesus saying “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If Jesus can sacrifice his life on a cross for us, we can sacrifice out of love for him by wearing a little piece of fabric over our mouths and noses.
Even if it were a violation of your civil rights or religious freedom, masking is the Christian thing to do; Paul says that even though we have free will, we should use that free will to witness to Christ’s love for others: “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
Stop using quasi-patriotism, unfounded politicization, and faux religiosity to justify not wearing a mask, which puts others’ lives at risk. Realize that masking is not about you.
When it comes to Covid-19, we must show the same reverence and defense for life that we extend toward the unborn to all born people in our broader society.
Masking is a small daily sacrifice we can make to love our neighbors and witness to Christ’s love. If we’re going to call ourselves a pro-life people, we must love and defend all lives, especially the poor and vulnerable among us.
For more posts on our Covid-19 coverage, see:
by John Whitehead
The Chinese government is currently pursuing a campaign of repression against Muslim ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang. Prompted by fears of terrorism and separatism, the roughly three-year-old campaign has reportedly involved surveillance, imprisonment, and psychological and physical torture. The campaign may also involve coercive population control, including sterilization and abortion.
Unrest in an Important Region
Located in China’s far west, Xinjiang is home to 22 million people, including both minorities such as the Uighurs and Kazakhs and members of the Han Chinese majority. The region is important because of its oil, coal, and natural gas, as well as its border with Central Asia.. Xinjiang is crucial to China’s infrastructure development project known as the “Belt and Road Initiative.” Its importance gives the authorities a strong interest in maintaining control over Xinjiang.
Threats to government control arose in 2009, when protests by the Uighurs against discriminatory treatment led to rioting in the regional capital Urumqi that killed 200 people. Further acts of violence and even terrorism by Uighurs occurred in the following years, leading the government to retaliate in 2017 with regulations for “de-radicalization” and the current repression campaign. That year, Chinese President Xi Jinping commented that “Xinjiang is in an active period of terrorist activities, intense struggle against separatism and painful intervention to treat this.”
A picture of the campaign has emerged from a mixture of reporting on the scene, the testimony of people who claim to have been imprisoned by the authorities or to have missing relatives, and official documents available online. The aim seems to be to suppress unrest, especially any inspired by some form of Islamic extremism.
A 2018 New York Times report from the city Hotan described checkpoints and police being stationed every few hundred yards as well as the presence of many surveillance cameras. Surveillance cameras observe mosques, which people must register to enter. A piece for the Financial Times mentioned shuttered businesses and silent, deserted neighborhoods in the capital of Urumqi.
Amnesty International interviewed more than 100 people, mostly ethnic Kazakhs, who had lost touch with relatives in Xinjiang. The interviews suggest a pattern of government detention. Contacts outside China, as well as Muslim religious practice, may prompt such repression. One official Chinese document lists 75 signs of “religious extremism,” such as praying in public places outside mosques and suddenly giving up alcohol or smoking.
Nurshat Mamish, who now lives in Kazakhstan, said that her son had called her from Xinjiang early in 2018 to say that he had been detained by the authorities. Later, after Mamish’s daughter had visited her in Kazakhstan and then returned to Xinjiang, her daughter disappeared.
Syrlas Kalimkhan, a university student, traveled from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang with his parents in July 2017 to attend his brother’s wedding. At the border, Chinese authorities confiscated their passports. Kalimkhan remained in China for a month before being allowed to return to Kazakhstan. His parents were still held in China, however. Kalimkhan later learned from his mother that his father had been sent to a detention center.
Zhazira Anuarbeki heard that her brother-in-law had been sent to a detention center in April 2017, supposedly for reading the Qur’an on his mobile phone. Later that year, her sister, Munira, came to visit her and their mother in Kazakhstan. Zhazira subsequently heard that her sister had been sent to a detention center several months after the visit. She also heard of a relative who is an imam being detained.
Along with the stories of people who have lost touch with relatives are stories from those who report being detained in Xinjiang. Abdusalam Muhemet says he was held by the authorities for nine months because he read a Qur’an verse at a funeral. He recalled detention including mandatory singing of patriotic songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” hearing lectures on the evils of separatism and Islamic extremism, and writing self-critical essays. Muhemet comments, “In the end, all the officials had one key point…The greatness of the Chinese Communist Party, the backwardness of Uighur culture and the advanced nature of Chinese culture.”
