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June 2022

What 'pro-life' really means

Today I was looking for something else and came across this old column I wrote for the Oklahoma Gazette when I was a newspaper columnist.  Seems rather relevant still in 2022.  Maybe even more relevant?  

This was the draft I submitted, but not the final published draft.  Sadly, my columns don't appear anymore on the Gazette website.  I do know that the editor didn't let me publish the phrase "state sponsored rape bill."


What “Pro-Life” Really Means

By Scott Jones


What we should really be afraid of is those who support governmental control of our bodies.  Don’t be fooled, because that’s what many of the falsely called “pro-life” members of our legislature are after.  It is their ideology that government can dictate to a person what they can and cannot do in matters of their own health.  

Last year’s Senate Bill 1878 made the ideology abundantly clear.  It is affectionately called the “state sponsored rape bill” by many because it forces women to undergo a medically unnecessary, invasive procedure where a vaginal instrument is inserted in order to perform an ultrasound, even it is against her wish and not recommended by her physician.

I’m sure many of you are tired of the demagoguery on this issue, which has now lasted for decades.  Particularly when the language used diverts from the real issue of creating a healthy civil society.

A healthy civil society is one in which people are free to make their own health decisions, not have them dictated by the government.  Genuine freedom also includes access to health care and the education to make healthy decisions.  These are areas in which central Oklahoma is seriously lacking.

The 2007 Vital Signs published by the United Way of Central Oklahoma highlights in its “trends to watch” the poor educational achievements of new mothers in Oklahoma County, measured by the percentage with a high school diploma.  26.7% of new mothers in the county do not have a high school diploma, which is over nine percentage points worse than the national average.  Vital Signs calls this measurement “one of the most important predictors of positive outcomes for children.”

Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation for health care and 21% of Oklahoma County residents are uninsured.  In a wide array of measurements on health and access to health care, we rank low and trends are not improving.  Nor do most of our public schools offer comprehensive sex education.

The report states that 50.39% of live births in Oklahoma were the result of unintended pregnancies.  It is reasonable to conclude that the incredibly high incidence of unintended pregnancies partially results from the combination of poor access to both health care and comprehensive health and sex education?  

As even The Christian Century reported in 2005, the societies with the lowest abortion rates are precisely those with wider access to health care, comprehensive health and sex education, and greater resources for child care.  The societies with the highest actual abortion rates are those with the most legal restrictions.  In other words, you are either for legal or illegal abortion, there is no such thing as a society with no abortion.

If our legislature really valued life as anything more than an empty political slogan, then they would work diligently to improve access to health care, provide comprehensive sex education, and improve various social services.

The evidence is clear – a society that empowers individuals to make their own health decisions is a society which values life.  What we so often have here in Oklahoma is the exact opposite – an ideology of governmental control of our bodies which would rob us of our freedoms and our health.  That’s truly frightening.

Jones, who holds a Ph. D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.


More Responses

Jill Lepore wrote a powerful piece at The New Yorker showing how poorly the justices are using history.  As one of our best historians, she knows history. Her piece focuses on the gun case.  If you couple this piece with the Adam Serwer Atlantic article I posted the other day, you get a good sense of the most profound confusions of these rulings.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin has been on a roll over at the NYTimes with what feels like 2 or 3 columns a day.  Her latest calls for a "pro-privacy movement" to fight against the Christian Nationalism of the court majority.

More Lessons from the Aztecs Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs: 9780190673062: Townsend,  Camilla: Books

A few more points to highlight from Camilia Townsend's Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.

"It required thousands of years of effort on the part of Mexico's women to turn those little tufts [of kernels on teosinte] into what we would recognize as ears of corn."

Why is this observation significant?  One of her themes in the book is the resilience of the people of central Mexico in facing hard times and a constantly changing world.  So way in their prehistory we have this example.  Untold generations slowly genetically modifying a plant into a nutritious, edible grain.  Could we draw any hope and inspiration and resolve from this?

Writing about the formation of early Nahua culture in the central valley, she says, "To do good, a person had to suppress egotism and do what was best calculated to keep his or her people alive and successful in the long term.  Everyone was expected to give thought to the future."  What a good lesson for us.

She writes about how Nahua storytellers had different versions of stories and histories that would be publicly, orally performed.  And part of the ritual was purposely to hear these various versions.  From this she concludes, "The expression of different points of view, they knew, worked to bind people together."  And in another place, "To them, truth was necessarily multiple; they knew that no single person could give a full account of an important moment."

In a chapter about the Mexica's attempts to respond and survive in the early days of the conquest, she writes about how they worked hard to record stories and preserve their language and states, "If they could not remember their past, how could they articulate demands for their future?"

