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 355–391
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?
by Rachel MacNair
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) is one of the regional affiliates of Planned Parenthood, covering New York City and the nearby area, administering several PP centers.
A June 18 Open Letter, signed by over 300 people, was published which started:
The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Laura McQuade, has proven to be a toxic leader and autocrat, and we, the current and former staff . . . write this letter to demand her immediate removal.
She was accused of verbal abuse and bullying, plus financial improprieties.
Additionally, of particular interest from the letter:
Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman. That is a part of history that cannot be changed. While efforts have been made to undo some of the harm from institutional racism, many of these issues have worsened under McQuade’s tenure. . . .
We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve.
We write this — as a group of both current and former BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) employees of [PPGNY] to expand on the issues of racism and anti-Blackness in our workplace.
These aren’t people biased against PP or its mission – to the contrary, they’re explicitly trying to save it.
A note was later added to the top saying they had been successful. McQuade has been removed.
Lots of organizations, even very good ones, have the problem of abusive bosses. We’re all keenly aware that many organizations are still “steeped in white supremacy,” and that this is a problem that needs to be fixed, ideally by their own staffs from the inside. Uprisings of this kind are needed in all kinds of organizations, and I’d like to see more of them. I suppose the PP staff involved see it as essentially nothing more than that.
But Planned Parenthood, by having the largest chain of abortion centers in the world, and having most of its U.S. locations doing abortions while the rest of the U.S. locations serve as abortion pipelines to those centers, has special features. Namely:
- Killing massive numbers of unborn children involves dehumanizing them. Can such massive dehumanization happen and not bleed over into racism?
- Mothers are very commonly being expected to accommodate themselves to massive injustices when they’re pressured to abort. While there are certainly women who do in fact make the decision for themselves and resent any suggestion otherwise, there are also huge numbers who feel traumatized by their abortions. We know, because we get a continual flow of women who’ve had abortions under sexist circumstances into the pro-life movement. So any staff would have to either be aware of the injustices pushing women to abort or be studiously ignoring the evidence in front of their eyes.
- White supremacists are very happy for Black and Hispanic women to abort their babies, presuming it means there are fewer Black and Hispanic people. Much as staff members are sure that their work is to give women choices, they have to be aware that they’re accommodating this dynamic – and that people of this mindset can be attracted to contribute money to or to be leaders in Planned Parenthood.
- The verbal abuse and bullying part could possibly be a symptom of trauma. One of the symptoms of PTSD is outbursts of irritation. Being involved in massive killing may be more traumatizing than many people realize.
These might be some considerations for staff to reflect on, to consider whether they want to reform the organization – or abolish it.
For our constantly-updated website with information and ideas on noncooperation with Planned Parenthood, see
For more news on turmoil in Planned Parenthood, see:
For some of our blog posts on racism, see:
Racism and the Death Penalty / David Cruz-Uribe
Brown v. Board of Education and Me / Bill Samuel
Movies with Racism Themes: “Gosnell” and “The Hate U Give” / Rachel MacNair
The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion / Graciela Olivarez
For some of our blog posts on how abortion hurts women (as in Point #2 above), see:
Abortion and Violence against Pregnant Women / Martha Shuping
The Myth of Sexual Autonomy / Julianne Wiley
How Abortion is Useful for Rape Culture / Rachel MacNair
Compiled by Rachel MacNair and Bill Samuel
Original content by Rachel MacNair
In June Medical Services vs. Russo, the Court upheld a ghastly precedent – yet again – by declaring a specific safety regulation unconstitutional. In Bourgeois v. Barr, the Court turned down even hearing a case challenging the lethal injection protocol for federal executions. Neither of these two cases would stop abortion or the death penalty, but both would have dealt with aspects to mitigate the damage.
June Medical Services vs. Russo: The Problem
I’m Louisiana State Senator Katrina Jackson. I am disappointed that today’s Supreme Court decision strikes down Louisiana common-sense law that I authored to protect women injured in abortion facilities. I am proud to be a pro-life Democrat. I am proud that this bill received overwhelming support by both women and men, Democrats and Republicans, Black legislators and White legislators. Once again, unelected justices have substituted their policy preferences over the clear will of the people of my great state. As long as the Supreme Court continues to meddle in an area that rightfully belongs in the democratic process, women will remain subject to sub-standard abortion facilities. But know that together, with my colleagues, we will continue to pursue policies that both protect the health and safety of women, and the lives of the unborn children. . . .
Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life of America (a CLN member group):
This decision endangers women’s health. Women’s safety should never be jeopardized, whether at a profit-driven abortion clinic or any other outpatient clinic. The three clinics, in this case, have been cited for 35 health and safety violations in the last decade. We are disturbed that without this reasonable regulation, women in Louisiana will suffer injuries without the benefit of face-to-face patient hand-offs, as mandated by medical best practice. Abortion doctors don’t deserve a special exemption from commonsense health regulations.
Contrary to the narrative promoted by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, this progressive law was brought into being by pro-life Democrats. It was authored by pro-life Democrat Katrina Jackson and signed into law by pro-life Democrat John Bel Edwards. Promoting women’s health and feminist values is fundamental to the idea of the Democratic Party. As Democrats, we care about women, who should have a right to the highest-quality medical care, in every instance. I call on the rest of the Democratic Party to join us in standing up to the $3 billion abortion industry and its laissez-faire approach to women’s health.
Rehumanize International (a CLN member group):
Pro-Lifers See Opportunities As Supreme Court Hands Down ‘Grievous’ Decision: After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down pro-life policies and thwarted bipartisan support for a state law, diverse pro-life voices share what it means.
On the left, [Terrisa] Bukovinac laments that her party has rejected pro-life liberals.
“Going into an election season with a Supreme Court decision that is really unpopular, is only going to help Republicans,” she said. “You don’t see any pro-choice people out here today. It hasn’t helped to rally any of their people whatsoever.”
Having protested outside Democratic debates, she notes the disconnect between party leaders and the grassroots. “The vast majority of Democrats, if they understood what this law is about, would support the pro-life position,” said Bukovinac. “We see the pro-life movement is growing stronger and more diverse.”
June Medical Services vs. Russo: Addressing the Problem
- Future Court Cases
Since in this 5-4 decision Justice Roberts filed a separate opinion that was narrower than Breyer’s opinion, Roberts’ opinion controls. While Roberts felt compelled to uphold precedent, he reiterated that he thought the precedent was wrongly decided – he had voted against it in 2016.
There are several abortion-defending and other sources that believe he was actually being crafty. The 2016 precedent expanded the pro-abortion impact of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and he un-expanded it. See, for example, this article or this article in The New York Times, this article or this article in Slate, and this in Vox. More neutrally, this SCOTUS blog or the PBS News Hour segment. Basically, Roberts won’t allow regulations that are against precedent, but he’ll allow others that don’t have any precedent of having been struck down.
- Publicizing How Hard and Stigmatized Abortions Are
As is common on these occasions, abortion defenders pointed out that Louisiana, which used to have 11 abortion facilities, has only three left. They’ll let us know that only two of the five doctors who do abortions in Louisiana can get those hospital admitting privileges. They mention that five states each have only one abortion facility left (Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia). They’re doing their best to illustrate how much abortion isn’t available.
In other words, they’re doing a far better job than we’re even capable of to document to the American public the decline of the abortion business. They’re getting Americans ready for further decline. They think they’re sounding alarm bells, but actually, to many Americans, a ban is uncomfortable but a decline sounds pretty good.
Meanwhile, if you’re a pregnant woman, or a couple considering the activity that makes for pregnancy, these pronouncements serve as anti-advertisements. Letting people know how difficult something is tends to be a turn-off.
- Most Actions Don’t Require the Court’s approval
Only the legislative route requires paying attention to what the Court will allow. Everything else we do – education and advocacy, providing material help, etc. — we keep doing. Here are a some of our own projects that were always intend to bypass what courts and candidates for election do:
And an educational effort to erode support for Roe v. Wade, showing its damage beyond just what it did on abortion: The Price of Roe.
Bourgeois v. Barr: The Problem
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to the federal execution protocol, removing a potential major obstacle to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) plan to resume federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. The decision leaves in place an April 2020 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that lifted an injunction that had halted federal executions. The Department has scheduled four executions in July and August. . . .
The federal government has carried out only three executions since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, most recently in 2003. Lawyers for the four prisoners say their cases are emblematic of major flaws in the federal death penalty, including inadequate representation, the use of junk science, arbitrariness, insufficient appellate review, and federal overreach into cases typically handled by states.
“A pervasive myth is that the federal death penalty is ‘the gold standard’ of capital punishment systems,” said Ruth Friedman, Director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project and an attorney for Daniel Lee. “This is false. The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science.”