Kairat Samarkan, who is originally from Xinjiang, traveled back there from Kazakhstan in late 2017. He was held by police, who questioned him about his residence in another country, and he was eventually sent to a detention center. Activities in the center, Samarkan recounted, included singing propaganda songs, listening to government radio programs and being required to say “Long Live Xi Jinping” before eating. He also recounted being tortured, in part as punishment for his dual citizenship: Samarkan was fastened to an iron bar, being forced to stand straight with his arms extended. After a suicide attempt and hospitalization, he was eventually released and returned to Kazakhstan.
The scale of imprisonment in detention centers is unclear. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, when commenting in 2018 on reports of repression in Xinjiang, observed that “Estimates of the number of people detained range from tens of thousands to over a million.” Writing in 2017, Qiu Yuanyuan, a scholar at a Xinjiang training school for officials, made the notable warning that “Recklessly setting quantitative goals for transformation through education [that is, detention] has been erroneously used… The targeting is imprecise, and the scope has been expanding.”
Some testimonies and documents indicate that the authorities are also subjecting minority women in Xinjiang to coercive forms of birth control, as well as sexual violence.
Rakhima Senbay says she was detained in Xinjiang in 2017 for having WhatsApp on her phone (as a messaging app with encryption, WhatsApp might look suspicious to authorities). During detention, a doctor fitted her with an intrauterine contraceptive device. Senbay comments, “I told her I didn’t want it, but she said it’s a must for all women going to the camp.” The Associated Press interviewed seven people who said that while detained they received injections or were forced to take birth control pills. Women stopped getting their periods and some detainees, after release, discovered they were sterile.
Ruqiye Perhat, a Uighur Islamic studies student who now lives in Turkey, says she was imprisoned for years following the 2009 riots. During her imprisonment, she reports being raped by the guards and twice becoming pregnant. She was forced to have an abortion both times. Gulbahar Jelilova reports that women in the detention center where she was held were also forced to abort their children.
Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh lawyer and human rights advocate, represents a woman who was twice forced to have abortions in Xinjiang. Umarova comments, “Sexually violating women, including stopping them from reproducing, has become a weapon for China against its Muslim population.”
The Chinese government has a long history of coercive population control policies, and these reported incidents in Xinjiang may reflect the latest version of such policies. Officially people in Xinjiang, of whatever ethnicity, are allowed to have two children, if they live in urban areas, and three, if they live in rural areas. The authorities may now be enforcing limits rigorously, to assert control over a restive population.
Adrian Zenz, a writer affiliated with the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, cites various documents that suggest a desire to curb births in the region. A 2015 Xinjiang government statement referred to how “religious extremism begets…illegal extra births.” A family planning speech made that same year included the comment that “de-extremification is an opportunity to eliminate the influence and interference of religion on family planning.”
Ethnic minorities report attending group meetings where they were threatened with detention if they don’t register all their children with authorities. Sometimes the meetings were followed by ultrasounds or gynecological exams for women attendees. Sixteen people interviewed by the Associated Press said they knew people detained for having too many children. Dina Nurdybay says that during her detention she heard a Uighur woman being made to confess publicly her “crime”: “I gave birth to too many children,” she said.
These aspects of the repression seem to be having an effect. Statistical yearbooks indicate that birth rates have fallen in Xinjiang in recent years. Overall birth rates have fallen 24 percent in the region in the last year, while birth rates in the primarily Uighur areas of Hotan and Kashgar fell 60 percent from 2015 to 2018.
Spread the Word
Human rights advocates, journalists, and others concerned with injustice should continue to report the stories of repression that have emerged from Xinjiang. Whatever else we can do about the situation, we can at the very least make sure people know what is happening. The people currently suffering in Xinjiang deserve that much.
