Nel's New Day

March 27, 2016

Authoritarian Christianity Not Healthy or Safe

If your only hospital is Catholic—good luck! Between the Republicans and the Church making the rules about women’s health, women are in danger if anything goes wrong with their pregnancies. In Michigan, for example, at least five women risked death in just 17 months because they could not obtain immediate and appropriate health care after life-threatening miscarriages.

The U.S. bishops’ directive allows medical care if the mother’s life is in danger, but Mercy Health Partners (Muskegon) doctors determined they would wait until sepsis—an advanced infection—or no fetal heart beat. For one woman, it was sepsis as her temperature climbed for eight hours. Doctors didn’t even give these five women, none of them more than 20 weeks pregnant, the option of going to another hospital where they might have received appropriate health care. Mercy Health Partners is the only provider of emergency care in the entire county after a 2008 merger gave control of the county’s secular hospitals to Trinity Health, among the largest healthcare systems in the country.

Marie Hilliard, director of public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, pointed out that the directives make an exception to protect a woman’s health even if the fetus dies. Hospitals ignore this exception. Hospitals claim that they will induce labor if “the mother’s life is in jeopardy,” but there are no clear standards for determining this situation.

At least 10 percent of the hospitals in the U.S. are Catholic, following the same inadequate health care directions for women. The number of Catholic hospitals increased 16% between 2010 and 2011 and is still growing. At the same time, the numbers of public, secular and other religious hospitals all dropped. One out of every nine hospital beds in the US is located in facilities that follow Catholic teachings, and in far more than 30 communities, the only local hospital is a Catholic one.

One of the five women at the Muskegon hospital was prescribed Tylenol for a potentially deadly infection and sent home—twice—where she miscarried by herself on the toilet. Another woman spent three days in the hospital and required additional surgery.  One woman even reported seeing a fetal limb in her toilet but was forced to wait 18 hours.

Former Muskegon County health official, Faith Groesbeck, talked to the hospital about these concerns. After her concerns were ignored, she reported Mercy Health Partners to a division of Health and Human Services, accusing the company of violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a 1986 act of Congress requiring hospitals to provide any patient experiencing an emergency with “stabilizing treatment.” She stated that Mercy Health Partners made unilateral healthcare choices for the five women without their knowledge or their consent. Since blowing the whistle on the hospital, Groesbeck has been transferred from the county initiative to reduce and fetal mortality and transferred to deal with substance abuse prevention.

All the women had had the membranes surrounding the fetus rupture too early, always leading to a miscarriage if it happens before the fetus is viable. When the woman develops an infection, most doctors “absolutely urge” the woman to have delivery induced. All women showed infections, but the doctors either didn’t warn the women or, in the case of one of them, refused immediate delivery.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the hospital because federal courts in Michigan lack control over the bishops’ mandates. ACLU appealed the dismissal to the 6th Circuit Court in July 2015.

Michigan lawmakers, known for allowing the governor’s administration to poison the state’s water, want to join Catholic bishops in giving orders to doctors. Introduced legislation would ban dilation and evacuation (D&E), the surgical approach to abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. Women would then be forced to endure painful, expensive, risky labor, fraught with health problems, in order to abort fetuses that are likely to die.

In her protest against this bill, an OB/GYN described the situation of a pregnant woman with life-threatening high blood pressure who was carrying a fetus with a serious heart defect. The D&E allowed her to preserve her fertility. Another patient whose water broke at 18 weeks had had four prior cesarean sections; labor induction was life-threatening for her. Without a D&E, her four children may have been motherless. Other patients had a molar pregnancy, heart failure, kidney failure, uterine or blood infections, and disorders leading to hemorrhage in labor.

The United States is the only developed nation where the maternal death rate has increased: between 1990 and 2013, the maternal mortality ratio rose 136 percent. At the same time, safe abortions have radically decreased as Christian religious beliefs  led to closing hundreds of women’s clinics through GOP-controlled states.