Friedman said the federal death penalty also has its own distinct set of issues, including federal overreach into crimes traditionally handled in state court and restricted appellate review of capital convictions and death sentences. “Despite these problems, and even as people across the country are demanding that leaders rethink crime, punishment, and justice, the government is barreling ahead with its plans to carry out the first federal executions in 17 years,” Friedman said. ”Given the unfairness built into the federal death penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government’s new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution.”
Bourgeois v. Barr: Addressing the Problem
This removes one obstacle to executions in these cases, but there are other legal hurdles still being pursued. So as far as these specific four cases go, attorneys still have options.
For stopping the death penalty as a whole, fortunately, unlike abortion cases, the Court is only allowing executions, not requiring that they be done or permitted. Many states have abolished the death penalty, and the Court won’t interfere with states abolishing the death penalty if they wish to. We still have options using democracy, not blocked by the Court, to also persuade the federal government to stop.
See details and background on the 27th annual Starvin’ for Justice Fast & Vigil here. We’ve generally had a CLN presence there for the past few years. It’s being held virtually this year, already started, June 29-July 2.
See also our page on Future Referendum Ideas on our Peace & Life Referendums site, where we offer details for a proposal for a state-wide referendum for conscientious objection to both abortions and executions, with a list of which states offer funding for either one or both.
by John Whitehead
The Covid-19 pandemic threatens life in multiple ways. The virus not only has killed people directly—more than 400,000 to date—but has also worsened poverty and inequality. By disrupting the world economy, the pandemic has taken away many people’s livelihoods and harmed the poor.
The illness and the resulting economic hardships don’t fall equally on everyone but particularly hurt those already economically vulnerable. We should not forget these less obvious but very serious effects of Covid-19. The response to Covid-19 must include efforts to help those whose ability to support themselves has been seriously damaged since the pandemic began.
Fear of contracting Covid-19, along with the various quarantine and social distancing requirements imposed to prevent the virus’ spread, have meant curtailing travel, face-to-face interactions, and other ordinary business activities. All these conditions have presumably prevented infections, which is a great accomplishment.
A negative consequence of these conditions, however, is that businesses that could not successfully operate under such conditions have failed or had to reduce their operations. Enormous numbers of people have been put out of work, and global trade has been disrupted. The world is now facing a dramatic recession.
In the United States, the unemployment rate is currently 13.3%, the highest it has been since the Great Depression, with roughly 20 million people out of work. A recent survey indicates that 40% of American mothers with children under 12 currently lack access to sufficient food—more than triple the percentage of mothers reporting food insecurity in 2018.
Additionally, sidewalk advocates in the United States have reported that larger numbers of women than usual were entering those abortion facilities that remain open.
Black Americans have been hit especially hard, both by Covid-19 infections—a result partly of inadequate healthcare and a lack of jobs that allow working from home—and also by already having an unemployment rate twice that of white Americans.
Beyond the United States, the pandemic’s health and economic consequences severely threaten people in the developing world. Covid-19 will most hurt those already at the bottom of society. In Latin America, for example, poor housing, healthcare, and sanitation conditions among women and people of indigenous or African heritage mean these groups will suffer the pandemic’s worst effects. Many Latin American women are domestic workers who are at greater risk of unemployment and have less access to social safety nets. Refugees and displaced populations around the world, who may live in camps where social distancing isn’t possible, are also at heightened risk. People in developing countries suffering from malnutrition are more vulnerable to severe Covid-19 symptoms.
People falling sick from Covid-19 could create labor shortages and overwhelm already strained healthcare systems in developing countries. The global recession, as well as social distancing’s effects on service sector workers, risks lowering employment and incomes in developing countries. Also, the worsening economic situation in developed countries could mean that people in developing countries will not receive the same flow of money from relatives in the developed world.
Meanwhile, restrictions on movement intended to contain the virus’ spread could disrupt planting and harvesting by farmers, as well as their ability to sell their products. This situation will, in turn, limit general access to food.
In Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, GDP may have fallen by a third during a March to April lockdown. The number of Nigerians living in poverty might increase by 30 million as a result.
Meanwhile, East African nations are struggling against a locust plague that threatens food supplies; travel restrictions because of the pandemic, however, have disrupted the flow of necessary pesticides. In India, the pandemic has contributed to work disappearing in cities. As a result, about half a million people have left cities to walk long distances to their hometowns.
The current array of economic problems prompted United Nations officials to predict this spring that the global number of people without adequate access to food, which was 135 million in 2019, might almost double this year.
