Two Major Democracies At Risk

Two articles in the New York Times opinion section dealt with creeping authoritarianism in the world oldest democracy and the world’s largest. First, from Thomas Edsall’s column about the oldest:

Herbert Kitschelt, a political scientist at Duke, noted in an email that the United States stands apart from most other developed nations in ways that may make this country especially vulnerable in the universe of democratic states to authoritarian appeals and democratic backsliding:

There are two unique American afflictions on which T___ could thrive and that are not shared by any other advanced Western … country: the legacy of slavery and racism and the presence of fundamentalist evangelicalism, magnifying racial and class divisions. There is no social organization in America that is as segregated as churches.

In this context, Kitschelt wrote,

a critical element of T____ist support is trying to establish in all of the United States a geographical generalization of what prevailed in the American South until the 1960s civil rights movement: a white evangelical oligarchy with repression — jail time, physical violence and death — inflicted on those who will not succumb to this oligarchy. It’s a form of clerofascism [i.e. clerical fascism]. A declining minority — defined in economic and religious terms — is fighting tooth and nail to assert its supremacy.

Underlying the racial motivations, in Kitschelt’s view, are

changes in political economy and family structure, strongly related also to a decline of religion and religiosity. Religions, for the most part, are ideological codifications of traditional paternalist family kinship structures. Postindustrial libertarianism and intellectualism oppose those paternalisms. This explains why right-wing populists around the world draw on religion as their ultimate ideological defense, even if their religious doctrines are seemingly different: T____(white Protestant evangelicalism and Catholic ultramontanism [which emphasizes supreme papal authority], Putin (Orthodoxy), Modi (Hinduism), Erdogan (Islam), Xi (Confucianism).

Unquote.

India is the world’s largest democracy, with four times the population of the U.S. The other Times article described its more established slide into religious fascism. This is by an Indian journalist, Debasish Roy Chowdhury:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood last month atop India’s nearly completed new Parliament building, built to mark the country’s 75 years of independence, and pulled a lever. A sprawling red curtain fell back to reveal the structure’s crowning statue. Many across India gasped.

The 21-foot-tall bronze figure — four lions seated with their backs to one another, facing outward — is of India’s revered national symbol. The beasts are normally depicted as regal and restrained, but these looked different: Their fangs bared, they seemed angry, aggressive.

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To Mr. Modi’s critics, the refashioned image atop the Parliament building— a project that was rammed through without debate or public consultation — reflects the snarling “New India” he is creating.

In his eight years in power, Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has profaned Indian democracy, espousing an intolerant Hindu supremacist majoritarianism over the ideals of secularism, pluralism, religious tolerance and equal citizenship upon which the country was founded after gaining independence on Aug. 15, 1947.

Drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany, the regime uses co-opted government machinerydisinformation and intimidation by partisan mobs to silence critics while dehumanizing the large Muslim minority, fanning social division and violence. Civil liberties are systematically violated.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is where the global battle between liberalism and tyranny is being lost….

Laws and rights are applied unevenly. Muslims can now be arrested for praying in public, while Hindu pilgrims are congratulated by state officials. The state celebrates the Hindu religion, while protests are orchestrated against Muslim customs like the wearing of the hijab and the call to prayer. Hindu vigilante groups attack Muslims and their businesses.

A high-ranking B.J.P. leader called Muslim refugees from Bangladesh “termites” eating away the country’s resources. Emboldened by state support, Hindu extremists now openly threaten the genocide and rape of Muslims, while the government arrests journalists who call out acts of hate. On Aug. 15, Independence Day, the government released 11 convicts serving life sentences for gang-raping a Muslim woman and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom that occurred on Modi’s watch…..

At 75, after decades of institutional abuse, India’s democracy is too frail to withstand a strongman taking a sledgehammer to its weak foundations. Mr. Modi calls the Parliament building a “temple of democracy.” But the institution’s new premises in New Delhi are instead a monument to the demi-democracy he is building — a hollowed-out facade that exists to legitimize authoritarian rule.