In a chapter on the third generation after the conquest, she writes, "They would experience loss, but it would never be permanent.  Life was not easy, but it was nevertheless profoundly good.  It was too simple to say that any enemies, including the Europeans, could ever bring pure evil or utter devastation to the land."

As I wrote in previous posts while reading and reviewing this book, I resonated with its key takeaways about a life of resilience in the midst of catastrophe, about learning to live well in a world that is constantly changing, of being flexible and persistent.  Virtues that we definitely need for the times in which we live.




Worthy Reads Following the Decisions

I'm sure like many of you I've been reading the analyses and responses since yesterday's catastrophic SCOTUS decision.  I want to highlight two here.

One is a 2019 piece by Caitlin Flanagan that the Atlantic reran today.  In it she describes what are the best arguments on both sides of the abortion divide, and the issues that all of us need to take seriously into consideration in forming our positions.  I remember reading it when it was first published, and it is worth re-reading this weekend.

The other is a somewhat cynical, but still worthy, analysis of the conservative majority's approach to law, not just on this one issue, "The Constitution Is Whatever the Right Wing Says It Is."  I have to say that I found the analysis persuasive, and therefore sad.  One hypocrisy that the article reveals is the gun case on Thursday in which the conservative majority limited how states can restrict gun rights but on Friday expanded how states can regulate women's bodies and health and moral decisions.


Time Is a Mother

Time Is a MotherTime Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up from a queer friendly bookstore in Anoka, Minnesota. The clerk was so happy I was buying Ocean Vuong and moreso when I told her I'd read his other two books. "As you should," she said.

I began reading that afternoon.

I did struggle some to get into this one and it only really won me over in the final sections. The poem "Kunsterroman" is searing and profound. And most of them after it follow in that vein.

Vuong is such a great expressionist of pain. I do enjoy his moments of joy, especially erotic joy. Maybe one of these days he will be able to write a collection centered more on the latter? That would be a joy to read.

View all my reviews

An initial response to reading the Opinions

When the news came down earlier today I was doing some outside activities with my son.  I finished those up and then, because weather-wise it is a glorious day in Omaha, I strung up my hammock and decided to forego what else I had planned and read the opinions.  I've long had a habit of reading SCOTUS opinions I'm interested in.  In fact, I think Roe was the first one I ever read, back in Junior High.  And I wanted to read the opinions themselves before reading any articles or analyses.  My initial thoughts, then.

Alito's majority opinion does not seem to be exactly the same as the draft opinion but similar. Will be interesting to read analyses of what changed.   It  appears to respond to some of the criticisms that arose after the leak.

I didn't realize till just now that the phrases “deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition” and whether it is essential to our Nation’s “scheme of ordered liberty" used as criteria are actually from a decision written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On another issue of course.

As is usually the case with reading something Alito writes (which is rarely the opinion everyone on his side signs onto), there is a coherency to the arguments but a sense that there's something wrong with the perspective, that his starting point is just off and misses something essential.  The same follows here, and is drawn out by the dissenters.  The key issue of women's equality and liberties and how that embeds within our tradition is pretty much missed completely by Alito.  Again, as if he missed the whole point of the issue and what the precedents were attempting to do.  (See far below for some general thoughts on abortion).

Thomas's concurrence is frightening. He's always been this radical minority voice, but I begin to dread that he now can sway other votes.

Kavanaugh's concurrence is interesting. And shows there isn't currently a majority to go further to the right. Which is a relief.  I do like the way the dissent skewers his opinion later.  Kavanaugh seems to have this pattern of wanting to clarify and explain vote, but his justifications often fall short.
Roberts's opinion is well done. He writes like an actual conservative. His final paragraph:
Both the Court’s opinion and the dissent display a relent-
less freedom from doubt on the legal issue that I cannot
share. I am not sure, for example, that a ban on terminat-
ing a pregnancy from the moment of conception must be
treated the same under the Constitution as a ban after fif-
teen weeks. A thoughtful Member of this Court once coun-
seled that the difficulty of a question “admonishes us to ob-
serve the wise limitations on our function and to confine
ourselves to deciding only what is necessary to the disposi-
tion of the immediate case.” Whitehouse v. Illinois Central
R. Co., 349 U. S. 366, 372–373 (1955) (Frankfurter, J., for
the Court). I would decide the question we granted review
to answer—whether the previously recognized abortion
right bars all abortion restrictions prior to viability, such
that a ban on abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy is
necessarily unlawful. The answer to that question is no,
and there is no need to go further to decide this case.
Wow, the dissent is something.  Very well done.
This an essential point in the dissent:
The majority would allow States to ban abor-
tion from conception onward because it does not think
forced childbirth at all implicates a woman’s rights to equal-
ity and freedom. Today’s Court, that is, does not think
there is anything of constitutional significance attached to
a woman’s control of her body and the path of her life. Roe
and Casey thought that one-sided view misguided. In some
sense, that is the difference in a nutshell between our prec-
edents and the majority opinion. The constitutional regime
we have lived in for the last 50 years recognized competing
interests, and sought a balance between them. The consti-
tutional regime we enter today erases the woman’s interest
and recognizes only the State’s (or the Federal Govern-

