handmaidgraphic

 

“A chill wind blows,” as the late Justice Harry Blackmun once proclaimed to warn against the initial erosion of Roe v. Wade in the 1980s.

Today (May 17) that wind got far chillier, with the announcement that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a Mississippi statute that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization, will be the first significant abortion case heard by the high court since extremist Amy Coney Barrett replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is one of the three anti-abortion justices appointed to the high court by former President Trump, whose stated goal was to overturn Roe. Barrett, an outspoken anti-abortion proponent who has received widespread praise from anti-abortion groups and organizations, makes the Supreme Court a securely anti-abortion majority. For example, when asked about the future of abortion access in 2016, Barrett replied, “I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions can be put on clinics — I think that would change.”

And that’s just what is on the line in Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization. In 2018, Mississippi legislators passed a bill that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of gestation, except in rare cases of severe fetal abnormality or medical emergency. The law was struck down by lower courts. As Mississippi only has one abortion clinic, women already face many obstacles in obtaining timely care. The women of Mississippi are not the only ones whose reproductive rights are in danger.

The Supreme Court has long established that it is unconstitutional to impose a pre-viability abortion ban. Viability is around 24-26 weeks of gestation, but even then the Court has acknowledged that each specific pregnancy necessitates its own medical determination. If the court rules that a state may ban abortion at 15 weeks, it will be overturning much of the precedent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that itself is based on the established constitutional right to privacy. With countless burdensome obstacles, like the religiously-rooted Hyde Amendment and TRAP laws that target clinics and care providers, women’s constitutional right to an abortion may be gradually erased.

As Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights notes, “The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating. Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright. Eleven states — including Mississippi — currently have trigger bans on the books which would instantaneously ban abortion if Roe is overturned.”

Abortion access and care is unnecessarily divisive due to the ideological motivations of the few. In fact, a new Pew study found that the majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Additionally, 82 percent of religiously unaffiliated people support legal abortions. Beyond public opinion, there is no science that supports abortion restrictions or bans. Evidence-based research has shown that abortions are safe and effective and that serious complications are extremely rare — less than 1 percent. Rather, studies have shown that women are about 14 times more likely to die as a result of childbirth and pregnancy than from an abortion. There is simply no governmental interest or business in obstructing abortion care. The only organized opposition to abortion is religious in nature.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the beginning of October with a decision to likely come by June of 2022.

As we anxiously await this verdict, we must take swift action to ensure that reproductive rights are protected by encouraging legislators to pass the EACH Act, which would reverse the draconian Hyde Amendment and guarantee abortion coverage in federal health insurance programs. This Christian nationalist campaign to dismantle abortion care in the United States also signals an urgent need for court reform.

The future of abortion rights in the United States hangs in the balance and our secular activism is needed more than ever.

FFRFWHMeeting

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and five other secular organizations met with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Friday afternoon, and made a little welcome history.

Representatives from FFRF, the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, Ex-Muslims of North America and the Secular Coalition for America, which set up the meeting, met with Executive Director Melissa Rogers, Deputy Director Josh Dickson and Program Specialist Ben O’Dell.

“With more than a quarter of the population identifying as a ‘None’ (no religion), it’s vital that our community, our voices be heard in favor of reason in social policy and upholding our secular government,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said, who was present along FFRF Co-President Dan Barker and FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel.

The cordial meeting, which included discussions of secular priorities, marks a break from the previous administration, where Paula White ruled the roost and meetings began with prayer.

The current meetings have no prayer, no bragging about how religion is being inserted into the federal government. There has been no attempt to funnel government funds to these groups, and much of the emphasis has been messaging on the importance and availability of vaccines. FFRF representatives have been attending and monitoring all of the calls.

FFRF blew the lid off a series of secretive calls the Trump White House held to reassure churches that they could and should request forgivable loans under various SBA programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In one call, Trump-allied faith leaders were assured by the federal government that even a discriminatory fly-by-night “church” that provides absolutely no secular social services, and of which the owner is the sole employee, could have its wages covered by taxpayers during the PPP time period. These assurances were made a full two weeks before the SBA released its final rule on eligibility, showing that it had no interest in considering public comments.

