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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Alabama’s IVF ruling shows nation’s slide toward theocracy



The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nov. 16, 2019. (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

By Charles M. Blow


If you don’t think the United States is sliding toward theocracy, you’re not paying attention.


The drumbeat of incidents moving us ever closer to the seemingly inescapable future is so steady and frequent that we’ve developed outrage fatigue — we’ve grown numb.


For instance, on Feb. 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children, and that destruction of those embryos, even by accident, is subject to the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. In his concurring opinion, the chief justice of the court, Tom Parker, wrote, “Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”


The ruling could mean less access to reproductive care in Alabama if specialists in the field of in vitro fertilization simply choose to practice in states that don’t threaten their efforts.


There have been cases before in which embryos were destroyed as a result of negligence, but the Alabama decision significantly ups the ante. It essentially turns cryopreservation tanks into frozen nurseries.


The idea is absurd and unscientific. It is instead tied to a religious crusade to downgrade the personhood of women by conferring personhood on frozen embryos.


I called Sean Tipton, the chief advocacy and policy officer at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, who said: “One of the points in the abortion debate is, ‘Is it really about abortion or is it about controlling women and controlling sex?’ And this clearly exposes the idea that it’s not just about abortion.” He said, “There is no more pro-life medical treatment available, ever, than in vitro fertilization, and this decision clearly threatens the ability for that to continue.”


Control of women’s bodies is the endgame. And some religious conservatives won’t stop until that goal is achieved. For that reason, intervening victories — like the overturning of Roe v. Wade — will never be seen as enough; they will only intensify a blinding sense of righteousness.


There is an array of reproductive rights cases percolating around the country that could make their way to the Supreme Court — the same court that Donald Trump brags about transforming, having appointed one-third of its justices. The legal and political battles over these issues are far from over, and the preservation of women’s remaining rights is far from certain.


The only thing that seems to be temporarily stopping congressional Republicans from pushing for a national abortion ban — after years of arguing that their goal was merely to allow individual states to make their own laws — is that the issue of reproductive choice is an electoral loser for their party.


But now Trump is reportedly talking privately about supporting a national 16-week abortion ban, with some exceptions.


This is what many of his supporters want, and many of them believe he has been singularly chosen by God to advance their theocratic aims. It’s one of the reasons that they overlook Trump’s glaring flaws and the fact that Trump himself is not a particularly religious man.


It’s worth noting that many of the right’s efforts, including on the issue of abortion, are led by men who want births but can’t give birth, reflecting an imbalance between power and expectation that may carry over to a younger generation. A fascinating new report from Pew Research found that although men and women 18 to 34 “are about equally likely to say they want to get married,” 57% of young men say they want children one day, compared to just 45% of young women.


Abortion is just one front on which this religious fight is being waged. As of last week, the ACLU was tracking 437 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being considered by state legislatures.


Then there’s the alarming effort by conservative groups to transform and reshape the federal government in ways that curtail American freedoms, but also, according to Politico, to bring Christian nationalist ideas into a second Trump administration.


To those advancing these ideas, the will of God counts more than the will of the American people, even when Americans object or disagree.


Reportedly, one idea among the various proposals is invoking the Insurrection Act on Trump’s first day back in office to facilitate deployment of the military against protesters.


We are perilously close to all of this becoming a reality, potentially aided and abetted by disaffected Democratic voters.


I’m talking about many Democrats with single-issue objections to President Joe Biden — whether it’s opposition to his position on the Israel-Hamas war, disappointments about the overall state of the economy or concerns about the president’s age — who haven’t committed to supporting his reelection, who don’t seem to see that in November the country faces one of the most existential electoral decisions it ever has faced.


If these Democrats decide to punish Biden by sitting it out, they could wind up performing one of the greatest acts of self-immolation in recent political history: abandoning an administration committed to the protection of democracy and possibly allowing the ascension of a theocracy intent on destroying the very freedoms that progressives cherish.

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