How Forced Births Will Affect Women’s Healthcare

From Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo:

… The Supreme Court has not only let red states flip the calendar pages back to pre-1973 America. In many ways, it’s worse than that.

Abortion has become a foundational pillar to all kinds of health care procedures. Ripping it out [reduces their availability].

America now faces a reality that will be like returning to the early ‘70s, but with half a century of medical and technological advances that health care providers in certain states can no longer use. Since Roe, abortion care became drastically safer and more efficient, and the medical procedures involved in abortion have become indelibly embedded in the wider health care landscape. They’ve become a key aspect of all kinds of other health care, from miscarriage management to cancer treatment.

Now, in states from Texas to Ohio, we’re already seeing how abortion — or procedures that can be construed as abortion — are deeply intertwined with health care more broadly, and what it means for them to be taken away.

It’s easier, and convenient for the anti-abortion movement, to imagine abortion as a siloed-off procedure, under the auspices of Planned Parenthood and only relevant to young women seeking to end their unwanted pregnancies. But for decades, that hasn’t been the case.

After Roe, Abortion Becomes Safe

After the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, researchers and physicians could finally learn how to get better at it.

“If the procedure is illegal, you can’t do clinical studies and you can’t develop new procedures because you’re doing it secretly,” Johanna Schoen, a professor of history at Rutgers University told TPM. “Most people providing abortions were not clinicians and not able to do it in a medical setting.”

“After Roe, clinicians made it not only the safest out-patient procedure in the country, but also much safer than pregnancy and delivering a baby,” she added. “All of that has to do both with the improvement of abortion procedures and development of new ones.”

In addition to the procedure improvements, after Roe, physicians started receiving more training in how to perform abortions and manage potential complications. Mortality rates associated with abortion started to plummet. And the number of women hospitalized for abortion-related complications dropped between 1970 and 1977, with a steep dip after 1973. By 1995, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients were hospitalized with complications from the procedure.

Abortion Is Now Woven Throughout Today’s Medical Landscape 

While abortion care developed apace, other related medical technologies improved too. By the late 1970s, ultrasounds were being used widely in American hospitals, helping to advance detection of fetal abnormalities.

As the technology continued to improve over the next few decades, physicians became better able to identify abnormality markers. Under Roe, in states that hadn’t impinged on the abortion right with gestational bans (many diagnoses occur in the second trimester, though advances are pushing some earlier), women could opt for an abortion once abnormalities were detected rather than carrying the pregnancy to term.

Now, after Dobbsexperts are certain that women in states with draconian abortion bans will have to go through labor and give birth to babies that cannot survive.

The development of ultrasound technology has also enabled physicians to more accurately diagnose unruptured ectopic pregnancies in a way that was not possible pre-Roe. In these pregnancies, the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus where it cannot survive but can pose a deadly threat to the woman if it’s allowed to grow.

The improvement in mortality rates associated with ectopic pregnancies followed: a more than 70 percent decrease in deaths-to-cases from 1970 to 1978.

Already, stories are emerging about the demise of Roe throwing ectopic pregnancy care into chaos. Doctors report feeling unsure about whether abortion bans — which are often written using broad political messaging language rather than medical — include ending ectopic pregnancies, which are not viable. Various lawmakers and anti-abortion activists have proven themselves to be particularly unlearned on the subject, some suggesting that terminating ectopic pregnancies is not medically necessary, while others have offered up a supposed solution — just moving the ectopic pregnancy inside of the uterus — technology for which does not currently exist.

Another medical success story already under threat is in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. The first IVF baby was born in 1978; since then, initial single-digit success rates have blossomed to nearly 50 percent for cases where the woman is under 35 years old. One to two percent of births in the United States annually result from IVF.