Also, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, the pandemic’s effect on food insecurity will only aggravate current effects of ongoing violent conflicts in those regions—a case of different threats to life combining to do still greater harm.
Further, this connection between economic and health crises and conflict is a reciprocal one: the various disruptions and tensions caused by Covid-19 may make conflict within and between societies more likely in the future. In South Africa, for example, hungry people have broken into food stalls and gotten into confrontations with police.
The combination of increased poverty and home confinement fostered by the pandemic may also increase intimate partner violence.
David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), warned this April that the world faced “multiple famines of biblical proportions” if appropriate action was not taken. Dr. Arif Hussein, the chief economist for the WFP, commented that “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread.”
To be clear, none of this year’s dire economic events mean that measures such as lockdowns or social distancing are somehow unwise or unjustified. Preventing illness and deaths from Covid-19 is crucial and, as the poor and marginalized disproportionately suffer from the pandemic, such prevention also promotes social justice.
We should not, however, lose sight of the drastic consequences of even short-term economic disruptions. Aiding the world’s poor so they are safe from both illness and destitution is a necessary part of the Covid-19 response.
The WFP’s 2020 Global Food Crisis report warns that food insecure countries “may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the corona virus to have them die from hunger.” Policymakers and aid agencies must work to prevent such terrible options being the only ones available. The Food Crisis report emphasizes the need, despite the pandemic’s disruptions, to maintain humanitarian assistance flows to vulnerable groups and to increase efforts to ensure the continued processing, transportation, and sale of food in the neediest countries.
Those wishing to take political action on behalf of those threatened by Covid-19 and poverty could follow the lobbying efforts of Bread for the World. For those able to help by donating money, Catholic Relief Services does aid work in various developing countries in response to the pandemic. Staying informed is also valuable, as is taking a global view of human needs. The current pandemic demonstrates vividly how crises stretch across national borders and how issues such as illness, poverty, inequality, and conflict are connected.
For more of our posts on poverty, see:
How Euthanasia and Poverty Threaten the Disabled by Sarah Terzo
The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion by Graciela Olivarez
Over 20 Million People Facing Starvation – And We Should Care! by Tony Magliano
For U.S. referendums that deal with all our issues, including several on poverty, see
Editor’s note: to see this movie free in the month of June, 2020, go to Just Mercy – Watch for Free
by Julia Smucker
The film Just Mercy (Warner Brothers, 2019) follows attorney Bryan Stevenson’s early career as founding director of the Equal Justice Initiative, providing legal counsel to inmates on Alabama’s death row. In particular, the film focuses on the case of Walter McMillan, known to family and friends as “Johnnie D,” a black man convicted of murder by an all-white jury on the basis of false testimony provided by another prisoner as part of a plea deal. In so doing, the film takes a hard and prescient look at the interplay of racial bias – both overt and implicit – in American society and the systemic flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system.
The racially charged microaggressions (and even outright macroaggressions) that both Stevenson and his clients experience are none too subtle, and I admit I found myself wondering, through some earlier sections of the film, how they match people’s real-life experiences. I knew that interactions would be dramatized for narrative purposes, but I also knew that I had no experience being a lawyer, a prison inmate, a prison staffer, an African-American, or a resident of Alabama, so it was hard for me to gauge the realism in the portrayals of these experiences. However, one scene involving an unexplained traffic stop threw cold water on these musings. Multiple recent and past events have made it undeniably clear that the way Stevenson is treated in that scene actually happens, and worse.
Through such experiences faced by a black lawyer like Stevenson or, even more strongly, a black inmate like McMillan, the film is punctuated by stark reminders that these experiences proceed from a long legacy of racial injustice. One early scene showing rows of mostly black inmates in prison outfits working in a field, overseen by a white warden, appears designed to be reminiscent of slavery and is in fact a reminder that slavery in the U.S. has not been fully abolished: the Constitution allows it for those convicted of crimes. This image sets the stage for the illustrations that follow of how systemic racism is deeply embedded the U.S. criminal justice system.
The film is equally illustrative of serious problems in the application of the death penalty. Even without its disproportionate application to racial minorities and especially African-Americans, it would be scandalous how frequently people are convicted, sentenced, and executed on the basis of evidence that ought to be considered far too flimsy for the grave determination to end a life. Like McMillan, many have been exonerated after serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. But the seemingly impenetrable walls McMillan encounters in the appeals process following his all-too-hasty conviction – and all the more, the fact that many are executed despite evidence casting reasonable doubt on their guilt – should be appalling even to those who believe the death penalty is sometimes justified.