As fundamentalist Christians and Republicans continue to push their personal beliefs on the people of the United States through punitive laws, Christian faith continues to decrease in the nation. In 2014 the percentage of Christian-identified population dropped to 70.6 percent from 78.4 percent just seven years earlier. Thirty percent of millennials don’t support any religion. People like presidential candidate Ted Cruz blame an assault on Christianity, and 17 states introduced “religious freedom” laws this year, laws which negatively affect health care and personal safety. Christian sects promote wife-beating and doctors’ rejection of patients who don’t match personal beliefs.

This self-perception of danger directed toward Christianity comes from its history of martyrdom, but a reason for the decline is the religion’s nonsensical dogmas. Saying “Happy Holiday” doesn’t represent a “War on Christmas”—a cultural holiday taken from pagan rituals on a date when the prophet Jesus wasn’t born.

The Christian martyrdom is far more prevalent with whites: 61 percent of white evangelicals believe that their religious liberty is threatened compared to only 37 percent of non-white Christians. As whites lose the culture war, many grasp the straw of religious liberty and attempt to use it as a battering ram against people of color. This loss has led 77 percent of U.S. evangelicals to believe that they are living in the End Times. They may express themselves in hate, but they are motivated by fear of secularization.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) gained international fame by persuading 46 Senate colleagues to sign a treasonous letter to Iran saying that the United States might not live up to its agreement. He’s back with a bill to give Christians special visas to enter the United States while banning Syrian refugees of other faiths. Most of the others who seek “religious liberty,” however, don’t mention Christians although their rhetoric is obvious. For example, Cruz ranted:

“There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime. Did we ever imagine that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we would be witnessing our government persecute its citizens for their faith?”

Cruz followed that up with recommending that people declare their freedom from the law if the law doesn’t allow “religious freedom.” Yet Cruz declared war on Muslims by comparing them Muslims to criminal gangs and wanting police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” He claims that it’s part of the GOP willingness to fight “political correctness.” His strategy is to make people afraid and then capitalize on their fear. With Donald Trump he is a classic example of what Stanley Feldman calls “the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive.” A recent poll shows that over 40 percent of likely voters score “very high” or “high” in authoritarianism.

One place where this “Christian” fear has been manifested is in Bullard Elementary School (Kennesaw, GA). To reduce stress among students, administrators instituted the “mindfulness” of yoga and other practices. Because of parental objections, the school eliminated practices such as the Sanskrit greeting “namaste,” placing hands “to heart center,” and coloring pages with the symbol of the mandala. One mother complained about the school “pushing ideology on our students,” and another parent called this “scary.” Parents are pushing fear of “mindfulness indoctrination.”

Cheryl Crawford explained that the purpose is to help the students be “aware of their breath patterns, their tendencies and habits.” She added that focusing inwardly “helps them if they’re very worried.” Crawford explained that “namaste” is a word like “hello,” that the goodness in me sees the goodness in you.” Yoga’s myriad health benefits also include reducing chronic back pain, improving mobility, and relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression—something that doesn’t come from fundamental Christianity.

Evidently authoritarian Christians have entered a new battleground—the War on Mindfulness.

May 14, 2015

GOP Concerned Only about Carrying Fetuses Full Term

After eight people died from Tuesday’s Amtrak train crash, Rep. Paul Ryan voted to reduce Amtrak funding and then “misrepresented” congressional funding that could have prevented the crash. On Fox, he claimed that Congress funded the Positive Train Control (PTC) for the cash-strapped Amtrak earlier this year. Not only was the allocation far less than the Amtrak request, but the complex PTC takes more than two months to put into place. The last Amtrak bill was seven years ago. At this time, PTC is in service in only 50 miles of the 226-mile route between Washington and New York.

Ryan also said that Congress cannot rush to response to what he believes was “human error, but the PTC overcomes human error. He commented that he wouldn’t support tax increases for infrastructure improvement because “we can do better by saving more money [and] being more efficient.”

While talking about efficiency, Ryan voted in favor of yesterday’s anti-abortion bill that passed by 242-184, almost entirely on partisan lines. The so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” follows the conservatives’ belief that fetuses at this age can feel pain. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) answered the men who expounded on the pain that a fetus feels: “You want to talk about pain? Let’s talk about the agony of a woman who’s raped and again violated by unnecessary government intrusion.”