Another call was even more explicit, with churches urged to apply for PPP funds before the deadline. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, reported that the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, which took in $350,000–$1 million, “has literally been kept solvent . . . by the Paycheck Protection Plan (sic)” (44:30). Dobson noted with obvious glee that in 43 years of leading two faith-based ministries, he had “never asked for, nor received, one cent from the federal government” (43:49), expressing his surprise that taxpayer funds could now flow to his ministry.

While FFRF maintains that it is inappropriate for any government action to turn religious Americans into an “in” crowd while secular Americans are “outsiders,” the current White House faith-based office has turned a blatantly Christian nationalist outfit into an office that explicitly acknowledges the separation between religion and government. That’s a step in the right direction.

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The irreverent ad featuring Ron (“unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell”) Reagan extolling the Freedom From Religion Foundation will run on “CBS Sunday Morning” this Sunday, May 16, and May 30. It is airing for the first time on the show; CBS had originally refused to air the commercial on Sunday, May 9.

The progressive son of President Ronald and Nancy Reagan invites viewers to join FFRF in the 30-second spot, saying:

Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

CBS agreed to run the ad nationally earlier this year after refusing for six years, when it appeared on several “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” episodes.

“It’s a heartening sign of the times that atheists and agnostics are being allowed a voice on CBS,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “After all, believing in the concept of eternal torture and punishment should be socially unacceptable, not Ron’s gentle jibe.”

Reagan has received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award and addressed FFRF’s national convention in Madison a few years ago. He has publicly identified himself for years as an atheist. He was interviewed recently for FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV show.

FFRF advertising is made possible by kind contributions from members. Donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation castigates the Texas Legislature for approving a bill to ban abortion care as early as six weeks of gestation. The bill will assuredly be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Christian nationalist whom FFRF recently successfully prevailed over his bigoted censorship of FFRF’s freethought view at the Texas Capitol.

This follows alarming passage of sweeping anti-abortion legislation in April severely restricting abortion care and signed into law in Montana, Arizona, South Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Idaho. More than 500 abortion restrictions have already been introduced at the state level so far this year.

Texas is following the actions of nearly a dozen other states that have passed the so-called “heartbeat” bill — a medically inaccurate misnomer. Dr. Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization that represents 58,000 physicians in the United States, explains that this labeling is incongruent with the “anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy” because the so-called heartbeat is simply “electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue.”

It has long been established and upheld by the Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to impose a previability abortion ban. Pregnancies are considered viable around 24-26 weeks of gestation. Even then, the court agrees with medical experts that each pregnancy is unique. Therefore this anti-abortion bill is Texas is completely unconstitutional.

Shockingly, the bill also allows anyone to sue a doctor for providing abortion care or anyone else who helped someone get an abortion. This includes abortion funds that provide financial assistance, clinic employees — and even friends and family who drive a loved one to an abortion appointment. Perhaps the most startling aspect of this bill is that the person filing the lawsuit would not need any personal connection to the abortion, at odds with all legal precedent. Anti-abortion protestors, out-of-state lobbying groups, and religious organizations under the law could overwhelm doctors and clinics with lawsuits and displace resources from women seeking care.

In our secular nation, laws related to health care should reflect science — not the religious or other motivations of legislators.

Such laws endanger the rights of women nationwide, as they are intended to land before the U.S. Supreme Court, on which a majority, since the replacement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett, is anti-abortion. A “chill wind blows,” as the late Justice Harry Blackmun warned against the first erosions back in the 1980s of Roe v. Wade.

Additional Info

  • videolink https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2021/0512/Is-politics-the-new-religion

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  • videolink https://thehumanist.com/news/secularism/secular-student-alliance-goes-virtual-may-14-16

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  • videolink https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/10/groups-urge-senate-leadership-end-qualified-immunity#

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  • videolink https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/the-handmaids-tale-author-revealed-book-antireligion.html/

SoSBlinkenThe Freedom From Religion Foundation applauds the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom released today by Secretary of State Antony Blinken for including the rights of nonbelievers.

Blinken described religious freedom as “coequal,” condemned Nigeria for jailing citizens for blasphemy, noted approvingly that Sudan repealed laws against apostasy, and highlighted Nigeria’s continuing prosecution of blasphemy.

