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We need to reclaim the phrase ‘dignity and compassion’

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dignity and compassion


The phrase “dignity and compassion” is being weaponized to mask the cruel reality of anti-abortion laws.

Even though science shows that banning abortion is outright harmful and dangerous, anti-abortion legislators claim that their draconian laws are rooted in “dignity and compassion.” Much like the “newspeak” of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, these phrases are intended to create a new reality where destructive laws are considered good. It reminds me of the “thoughts and prayers” that pro-gun legislators send out after another mass shooting. But as FFRF’s principal co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor liked to say, “Nothing fails like prayer.” These words are empty and meaningless.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon is the latest Christian nationalist public figure to misuse language. A bill signed by Gordon on March 17 — and slated to go into effect July 1 — prohibits abortion pills in the state. In a letter to Wyoming’s secretary of state, Gordon writes, “I believe all life is sacred and that every individual, including the unborn, should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

There it is. “Dignity and compassion.” A simple phrase intended to mask the cruelty of the new law. But ask Gordon and Christian nationalist legislators about this and you’ll likely be brushed off or told that the fetus has just as many rights as the pregnant person — if not more!

Never mind the very real physical, psychological, emotional, financial and mental pain that women endure when they are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies. For example, a woman in Texas is being forced to carry an unviable pregnancy to term. Because of the severe fetal abnormality, a vaginal delivery will not be an option. Dr. Katie McHugh, an OBGYN from Indiana, explains: “This is going to be major abdominal surgery, with risks associated with it — for a baby that has maybe no chance of a normal life or potentially of survival at all, depending on the severity.”

And this is not an isolated incident. Rather, extensive research has shown that when women are denied a wanted abortion, they are more likely to experience poverty, housing insecurity and food scarcity than those who receive an abortion. Additionally, women who are denied abortions have increased rates of staying in contact with a violent partner and experiencing life-threatening health complications due to pregnancy and childbirth. Furthermore, the fetuses that Gov. Gordon and other Christian nationalists are so intent on “saving” will experience worse child development, poorer maternal bonding and are more likely to live in poverty after birth. So much for dignity and compassion.

For women in Wyoming, self-managed abortions are still an option, thanks to organizations like Aid Access and Plan C Pills. However, the consequences are legally murky and potentially ruinous. In fact, three women in Texas are being sued for $1 million each because a man is angry that they helped his ex-wife obtain abortion pills. In the text messages to her friends, the woman expressed gratitude, making comments such as “your help means the world to me” and that she was “so lucky to have y’all.” Those women, who actually did display dignity and compassion for their pregnant friend, are now being sued for wrongful death. I imagine that many other abusive men in Wyoming — and throughout the country — will follow suit.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: We need federal legislation that will protect abortion rights everywhere. Abortion cannot be a state issue because we are seeing how politicians are thwarting individual rights in favor of a Christian nationalist interpretation of abortion. This cannot be made clearer than in the recent decision by Wyoming to become the first U.S. state to ban abortion pills. This will undoubtedly become a blueprint for anti-abortion states throughout the country.

That’s why I urge you to contact your legislator and demand the passage of the EACH Act. The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act would reverse the Hyde Amendment and related abortion coverage restrictions. FFRF joined All* Above All, a women of color coalition, and 150 other groups to support this bill when it was first introduced in 2021. You can find your representative here.

Also consider donating to an abortion fund. Abortion funds help cover the cost of abortion for people who cannot afford it. The Women’s Medical Fund of Wisconsin, which was established by FFRF’s co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, is currently raising $100,000 to fund abortion long into the future. You can make a tax-deductible donation or form a fundraising team here.

Banning abortion under any circumstances is the furthest thing from dignity and compassion because it denies people the opportunity to make informed, comprehensive health decisions with their provider. Let’s reclaim the phrase “dignity and compassion” by showing up for secular values and abortion care for all.

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