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a picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words, which, coincidentally, is the average length of my columns in the Humanist. The picture in question, published in newspapers throughout the United States on November 6, 2003, showed President George W. Bush--with his seemingly perpetual smirk--signing into law the bill banning a particular abortion procedure. Standing around Bush was a bunch of males, all either grinning or smirking (it's hard to distinguish), but not a single woman--not one!

Within hours after the signing, federal judges in Lincoln, Nebraska; San Francisco, California; and New York City had issued temporary restraining orders, pending consideration of the constitutionality of the new law. After all, a very similar Nebraska law was ruled unconstitutional in 2000 in Stenberg v. Carhart on the grounds that it didn't exempt procedures deemed appropriate by the physician for the health of the woman.

Anti-choicers who bulldozed the ban through Congress call the procedure partial-birth abortion (PBA), a term not recognized by the medical profession. The law is aimed at banning what doctors identify as intact dilation and extraction (D&X), which is used most often between twelve and twenty weeks and occasionally after twenty weeks of pregnancy, depending on the physician's determination of the best way to terminate a problem pregnancy with the woman's health interest in mind. This procedure has the approval of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The ban on PBAs is really faith-based legislation, grounded on the theological idea that fetuses are persons--a concept that has no real legal history and no backing from science or any reasonable religious perspective. In the Jewish tradition and scriptures, a fetus becomes a person when it is born, as U.S. law specifies in the Fourteenth Amendment. Indeed, the Hebrew word for person is nefesh, which refers to breathing entities, which fetuses aren't. Christian scriptures are silent on the beginning of personhood. And Muslim scriptures don't support the anti-choicers' "personhood at conception" thesis.

From a scientific perspective, the functions normally associated with personhood--consciousness and the possibility of thought--don't exist until the cerebral cortex is fully wired and functioning, sometime after twenty-eight of even thirty-two weeks of gestation.

"Personhood at conception" is really the only argument the anti-choicers have in their campaign to restrict or eliminate every woman's fundamental right to decide for herself, without governmental or ecclesiastical interference, how to deal with a problem pregnancy. That argument is hollow and meritless (though women who accept it are under no obligation to have abortions) but is used to mask the anti-choicers' real motivation: the maintenance of male dominance over women, which for all too long has been a feature of American and many other cultures.

On October 30, 2003, I addressed Unitarian audiences in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, and paid tribute to the heroic Nebraska physician Dr. Leroy Carhart, who won the 2000 Stenberg v. Carhart case and is a main plaintiff in the new court challenges to the PBA ban.

On the same day that the media published the photo of Bush signing the faith-based PBA ban, the president advised the Middle East that "theocratic rule [is] a straight smooth highway to nowhere." That is interesting advice coming from a man who only the day before had signed a "theocratic" bill into law and who strongly advocates compelling all taxpayers to support "faith-based" schools and charities--even if it means using executive orders to get around congressional objections to allowing tax-aided faith-based enterprises to disregard anti-discrimination laws. There may be something rotten in the state of Denmark but something is even more rotten in the "land of the free and home of the brave."

Also on November 6, 2003, the United Nations General Assembly voted eighty to seventy-nine to block a Bush administration-backed effort to have the UN body approve a faith-based ban on all human cloning. Many nations would support a Belgian-led ban on cloning human persons that would have still allowed the use of human cloning for therapeutic and scientific purposes. The UN body voted to delay consideration of the issue until the end of 2005. Muslim countries supported the vote, opposing the ban on the ground that Islam doesn't oppose experimentation on embryos.

If Bush wants Iraq and other nations to stay away from theocratic rule, he should practice what he preaches here in the United States.

Speaking of faith-based enterprises, I highly recommend an important new book, Public School Choice vs. Private School Vouchers, edited by Richard D. Kahlenberg. The authors systematically demolish the myths supporting school voucher schemes (though they don't reference the twenty-five statewide referenda decisively rejecting vouchers or their analogs between 1967 and 2000). They also make a strong case for greatly expanding choice among public schools as an important way to deal with the problems of urban education and poverty.

in other developments, Charles Dar-win and common sense won an important victory in Texas, the state presided over by Bush before he became president. On November 7, 2003, the Texas Board of Education approved spending nearly $200 million for new high school biology textbooks. Fun-damentalists had tried for months to get approval for books that presented alternatives to evolution or discussed alleged "flaws" in evolutionary theory. Defenders of the books selected included scientists and clergy, who pointed out that the books were "consistent with accepted science and ... that requesting changes would weaken the course material." The new texts were approved by an eleven to four vote.

The Texas victory is important because Texas, after California, is the largest consumer of textbooks. Book decisions made there can affect what books are published for other states.

Edd Doerr is president of Americans for Religious Liberty and immediate past president of the American Humanist Association. For more on the personhood of fetuses, see Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood," edited by James Prescott and Doerr, now out of print but available in libraries.
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Title Annotation:Church And State
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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