Blinken singled out a famous imprisoned Saudi atheist by name, saying, “Authorities continue to jail human rights activists like Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to a decade in prison and a thousand lashes for speaking about his beliefs.” For the “crime” of apostasy, Badawi was shockingly sentenced in 2013 to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, which was increased to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison the following year (with a hefty accompanying fine). Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, spoke movingly at FFRF’s convention in 2018, where she was presented with the Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.

“This report is a breath of fresh air after the last administration,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious freedom is a vital right, but it must include the right to dissent and to reject religion. We’re glad to see that reasserted.”

Blinken’s description of religious freedom was particularly important because it corrected a disastrous deviation from the universal understanding of the right as “coequal.”

The Trump administration, led by Christian nationalist Mike Pompeo, sought to create a “hierarchy of rights” with religious freedom at the top. “This elevated religion into a super-right that allowed believers to impact and even violate others’ rights to free speech, assembly, and be free from government discrimination,” adds FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel.

The new report marks the death of the ill-considered attempt to privilege religion above all else. As Blinken explained:

Religious freedom is a human right. In fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human. To think freely. To follow our conscience. To change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so . . . Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal. All people, everywhere, are entitled to it, no matter where they live, what they believe or what they don’t believe. Religious freedom is coequal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible. Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak, assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right.

Blinken observed that religious freedom cannot exist without democratic governance and the rule of law. FFRF would add that, in the U.S., democracy and rule of law have been under sustained assault by Christian nationalists, including the violent assault on Jan. 6.

The report is nearly 2,500 pages and it includes references to some of the people FFRF has worked to help and unjust laws FFRF has worked to overcome internationally. For instance, the section on Nigeria reports, “Authorities detained Mubarak Bala, head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, in April without filing any charges, although his attorneys stated they believed he was being held on charges related to allegations of insulting Islam on Facebook.” FFRF has mobilized members and resources to help Bala. The report on Saudi Arabia notes that “the law criminalizes ‘the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form.’”

The press conference was given in the shadow of the violence in Gaza and a mounting death toll (AP reports the death of 53 Palestinians, including 14 children), which became the focus of media questions at the conference.

Blinken mentioned positive changes, such as the fact that last year, the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan repealed apostasy laws and public order laws “that have been used to harass members of religious minority groups” and those attempting to leave Islam. The report makes it clear that true religious freedom, which necessitates freedom from government-imposed religion, has a long way to go. For instance, many countries still punish apostasy: Afghanistan, Oman, Mauritania, Qatar, Yemen and the Maldives, to name a few.

The spotlight that the report sheds on such issues will hopefully nudge the world in a positive direction.

Hyde Weldon Amendments Web

 

Please take a few moments to urge President Biden to stand up to religious megadonors and members of Congress by excluding two amendments from the presidential budget that restrict access to abortion and family planning services.

The first, the Hyde Amendment, is a discriminatory provision that denies federal funding for abortion care, mainly for low-income women. Women on Medicaid are ineligible for receiving subsidized abortion care unless their residential state uses its own funds to pay for abortion care, which is only the case in 16 states. The Hyde Amendment disproportionally limits already underserved populations from accessing abortion services, further exacerbating health care and economic inequality.

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, a staunch Catholic who was praised by the Catholic Church for his extremist anti-abortion policies. He cited “the final judgment” and fear of “what happens to them in eternity” as his motivations for the amendment. Read “It’s time to end the Hyde Amendment” by Barbara Alvarez.

The second, the Weldon Amendment, is considered a “conscience protection” that emboldens hospitals, insurance companies and health care professionals to deny women health care by refusing to provide, cover or refer abortion care based on “religious or moral grounds.” Allowing providers to deny patients’ rights because of religious beliefs threatens access to quality, comprehensive health care.

These provisions are plainly based on dogmatic religious beliefs, and abandon the safety and autonomy of some of the most vulnerable Americans. Biden has promised to end the Hyde Amendment, but he needs to hear public support for doing so immediately. Please urge Biden to exclude the Hyde Amendment and Weldon Amendment from the presidential budget. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact the White House. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

TAKE ACTION!

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