Fertility clinics have already been flooded with calls by people panicked about what abortion bans mean for their procedures. During IVF, clinicians usually implant one or two embryos in the uterus and store the rest for potential future use. It’s unclear whether bans would stop people from discarding the unneeded embryos, perhaps forcing them to pay to keep them frozen forever. Genetic testing of the embryos could become illegal. And if some embryos don’t survive the implantation process — or are nonviable and discarded — clinics could potentially be liable.

Some states are already contemplating granting personhood to the embryos, which could put IVF clinics out of business and leave the people who depend on them without options.

Far-Reaching Consequences

Even cancer treatment, a seemingly far cry from reproductive care, depends on abortion to afford its patients the right to treat their illnesses without worrying about the oftentimes toxic effect those treatments have on fetuses.

Cancer occurs in about one in every 1,000 pregnancies annually, leaving the women with few options even while Roe’s protections were the law of the land. Many treatments can cause miscarriages or birth defects in the developing fetuses, especially at the beginning of the pregnancy. The CEO of the American Cancer Society said that radiation therapy is never given to pregnant patients at all.

Ending their pregnancies, for these patients, can become a matter of literal life and death — the only way for women to receive the full gamut of treatment to cure their cancer. Now, in some states, women may have to choose: lifesaving treatment that will harm the developing fetus, or leaving their cancer untreated.

Some pharmacists are already restricting patients’ access to methotrexate, a therapy for certain kinds of cancer that can induce abortions. Methotrexate is also used in treating ectopic pregnancies and, since the 1980s, soothing chronic inflammation and pain, making it a mainstay in treating diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The Arthritis Foundation has stood up a hotline amid reports of patients struggling to obtain the drug.

Two other pills — mifepristone and misoprostol, the collective “abortion pill” approved by the Food and Drug administration for combined used through 49 days of gestation in 2000, and for longer now — are already being acutely targeted by anti-abortion lawmakers. There’s a long history of animosity towards mifepristone in particular, with the FDA baselessly categorizing it as dangerous for years.

Those medications are indispensable in treating miscarriages, which at least one in four American women will have by age 45. Even before the Dobbs ruling, women have had to rely on abortion clinics for miscarriage treatment, often because of arbitrary limitations on who can distribute mifepristone. That problem has been compounded since the ruling by sparking confusion among some hospitals about whether other aspects of miscarriage care will be misconstrued by authorities as an elective abortion.

“Management of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are things that were not really possible when abortion was illegal,” Schoen said. “Women in the middle of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies were up shit’s creek — and people died as a result of that.”

Abortion is a medical success story. Bringing the procedure out of the shadows allowed clinicians to make it safe and humane, and to weave it into other medical treatments. Procedures that are related to, or can be construed as abortion, are now integral parts of an astoundingly wide range of medical care. All of it is under threat.

The Supreme Court is not sending large swaths of the country back to the relative ignorance of pre-Roe America. It’s sending us back in time armed with prodigious knowledge and then-undreamed-of technology that lessen women’s suffering, and uncomplicate and alleviate illnesses where pregnancy is not an option — but forbidding health care workers to use that knowledge.

Women will suffer and they will die, even while doctors have 50 years of medical advancements at their backs….

It Was Religion, Plain and Simple (and Crazy)

It’s the official doctrine of the Catholic Church that a zygote, blastocyst, embryo or fetus is just as much a human being as you or me. It’s a crazy idea, but it shouldn’t matter to the rest of us what a church’s doctrine is as long as they leave the rest of us alone (and don’t do anything crazy to their children on religious grounds). It shouldn’t even matter to the rest of us that a lot of non-Catholics have adopted the same peculiar idea. The problem is that millions of people who accept this strange religious doctrine want the rest of us to act as if we accept it too.