For similar posts from John Whitehead, see:
by Sophie Trist
The death of forty-six-year-old Michael Hickson of Austin, Texas from Covid-19 exists at the intersection of several critical social justice conversations: pervasive prejudice within the medical system, the devaluing of disabled lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the catastrophic effects of the novel corona virus on Black and Brown communities. But apart from pro-life groups and disability rights activists, the public has remained largely silent about this tragedy. Michael Hickson’s death—his medical murder—could have been a flash point for these crucial conversations about the value of Black and Brown disabled lives, but the deafening silence confirms what people with disabilities have known for decades, if not centuries: the medical establishment, and society at large, often views our deaths as compassionate and humane. There is no trending hashtag for Michael Hickson.
“Quality of Life”?
Melissa Hickson describes her husband as an intelligent, vibrant man and a loving father of five. Michael Hickson became a blind quadriplegic after suffering complications from cardiac arrest in 2017. Despite his brain injury, Melissa says he remained alert and attentive to his family, joking with his kids and blowing her kisses over FaceTime when he was hospitalized on June 2 for Covid-19.
Earlier this year, Dr. Renee Hickson, Michael’s sister and a fellow at George Washington University Hospital, applied to be his court-appointed guardian. Though Dr. Hickson’s motives are unclear, it appears that she may have believed Melissa was demanding an unrealistic level of care. “Unfortunately, you have to let go of the life you were going to have. You have to live in reality,” Dr. Hickson told the Washington Post. In a statement released shortly after Michael’s death (and cached – no longer available on the web), St. David’s Medical Center in Austin claims that Michael requested that Renee serve as his guardian instead of Melissa. No other evidence has been found to corroborate this. Jill Jacobs, a Virginia social worker active in the disability rights movement, says that in these situations, courts tend to favor guardians who don’t make waves, even if that results in a disabled or chronically ill person receiving substandard care. As the family conflict raged, the court appointed a representative from Family Eldercare as Michael Hickson’s temporary guardian.
All of this came to a head on June 6. In a horrifying audio clip widely shared on social media, Melissa Hickson discussed treatment options with one of her husband’s care providers. “So as of right now, his quality of life, he doesn’t have much of one,” the unidentified doctor can be heard saying. When Melissa asked if this assessment was due to Michael’s paralysis and brain injury, the doctor answered in the affirmative. Family Eldercare signed off on the hospital’s decision to withdraw treatment and place Michael Hickson in hospice care. It is interesting that Family Eldercare claims that Michael Hickson’s spouse agreed to withdraw treatment and makes no mention of the doctor’s statement about Michael’s disability impacting his quality of life. Michael Hickson died six days later, on June 11.
Photo from YouTube video
Life with Infinite Worth
Reading Michael Hickson’s story shook me to my core. It reminded me of how, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, doctors in Nazi Germany viewed people with disabilities as “life unworthy of life” and left thousands of disabled patients to starve to death. When Dr. Renee Hickson says that her sister-in-law has to “live in reality,” she is talking about my disabled reality.
Contrary to what much of the general public believes, I do not live each day in unimaginable torment and suffering. I have lived twenty-three sparkling, thriving years with Fraser syndrome, and I wouldn’t trade my disabled reality for the world. Many of my friends who became disabled later in life, as Michael Hickson did, have learned to embrace their new reality, despite limitations, finding joy in the life that they have rather than the life they wish they had. The resourcefulness of the disabled community is remarkable. With resilience, adaptability, and interdependence, we forge lives for ourselves that are just as rich and fulfilling as those of our nondisabled peers. But because of public misconceptions about disability, many of us fear that we will be the next Michael Hickson.
It is quite possible, even probable, that further treatment would not have saved Michael Hickson’s life. But it breaks my heart that we will never get the chance to find out. It breaks my heart that nondisabled people’s judgments about quality of life denied him that hope. The disability community is left wondering if the same decisions would have been made if Michael had been nondisabled. Disabled people have a higher assessment of our quality of life than do those without disabilities.
The degree and quality of a person’s medical treatment should never depend on race, disability, or any other factor. The medical establishment and the court system must listen to disabled voices before judging the quality of our lives. As America reckons with its history of dehumanization in criminal justice, healthcare, and nearly every other facet of society, we must center disabled stories, particularly those from multiply marginalized communities. This is a battle we must fight together. It must go beyond the pro-life and disability rights communities. #SayHisName. Rest in power, Michael Hickson. Your life had infinite worth.
For more of our posts on a similar topic, see:
Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?