The haste with which McMillan is convicted and sentenced to death, and the demoralizing uphill struggle to overturn his conviction – not only in the barriers faced within the criminal justice system, but in the anger these efforts provoke within the community – bring out another troubling factor in the conviction and sentencing of capital crimes, particularly in emotionally charged cases. The community’s grief from the murder for which McMillan was charged is legitimate and deep, but the outrage then turns to an uglier desire for revenge. As much as McMillan’s family and friends remain convinced of his innocence, the family of murder victim Ronda Morrison and others in the community appear equally determined to believe his guilt. It’s as if they so badly want to see somebody punished for the crime that whether it’s the actual perpetrator who’s punished becomes secondary at best.
There’s an additional layer of irony to this scapegoating in the fact that the city of Monroeville, where the murder occurred, is touted as the place where Harper Lee wrote her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, about a black man falsely accused of a crime who faces a legal system insurmountably biased against him despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. That irony appears lost on those who recommend that Stevenson visit the museum dedicated to the book and speak proudly of its place in civil rights history, yet eagerly condemn McMillan and others convicted on weak evidence almost in the same breath.
The drive to find a scapegoat for particularly painful crimes may partly explain the appeal of a “tough-on-crime” approach to lawmaking and law enforcement. It’s an image that seems to have worked well for Sheriff Tom Tate, who arrested McMillan and was involved in his prosecution, and who was reelected sheriff six times after McMillan’s exoneration and continued in that position until his retirement, as the audience learns at the end of the film. Although the “tough” approach is often defended in the name of public safety, i.e. “getting dangerous criminals off the streets,” we also learn that not only did the murder in question remain unsolved, but a white man later implicated in the murder was never charged. This seems to suggest, in addition to the obvious racial overtones, that once “justice” had run its course in the eyes of the community, identifying and apprehending the true perpetrator was no longer a serious concern.
According to the retributive model on which most criminal justice systems are based, justice demands punishment for crimes. Yet even within that same model, justice must also require that people wrongly convicted of crimes be exonerated and that no death sentence be carried out while there is credible evidence of the person’s innocence – a gross injustice which cannot be undone. The final tragedy of Just Mercy is that even when justice is achieved for those wrongly convicted, parts of their lives have been irretrievably taken from them, both in the time spent in incarceration and the lasting psychological effects of that experience. The justice of the film’s resolution, though satisfying to the viewer, acquires a certain heaviness when we see how it’s littered with numerous injustices along the way.
However, more than the fact that such justice, while harder than it should be, can sometimes be achieved, the great hope I see in Just Mercy is an implicit personalism. We see how people on both sides of the criminal justice system can become jaded and hardened, but also how they can change for the better, whether dramatically or incrementally, as some of those most deeply complicit in that system’s injustices ultimately show signs of seeing the humanity in those they’ve tended to view with suspicion. This, in my view, is the most important takeaway from Just Mercy: we should see it not simply as a chance to feel superior to those who are complicit in injustice, but as an occasion to interrogate possible prejudices in ourselves individually and in our social structures, in order to work toward necessary improvements.
For similar topics on our blog, see:
by Lois Kerschen
We have a long way to go before the Covid-19 pandemic is at an end. Nonetheless, people are already speculating about what kind of world we will have afterwards. Case in point, the May 22 edition of Peace & Life Connections, the Consistent Life Network (CLN) newsletter..
The feature article of that newsletter pointed out how past epidemics led to positive changes in society and the good we have seen so far in this Covid-19 pandemic. On social media, there are a lot of hopeful aspirations for an improved world – one in which we better appreciate our families, medical caregivers, and teachers and show greater concern over the harm we have been doing to our planet and humankind.
People are recommending that, when things get back to normal, we should create a new normal because the old normal wasn’t working. After all, we’ve just experienced society turned upside down, so now that we know it can be done virtually overnight, why not make adjustments based on what we have just learned?
A better future could result from our pandemic-induced attitude adjustment. However, there are also some sinister negatives that are possible as well.
“Sacrifice the Weak”?
The majority of fatalities has been among people over 65. Consistent-life advocate and author Charles Camosy has recently been sounding the alarm about the tragic effects of the virus in nursing homes. Sadly, this high death rate has elicited only an “Oh well” attitude among many and fueled the rebellion of the young to social precautions. Their attitude: “Why should I be restricted when the virus doesn’t affect me?”