I don’t know how many people who want to force pregnant women and girls to give birth are motivated by the religious idea or by the desire to control women’s and girls’ lives. Some or many are motivated by both. Linda Greenhouse, who writes about the judicial system for the New York Times, says she originally put the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in the abortion category, but then decided it was really about religion:

My own way of keeping track of a Supreme Court term is to log each of the term’s decisions on a chart labeled by category: criminal law, administrative law, speech, federalism and so on. For this past term, one of my charts was, of course, labeled “abortion,” and naturally that’s where I recorded Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization….

But the other day, going over my charts before filing them away to prepare for the next term, a realization struck me. I had put Dobbs in the wrong place. Along with the decision about the praying football coach and the one requiring Maine to subsidize parochial school tuition, Dobbs belongs under “religion”….

Justice Alito took pains to present the majority’s conclusion as the product of pure legal reasoning engaged in by judges standing majestically above the fray of Americans’ “sharply conflicting views” on the “profound moral issue” of abortion, as he put it in the opinion’s first paragraph. And yet that very framing, the assumption that the moral gravity of abortion is singular and self-evident, gives away more than members of the majority, all five of whom were raised in the Catholic Church, may have intended.

recent essay in my local newspaper by a Congregational minister, John Nelson, was a powerful reminder that in speaking from one particular religious tradition, the court ignored other vital streams of religious thought. “Samuel Alito is as free as any person to hold forth on morals and politics,” Pastor Nelson wrote, “but his opening salvo is backed up with no reflection on the sources, claims or nuances of morality, leaving the impression that the decision was developed through moral bias rather than moral reasoning.” Describing his own response to the decision as one of “fury,” the pastor said that the justices, in their “concern for the lives of fetuses,” overlooked the “lived experience” of women. “To show no regard for a lived experience is immoral,” he wrote.

Indeed, the fetus is the indisputable star of the Dobbs opinion. That is not necessarily obvious at first reading: The opinion’s 79 pages are larded with lengthy and, according to knowledgeable historians, highly partial and substantially irrelevant accounts of the history of abortion’s criminalization. In all those pages, there is surprisingly little actual law. And women, as I have observed before, are all but missing. It is in paragraphs scattered throughout the opinion that the fetus shines.

“None of the other decisions cited by Roe” and Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, the 1992 ruling that reaffirmed the right to abortion, “involved the critical moral question posed by abortion,” Justice Alito wrote. “They are therefore inapposite.” Further on, he wrote: “The dissent has much to say about the effects of pregnancy on women, the burdens of motherhood, and the difficulties faced by poor women. These are important concerns. However, the dissent evinces no similar regard for a state’s interest in protecting prenatal life.”

This was a strange criticism of the dissenting opinion, signed jointly by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. They argued vigorously for retaining the 1992 Casey decision, which in fact, in a departure from Roe, declared that the state’s interest in fetal life was present from the moment of conception. Casey authorized the states to impose waiting periods and “informed consent” requirements that the court in the years following Roe v. Wade had deemed unconstitutional.

Justice Alito knows the Casey decision very well. As a federal appeals court judge, he had been a member of the panel that upheld most of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act in the case that became Casey. Then-Judge Alito, alone on the panel, wanted to uphold a provision of the state law that required a married woman to inform her husband of her plan to get an abortion.

In affirming the appeals court’s decision, the Supreme Court in Casey emphasized in one of the opinion’s most vivid passages the unconstitutional burden that the spousal notice requirement placed on women: “We must not blind ourselves to the fact that the significant number of women who fear for their safety and the safety of their children are likely to be deterred from procuring an abortion as surely as if the Commonwealth had outlawed abortion in all cases.” Perhaps that aspect of the Casey decision still rankled. In any event, Justice Alito’s attack on his dissenting colleagues for ignoring the state’s interest in fetal life was seriously misguided.

Of course, from his point of view, Casey didn’t go far enough because the weight the court gave to fetal life was well below 100 percent. The Casey decision was five days shy of 30 years old when the court overturned it, along with Roe v. Wade, on June 24. Given that this was their goal from the start, the justices in the Dobbs majority really had only one job: to explain why. They didn’t, and given the remaining norms of a secular society, they couldn’t.

