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Republicans Practicing ‘Bad Religion’ in Abortion Debate

by Published on
Sen. Dan Patrick
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick

Even as the religious right has slipped into a state of unplanned obsolescence on gay rights, marijuana legalization and other culture-war issues, it’s doing better than ever on the abortion front. Yes, Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. And anti-abortion activists—increasingly dominated by absolutists—are unlikely to rest until the U.S. Supreme Court guts Roe. Meanwhile, at the state level, the movement is notching a string of impressive victories in legislatures across the country. In all, 24 states enacted 52 anti-abortion measures in 2013, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Almost 90 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute—a figure that’s likely to grow as new measures force clinics to close.

Of course, most Observer readers are familiar with the explosive fight this summer over sweeping anti-abortion legislation at the Texas Legislature. It was a thing to behold: a stirring of the pot the likes of which hasn’t been seen in left-leaning Texas politics for a long time. The Wendy Davis filibuster. The unruly mob. The orange shirts versus the blue shirts. Cecile Richards. David Dewhurst. If you were there, you saw a remarkable event. But the pro-choice side lost. House Bill 2, Texas’ anti-abortion law, is now in effect, though the legal challenge to the law will likely land at the Supreme Court. Since then, as many as one-third of all abortion clinics in Texas have closed and abortions after 20 weeks have been banned.

During the abortion debate in Austin, proponents of HB 2 were all singing from the same hymnal. The legislation was all about “the health and safety of the mother,” they repeated to the point of tedium.

Occasionally, legislators backing the bill would veer off the attorney-engineered talking points regarding ambulatory surgical center standards and the finer points of administering abortion-inducing drugs. In those moments, the facade of this being a “policy debate” would crumble, and we’d see it for what it was: a struggle over fundamentally different value systems.

For example, as the House kicked off a floor debate, bill author and Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg propped a pair of baby shoes on the dais.

But this debate was about more than just abortion. The legislation was based on far-right religious dogma. You could see the connections if you were looking for them. At a rally outside the Capitol in early July, Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, preached that HB 2 was a battle “between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.”

Lawmakers, for the most part, kept the God talk under wraps, perhaps mindful that the courts might have a problem with Jeremiah 1:5 as the basis for messing with a constitutional right.

But it’s been trickling out ever since. State Sen. Dan Patrick, who’s forever finding new ways to drive nails into his soft palms, was the first. On the night HB 2 cleared the Texas Senate, he gave a speech in which he asked (and answered) the question, “How would God vote tonight if he were here?”

Then, in January, the evangelical World magazine detailed the depths of the religious fervor around HB 2. “I was on the side of life and the other side was death,” Laubenberg, the bill’s author, told World. “It wasn’t my bill. It was God’s bill.” Her colleague Rep. Jonathan Stickland—last seen mugging in his Capitol office for The New York Times, a firearm strapped to his girth—took it a step further. “There were times when I thought, ‘There are probably demons in this room.’”

If you believe your bill is God’s will; if you literally demonize your opponents; if you think God keeps a voting scorecard … where does this leave our politics? The left has its fools and demagogues, to be sure, but secular politics does not make its enemies into Beelzebub.

Theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr argued that one of the reasons for separation of church and state is that if a religion is good, then the state ought not to interfere with it, and if a religion is bad, then it ought not to interfere with the state. And he defined a “bad religion” as “one that gives an ultimate sanctity to some particular cause.”

Stickland, Laubenberg and Patrick are not the high priests of the Texas GOP. But their agenda, dangerously entangled in fundamentalism, is now the gospel of the state. God save us.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • myintx

    It doesn’t take religion to know that killing an unborn child is WRONG (www.Secularprolife.Org is one group not basing their views on religion). Take a look at some ultrasounds of unborn children at 18 or 20 weeks. Should only take common sense to know that killing an unborn child is wrong. Unfortunately, for some, selfishness overrides common sense.

    • DavidD

      An acorn is not a tree nor is a fetus a child.women are going to have abortions.Rich women are going to fly to another state or country to have them.
      Anti abortion women are going to have them somehow justifying in their mind that their circumstances are special and that

      • myintx

        A newborn is not an elderly person… a toddler is not an adult… so? They are ALL human beings.
        Women occasionally kill their newborns… does that mean we should make killing newborns legal because some women do it, go to jail and their poor, poor lives are ruined? Killing an innocent child – born or unborn – is wrong. There should be laws against it. And if a woman is stupid enough to kill for convenience then boo freakin whoo.
        p.s. everyone knows the number of women who died in back alley abortions prior to RvW was greatly exaggerated.

        • DavidD

          You and I will have to agree to disagree on the first point.You don’t have the right to interfere in someone else’s family affairs and your callous reaction to that family’s difficult time is in stark contrast to your previous preaching.
          I lived back then and it was not exaggerated.Every family and every congregation knew some family who suffered the maiming or death of their beloved mother ,daughter or sister .Your talking points and talking points rarely resemble the truth are not true and your statements clearly does not answer my point because you have no answer.
          You are a sinner just like everyone else and you need to learn how to discuss issues in an adult manner not like a petulant child intent on getting their own way.
          Your rudeness,”boo freaking whoo,” merits no more responses from me.

          • myintx

            I understand that families go through difficult times, but unless the woman’s life is truly endangered from a pregnancy, no ‘difficult time’ could ever justify killing an unborn child, just as no ‘difficult time’ could ever justify killing a born child. A family has plenty of options, yes they might be difficult, but they are doable – GET HELP to get through the difficult time – get help from your church, from your family, from friends and neighbors. See what government benefits are available. Visit food pantries or thrift shops to make it if money is an issue. Visit an adoption agency to see if a private adoption can be arranged. There are plenty of options available other than killing.
            I have sinned, but I have never killed another human being.
            The sadistic people are the ones that think it’s OK to kill an unborn child for whatever selfish reason a woman wants to.

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    Ugh. The whole abortion debate and religion in Texas. The only bad thing about living here…

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