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Laura Newberry noted that “This rejection of prolonged sacrifices made by all for the sake of the old has been voiced from the highest ranks of government.”
Antioch, California, ousted a city official (Ken Turnage) after he sparked fury when he claimed the Covid-19 crisis was a good way of culling those whom he characterized as a drain on society:
“The World has been introduced to a new phrase — Herd Immunity — which is a good one. In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers its ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.
Referring to homeless people, he added that the virus would “fix what is a significant burden on our society.”
From politicians to protesters, there have been suggestions that we should return to business as usual for the overall economic benefit, even if it is at the cost of some lives. In fact, a demonstrator in Tennessee carried a poster that read: “Sacrifice the weak – Reopen.”
This reminds me of reading once of an abortion advocate who said that abortion is a “sacrifice we make for ourselves.” In other words, although it is sad to lose that child, that disabled or elderly person, look at the benefit for me, and I am more important.
Funny how it is always somebody else who gets sacrificed. As President Reagan said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” In like manner, the people who are clamoring to drop the Covid-19 restrictions are generally not among the vulnerable.
An exception is 70-year-old Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He said he was willing to risk his survival in order to save the American economy for future generations. “Let’s get back to living,” Patrick said, apparently failing to see the irony that living for some would mean dying for others.
What the Tennessee demonstrator and Lt. Gov. Patrick are calling for is more like a sacrifice to appease the gods that would be rewarded with rain, or a quiet volcano, or, in this case, a robust economy.
According to Newberry, the California state government “advised hospitals to prioritize younger people with greater life expectancy” for corona virus care. Although those guidelines were quickly rescinded, they were similar to other government calculations through the years that have found older people to be worth less than younger people. In fact, the EPA once “determined that people over 70 were worth just 67% of the lives of younger people.”
Newberry went on to quote Scott Kaiser, a Los Angeles geriatrician who said, “The notion that creeps up from time to time, this pitting of generations against each other, is toxic and misguided.”
Discrimination against the Disabled
Besides older citizens, the virus is most lethal to people with other health problems – “the weak” that the protester’s sign referred to. How does the call to sacrifice the weak and the elderly make them feel? Terrified! They are being told flat out that protecting them is not worth the sacrifice.
All of this points to an increasingly open belief that not only medical care but also ordinary consideration should be based on the survival of the fittest. Advocates say their proposals are not different from medical triage. However, triage is one thing; discrimination is another.
The sinister vibe coming from those proposing that we “sacrifice the weak” involves a disdain for the “less than perfect,” the elderly, the not beautiful, the poor, the minorities. It is the prejudice that has existed throughout time by elitists, the wealthy, and the powerful. Me first and lesser people much later, if ever. This prejudice says there should be social classes; there are “little people”; the great unwashed are expendable; slaves are equal to only 3/5 of a person and natives are not people at all; unborn babies do not have human rights; Jews are vermin.
Many a movie, TV show, or spy thriller has presented stories about mad scientists or diabolical politicians who plot to eliminate undesirable populations of the poor, disabled, “genetically inferior” and elderly. During and after this pandemic, I’m worried that this mentality will no longer be fiction, but mainstream.
There is ample evidence of this possibility. In the Netherlands, although the one euthanasia center has been closed during the pandemic as “nonessential,” euthanasia is legal and advocates bemoan this hiatus as leaving patients to suffer. Could euthanasia become required?
Iceland was proud to announce that Down Syndrome had been eradicated because 100% of affected children were aborted. As Patricia Heaton said, “Iceland isn’t eliminating Down syndrome—they are just killing everyone who has it. Big difference.” It’s become standard practice for obstetricians to recommend abortion if there is any abnormality at all or a “reduction” if there are multiples.
Disabled people can tell you that sometimes they are aggressively challenged by people who think they don’t have a right to exist. Will the economic downturn cause people to question whether we should continue to spend tax dollars on disability payments or research on traumatic injuries?
Years ago, a nurse at a state hospital for the severely disabled told me that we shouldn’t question whether the lives of these patients have any value because they have great purpose in what they bring out in others. Whether we respond kindly with respect for each life or react in fear and prejudice seems to be the main question during this pandemic. What will this crisis bring out in us? Nobility or selfishness?
So far, proponents of survival of the fittest are gaining an alarmingly wide audience, which is perhaps the biggest challenge yet to the Consistent Life Ethic.
For posts focused on a similar topic, see:
Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?