Vulnerability, Maturity, Youthfulness

Yesterday was full and well-rounded.  Got some divorce stuff done.  Took a nice walk with the dog.  Gardened.  Read.  Built Legos with Sebastian.  And got some window trim painted that's been needing it for a while.  

While painting, I was listening to podcasts.  A Krista Tippett On Being interview with poet David Whyte really resonated, especially in its discussions of heartbreak, loss, vulnerability, aging, and youthfulness.  Here's a link to the show and it's transcript.  And below a couple of excerpts.  First, on youthfulness at all stages of life.

All the visible qualities that take form and structure will have to change in order to keep the conversation real, just as we go through the different decades of our life, we have to change the structures of our life in order to keep things new, in order to keep our youthfulness.

And I do think there is a quality of youthfulness which is appropriate to every decade of our life. It just looks different. We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s the sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. It has more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.

In the last year I have discovered a new youthfulness here in my late forties.  I hadn't used that term to describe it, but hearing Whyte's description, I think it is an apt term.  

I also resonated with this discussion of vulnerability:

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability” — how we inhabit our vulnerability — “how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance. Our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”

A "generous citizen of loss."  What an interesting concept.  I do think he's correct.  Loss, grief, heartbreak, and suffering are inherent parts of the human experience that cannot and are not to be avoided.  Life is learning how to live well with them and even in the midst of them to discover that youthfulness he mentions.

Further Update from Yellowstone

More good news from Yellowstone yesterday.  The campground we have reserved for the first three nights there will be reopening next week.  So no serious worries about our main reservations then.  And I read in a separate news article this morning that parts of northern half of the Park might reopen in early July.  So though we won't be able to do all the things we had planned, as the days go by it appears that more and more of what we'd planned will work out.

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

Fifth Sun: A New History of the AztecsFifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This was no stable world of immutable beliefs but instead a shifting, constantly altering world."

This is a marvelously well-written history of the Aztecs. Subverting the standard little bit of that history most of us know. And presenting a rich, mesmerizing culture full of complex and interesting characters and ideas.

One of her goals is to present the conquest as a turning point in Mexica history and not as the ending, so the conquest comes in the middle of the book. The early chapters are on the rise of the Mexica and the creation of Tenochtitlan within the context of the larger Nahuatl culture of the central basin. Then the later chapters are how generations of Mexica responded to the conquest and maintained their language, culture, and identity in the face of crisis.

So they come across as excellent guides to resilience in the midst of catastrophe.

In each chapter she focuses on particular characters and paints them in vivid detail. There is Shield Flower, early in Mexica history crying out at her captors. Flamingo Snake, the performer, who charms a king. Malintzin who in a crucial moment claims her voice and agency leading to her rescue and power. Tecuichpotzin, with whom you suffer the indignities of a royal princess at the time of conquest. And Chimalpahin the historian who works devoutly to rescue the stories of his people.

I'm grateful to have met them and others and to now have a better grasp of this part of our human story.

View all my reviews

Yellowstone Update

I wrote last week about how climate change is itself affecting the sabbatical, not just being one of the themes of study.  The biggest impact so far has been the flooding and devastation at Yellowstone, which will impact our biggest planned trip of the summer.

I was relieved to receive communication from the Park over the weekend that they would be reopening part of the park and some of our reservations will still be possible.  Some of them have been cancelled.  And I'm still waiting to hear whether the campsite we have reserved for our first three nights will be reopening--so far they haven't said.  So I've researched some backup plans and made at least one backup reservation with the intention of making more.

We had planned five nights total in the park (and three in Teton), so we were going to get to experience so much of it.  That seemed important because I don't usually get this kind of time off plus I've made it to 48 never having visited the park.  We aren't going to get as full an experience as we had planned, but we will still get a good experience.  And the overall trip will still be wonderful.  

Hopefully we'll hear more in the coming days.