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Have You No Sense of Decency?

After the vigorous (although, I'm happy to say, civil) debate inspired by the first two Politics of Atheism posts, I figured everyone could use a break. The third and final part of that series will appear shortly.

In the meantime, allow me to bring to your attention a story that demonstrates the truly evil and loathsome depths to which the religious right in this country has willingly sunk.

It appears that a common tactic of the anti-abortion movement is to set up "crisis pregnancy centers" that mimic the look and feel of women's health clinics, such as those run by Planned Parenthood, that perform abortions. When women seeking abortions call these centers by accident, they are encouraged to come in for an appointment, at which point they are bombarded with anti-abortion rhetoric, including false information about how abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, and pressured to set up meetings with doctors and counselors who attempt to talk them out of their decision. As reported by the New York Times in January (source), some of these centers employ deceptive tactics in an attempt to reel confused women in:

If callers ask how much the center charges to perform an abortion, Lisa Arnold, a counselor and leader of the postabortion group, said: "I say, 'It changes, but why don't you come in for an ultrasound and we'll talk about it.' You don't want to deceive them, but you want a chance to talk to them."

Needless to say, "it changes" is a flat-out lie. This center does not perform abortions at all, and opposes them even in the case of rape or incest. Its only purpose in not telling the truth is to encourage women who do not realize to whom they are speaking to show up so that they can be subjected to more direct and intense pressure. (I have heard similar stories of such centers attempting to string women along, continually stalling and asking them to come in for more appointments, until their pregnancies are advanced past the point where abortion is legal.)

This alone would be bad enough. But now consider a truly horrifying story reported by Planned Parenthood:

An Indiana mother recently accompanied her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend to one of Indiana's Planned Parenthood clinics, but they unwittingly walked into a "crisis pregnancy center" run by an anti-abortion group - one that shared a parking lot with the real Planned Parenthood clinic, and was designed expressly to lure Planned Parenthood patients and deceive them.

The group took down the girl's confidential personal information and told her to come back for her appointment, which they said would be in their "other office" (the real Planned Parenthood office nearby). When she arrived for her appointment, not only did the Planned Parenthood staff have no record of her, but the police were there - the "crisis pregnancy center" had called them, claiming that a minor was being forced to have an abortion against her will.

The "crisis pregnancy center" staff then proceeded to wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment over the following days, showing up at the girl's home and calling her father's workplace. Our clinic director reports that she was "scared to death to leave her house." They even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion. (emphasis added)

(The full text of this story and additional commentary can be found at I Blame the Patriarchy, as well as an action alert from Planned Parenthood.)

Whatever opinion one may have about abortion, this campaign of terror waged against those who choose to undergo it by the religious right is inexcusable by any standard. Assuming this story is accurate, let us tote up the sins of this group: lying and deceit by claiming they were affiliated with the real Planned Parenthood; disclosing sensitive personal information obtained under false pretenses; abusing the legal system by filing a false police report in an apparent attempt to get the girl's mother arrested; and last but not least, a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation waged against a frightened and vulnerable young woman. (Indeed, it makes one ask, who are the moral ones?) Joseph Welch's legendary reply to Senator Joseph McCarthy has never been more appropriate: "Have you no sense of decency?"

As much as they decry the supposed immorality of atheists, the Machiavellian, ends-justify-the-means tactics of the Christian right wing in this country show that they are the ones without morals. As far as the religious right is concerned, their goals are the right ones, and that justifies absolutely any tactics used to achieve them. (Similar logic can be discerned in the actions of the Bush administration, which claims that it has limitless authority to wiretap American phones without a warrant, arrest American citizens and detain them indefinitely without access to counsel, a trial, or even formal charges, and otherwise violate any law it sees fit, all in the name of fighting terrorism.) Not by coincidence, this is the same logic employed by tyrants, madmen, and evildoers throughout human history, that the principles of morality must be suspended to achieve a "higher" end. In reality, there is no end higher than acting morally; morality is the end. If Christian groups oppose abortion, then they have the right to work to end it through the legal means provided by our democratic system of government. They do not have the right to lie, to deceive, to harass, to terrorize, or to seek to destroy the lives of those who disagree with them.

The one good thing about this story is that this girl's family is not without legal recourse. If these events happened as reported, then in addition to the criminal charge of filing a false police report, the deceptive pregnancy center should be held liable for fraud, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I hope to hear that the girl's family has filed a lawsuit - this case should be a slam dunk, and a major punitive damage award would dissuade the lying zealots of the religious right from trying any similar tactics again. There should also be a law or court ruling requiring all employees of "crisis pregnancy centers", if asked, to immediately disclose the fact that they do not perform abortions. Luring women in through deception is truly beyond the pale.

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