There is another norm, too, one that has for too long restrained the rest of us from calling out the pervasive role that religion is playing on today’s Supreme Court. In recognition that it is now well past time to challenge that norm, I’ll take my own modest step and relabel Dobbs for the religion case that it is, since nothing else explains it.

Onward Christian Soldiers, Supreme Court Edition

The first words of the Bill of Rights are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In recent decades, that’s meant people are free to practice their religion (the Free Exercise Clause) but not promote it as part of their government jobs (the Establishment Clause).

Charles Pierce of Esquire discusses today’s right-wing reinterpretation of what constitutes free exercise and the establishment of religion:

… It was a pretty good day for theocracy. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, by the 6-3 vote that was so carefully purchased with dark money and so carefully engineered by Mitch McConnell, the Court sided with a football coach named Joseph Kennedy who used to have his team meet at midfield for a postgame exercise in what the Court said Monday was “quiet personal prayer.”

The history of the case is a perfect example of a small-town controversy that was fairly clear-cut until the conservative movement managed to get it through a carefully engineered conservative-heavy judicial system until it finally landed on the doorstep of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. In 2015, the school district told Kennedy to knock it off. Kennedy refused and was placed on administrative leave. Instead of reapplying for his job when his leave ended, Kennedy decided to sue the school district. He lost in court. Then he lost his appeal. Then an earlier Supreme Court declined to take his case.

But the longer you can keep going in the courts, the better chance you have of running into a conservative Christian who will find room for white-people Jesus in the Bill of Rights…. Kennedy tried again and, this time he finally found Gorsuch and the rest of the Papal States on the Supreme Court.

Once again, that crew threw aside a sensible, durable framework in favor of some sort of weird, literalist invocation of American history. Much of the previous Establishment Clause law had rested on a 1971 case called Lemon v. Kurtzman—decided, it should be noted, by an 8-0 vote under Republican Chief Justice Warren Burger …

Leaving Coach Kennedy’s triumph for a moment, we should be wary of the blithe way the Court’s majority dismisses Lemon as irrelevant to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. Lemon was not purely about prayer. It has also been central to keeping the bunco scheme that is Creationism—as well as its gussied-up cousin, Intelligent Design—out of the public schools … [Lemon] was used to squash attempts at bootlegging Creationist bushwah into science classes in Arkansas and Louisiana … in 2005, when it helped decide a famous case in Pennsylvania. …

In this particular political moment, you’d have to be considerably naive to think that the reactionary right isn’t coming for the public schools, largely because they never stopped coming for the public schools. They will use radicalized Christian religion as their primary artillery. Last week, the Supreme Court opened up the wallets of Maine taxpayers and invited religious schools to dive right in. Would you like to guess what might happen if another Intelligent Design case makes it in front of the current Supreme Court majority?

… Public education is unconstitutional because it is insufficiently theocratic. An interesting legal theory that is coming soon to a Supreme Court near you.

They’re Not Even Trying To Be Consistent. Or Honest. Or Historically Accurate.

Texas can regulate abortion but New Jersey can’t regulate guns.

And lying to Congress is a crime:

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By the way (from historian J. M. Opal):

The 2nd Amendment, ratified in 1791, reads: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Responsible readings of this sentence note that it locates gun rights within the framework of militia service, not as an individual entitlement. By contrast, the 5th Amendment, ratified the same year, says that “No person” shall be denied due process.

Militias aside, there is also the “keep and bear” part of the 2nd Amendment to consider. In the founders’ era, to “keep” meant to own and possess something inside one’s home, while “bear arms” referred specifically to shouldering a musket or rifle in an army or militia.

Nowhere does the amendment declare or suggest a right to “go armed,” the term used in that era for carrying a weapon such as a pistol or dagger, either openly or in secret.