The bill bans the one percent of abortions that occur after the 20th week of pregnancies, ones that often involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Sexual assault victims cannot get rape-caused abortions after the 20th week until they have “obtained counseling” or “medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape” at least 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure unless the victims originally reported the rape to law enforcement. Counseling must be from a facility that doesn’t perform abortions, requiring consultation with two separate doctors.

Incest victims must also have reported the rapes to a law enforcement agency or government agency that acts on reports of child abuse, thus re-traumatizing the victims. The bill also prevents the abortions for victims 18 and older.

Non-viable fetuses or those that might be born with severe defects are typically not identified until after the limit set by this bill, but these issues are not addressed in the bill. The bill allows an abortion to prevent the death of the pregnant woman but says nothing about pregnancies that seriously jeopardize women’s health.

The bill also mandates medical procedures for doctors. If a doctor thinks that the aborted fetus could survive outside the womb, a second doctor must be present to care for it and provide hospitalization. Women are also required to sign consent forms that include the fetus’ age and steps to save its life. Doctors performing banned abortions would face imprisonment of up to five years plus fines, and people could also bring civil actions against doctors who violate the measure’s requirements.

After a similar bill failed in January, House leadership spent months negotiating its current success, time that certainly could have been more profitably spend with legislation that would boost in the economy. The conservatives’ goal is to ban all abortions although the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision established a constitutional right to abortion, allowing states to bar the procedure after viability when the fetus could survive if born.

Once the fetus has emerged into the daylight, however, mother and child are pretty much on their own. Only two laws help new parents: the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 providing 12 weeks of leave to new or expectant parents and an expansion of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. There is leave, but no paid leave. Parents have to save enough money for one of them to go without wages for the 12 weeks following a child’s birth. The United States is “exceptional” in this situation because 181 countries guarantee paid leave from work for new mothers and 81 guarantee it for new fathers. Employers also aren’t required in the United States to accommodate new mothers; they don’t even have to add break time for women who want to pump breast milk.

A law is supposed to protect pregnant woman at work, but in many cases it doesn’t. Many employers deny requests such as the ability to sit down while at work, an extra bathroom break, and drinking water while working. Pregnant women are expected to complete the same manual labor as men and non-pregnant women because it would be considered special treatment. Pregnant women may be forced to leave their jobs, leaving them reliant on the U.S. safety net.

According to conservatives, who get their marching orders from Fox network, these women carrying the beloved fetuses and avoiding abortions are “losers,” “moochers,” “takers,” and more. Conservatives accuse women of being pregnant just to get more federal money or, worse, of having “anchor babies” so that they can stay in the United States. Unmarried women who are pregnant or already have children are also told to get married so that they won’t be a drain on the country. (This idea is a myth.)

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich writes that poverty is a lack of money, not a lack of character, but conservatives disagree, preferring to shame poor mothers. Like preventing abortions, allowing children and their mothers to live in poverty is a policy choice.

Opposition to providing birth control is another conservative policy decision, frequently religious. Conservatives fight the provision of the Affordable Care Act to provide free birth control, women have to renew their birth control medication every month, and women’s clinics that provide birth control are shut down in massive numbers throughout the conservative states. Catholic health systems, controlling almost 20 percent of patients in the United States, may prevent participating doctors from prescribing birth control pills. They can also refuse tubal ligations and vasectomies—even deny the termination of an ectopic pregnancy in which the fetus grows outside the uterus.

While conservatives virtuously pretend to protect fetuses, more women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes in the United States now than at almost any point in the last 25 years. Throughout the world, the United States is one of only seven countries to experience an increase in Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) over the past decade. MMR rise in tandem with poverty rates as conservative legislators refuse to pass fair gender salary laws and increase the minimum wage.

The U.S. MMR is 14 times greater than in Israel, which has liberal abortion laws with government-subsidized abortion services. The states in this country with the greatest abortion restrictions have the highest maternal deaths, infant and child death rates, and teen drug and alcohol abuse. Georgia, with 11 restrictive abortion laws, has the highest MMR.

Legislation is moving forward in North Carolina to send detailed information about an abortion past the first trimester to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, including “an ultrasound image of the unborn child that depicts the measurements.” Already required in Oklahoma and Louisiana, this mandate violates privacy between a woman and her doctor and serves no medical purpose. Doctors are not required to send any other type of medical image to the state. Oklahoma ranks 48th in Maternal Mortality Rates; Louisiana is 44th.

abortion

No matter how horrifying yesterday’s anti-abortion bill passed in the House may be, conservatives can make life worse for pregnant women. Texas state representative Matt Schaefer has introduced an amendment forcing women to carry a fetus to full term even if it might be nonviable. Beyond causing severe health issues and perhaps death for the woman, the act would inflict great pain on the family. Schaefer’s justification is that suffering is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world.”

Thanks to conservative legislation, United States in 2015 can be compared to the country in 1929 with the huge gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the people in the nation. At this time, the ratio of pay between CEOs and workers is 373-1—and greater for women because they are below the average wage. One guarantee: GOP members of Congress will continue to focus on fetuses and the wealthy; everyone else will be left out. It’s what adds to their campaign war chests.

December 8, 2013

Religious Figures at Odds with Each Other

Is the GOP obsession with religion dissipating? One piece of evidence comes from the response to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK)’s statements television ad for his re-election campaign in which he said:

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God, and I believe in His word. The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded, “Is [the Bible] really not a good rule book for political issues and decisions made in the Senate?” Even Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican running against Pryor, took his side, calling the NRSC’s response “incredibly bizarre and offensive.” Cotton’s campaign spokesperson added, “We should all agree that America is better off when all our public officials in both parties have the humility to seek guidance from God.”

Most likely Cotton is pandering for votes. His statements follow Pryor’s campaign manager’s ire toward the NRSC: “It’s frankly despicable that Congressman Cotton’s Washington allies are manipulating quotes to question the sincerity of Mark’s religious beliefs. Tom Cotton needs to step up and denounce these shameful attacks on Mark Pryor’s faith.” Cotton did, but it probably won’t help him with NRSC support.

Rush Limbaugh also got excited about Pope Francis’ denouncement of unfettered capitalism (sometimes called extortion) by saying that “this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” Catholics in Alliance took umbrage at Limbaugh’s take on the pope and called on “Catholics and other allies throughout the nation to support the Holy Father.” Their petition states:

“Francis’s critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church’s social teaching. His particular criticism of ‘trickle down economics’ strengthens what Church authorities have said for decades: any economic system which deprives the poor of their dignity has no place within a just society. Contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh suggests, the Catholic Church isn’t built on money, but on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.”

Other conservatives have joined Limbaugh in expelling bile about Pope Francis’ belief that unfettered capitalism is tyranny. World Net Daily (WND) published a cartoon portraying the pope as a socialist based on the non-biblical saying “Teach a man to fish.”

pope fish

WND author Jonathan Moseley used Luke 12:13-14 in a misguided attempt to prove that Jesus believed in unfettered capitalism:

“Someone in the crowd said to Him [Jesus Christ], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’”

Moseley continued by declaring that Jesus is opposed to greed but doesn’t see that hoarding the family inheritance shows greed from unfettered capitalism.

A short lesson in “isms”:

  • Socialism: an economy in which the community as a whole or its government owns and controls production.
  • Communism: both political structure and economic production are owned by the government.
  • Capitalism: people own and control production to create more competition with the goal of low prices and high pay.

Capitalism, which allows people to own and control production, is based on competition which should keep prices low and pay high. Unfettered capitalism leads to the reverse—high prices and low pay because monopolies and collusion between companies prevent competition.

Moseley also assumes that crony capitalism comes from corrupt government’s involvement in business. It’s actually the reverse when business gets too involved with government. An example of crony capitalism is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the watering-down of the Dodd-Frank Act. Financial regulators don’t regulate, and Citigroup wrote legislation to strip the remainder of Dodd-Frank. Pope Francis rejects crony capitalism and rejects the monopolies created by unfettered capitalism.

U.S. Catholic bishops, however, are staying mum on the subject. Perhaps they’re preparing for the endangerment lawsuit against them.

Last year, millions of people in the world were outraged after they learned of a pregnant women in Ireland who died after miscarrying a 17-week-old fetus. A Catholic hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion is legal in the United States, but one-sixth of all hospitals, because they are Catholic, refuse to provide this surgical treatment for women, even to save their lives.

Three years ago, Tamesha Means went to the nearest hospital after her water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant. In pain and with no care, she was sent home from the Michigan hospital to await a miscarriage, despite the high risk of infection from the broken water sac. An 18-week-old fetus is at least one month before viability, and a non-Catholic hospital would offer her an abortion or induce labor. The nearest hospital, however, was Catholic based.

Means returned to the hospital for help a second time and was again sent home without any. Only on her third visit when she had an infection and was delivering the fetus was she permitted to stay. Now, in conjunction with ACLU, she is suing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is because of the Conference’s directives, forbidding any abortion or delivery of an infant pre-viability even to save the woman’s life, that the hospital could not help Means.

Many people are not aware of the way that the Catholic Church has taken over U.S. health care and the dangers for people because of religious mandates for hospitals and doctors taking precedence over the best interests of patients. Despite the religious control over patients, billions of dollars (over $45 billion in 2002 alone) come from taxpayer funding.

Bill O’Reilly is also an authority on religion. He claims that his book Killing Jesus was divinely inspired, so it’s no surprise that he also knows what Jesus thought. In an interview with Pentecostal Pastor Joshua Dubois, O’Reilly shared his knowledge about how Jesus didn’t mean alcoholics and drug addicts to have food stamps:

“The problem I have, as I stated is that you’re helping one group by hurting another group and a bigger group, and so I don’t know if Jesus is going to be down with that.”

Dubois didn’t accept O’Reilly’s conclusion:

“Jesus would be down for the poor. He would want to make sure every single person in this country had enough food to eat. And the bottom line is if you add up every single private charitable dollar that feeds hungry people in this country, it’s only 10 percent of what we would need to make sure everyone has food in their stomachs. The rest comes from the federal government.”

After O’Reilly tried to educate Dubois about how all those bad people are just going to “buy booze and drugs” instead of food, Dubois patiently explained:

“With all due respect, there’s a lot of misconceptions in what you just said. The vast majority of that program goes to elderly people, people who are disabled, 46 percent are children and most people are working families.”

In another “misconception,” Fox network is complaining the Sharia law is “changing everything,” according to Heather Nauert. She is complaining about a weekly swim practice for Muslim Somali-American girls at a St. Paul YMCA in partnership with the police department to allow for the girls’ modesty and religi8ous beliefs. Shall we wait for them to complain about Christian law “changing everything”?

Their next complaint will be the takeover of “Satanic law” if the Satanic Temple follows the “freedom of religion” amendment to install a memorial on Oklahoma statehouse grounds next to the state’s display of the Ten Commandments.  Anton LaVey, founder of the Church Of Satan in 1966, has based his beliefs on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that celebrates selfishness as a virtue. People may be more familiar with Rand’s works after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) extolled Rand’s virtues.

In contrast to the fundamentalist belief in selfishness, today, December 8, is the Buddhist holy day of Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day. Celebrated as the day that Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree, Buddhists meditate, study Buddhist texts, chant, or perform acts of kindness to others. Lewis Richmond wrote, “Living in the light of humility, kindness and compassion is the deep lesson and timeless inspiration of Bodhi Day.” Christians could take a lesson from Buddha instead of restructuring their Jesus into a macho, judgmental warrior.

The best religious news for the week: The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by the Christian Liberty University to stop the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act for each person to purchase health insurance. It leaves intact the ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing this mandate. All SCOTUS has left to decide is whether corporations—those people, you know!—can be religious and refuse contraception to its employees.

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