Imagine your doctor has just explained your life is in danger and they won’t do what’s necessary to save you. Emotions are high, but being a logical person, you ask, “Are you saying there’s something you could do?” They say, “Yes, of course, but it’s against the law.” “Because the treatment is so experimental and dangerous?” “No, nothing like that. You see, there was a presbyterian in Pennsylvania…”

For countless Americans with uteruses, this nightmarish scenario is as real as it is absurd, and we’ve arrived here thanks to the Protestant anti-abortion movement. Its origin story begins with a presbyterian from Pennsylvania, Francis Schaeffer, who took a road-trip in 1979 to promote his latest book and five-part film series “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” connecting the horrors of secular humanism and the abomination of legalized abortion.

In earlier works, Schaeffer claimed the separation of church and state was a myth and urged “the West to return to the stringent religious tenets of the Reformation in order to avoid the decay and ruin of secular humanism.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the pseudo-intellectual father of Reagan’s Moral Majority and today’s Christian Nationalists. Before the “Whatever Happened” tour, Evangelicals hadn’t coalesced politically and generally considered abortion to be a Catholic problem. After, Schaeffer’s own son put it this way: “We helped make a movement that went totally off the rails.”

The impact of that derailment has been immense. It sparked a decades-long assault on Roe v. Wade, which was overturned last year, triggering abortion bans in 13 states. And that leads us to Texas, where the state’s Supreme Court just blocked a Dallas woman from receiving life-saving medical care at the behest of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Despite an extramarital affair, three felony indictments for fraud, a corruption and bribery impeachment inquiry from his own party, a whistleblower lawsuit, ongoing criminal charges, and using state funds to hire a PR firm, Paxton is considered by his fundamentalist following to be a “crusader for conservative Christian values” and a “champion of religious liberty.” He served on the board of a fake clinic; replaced his top staffers with far-right religious activists (his previous employees reported him to the FBI); and, most recently, sent a menacing letter to Texas hospitals threatening felony prosecution to anyone who helped Kate Cox, a 31 year-old wife and mother of two.

Twenty weeks into her third pregnancy, Kate was grief-stricken to learn the fetus had a twisted spine, clubbed feet, and irregular skull and heart development. An amniocentesis confirmed trisomy 18, a chromosomal condition with no chance of survival. Kate’s prognosis was also dire. She’d already been to multiple emergency rooms, and her physicians warned, “Ms. Cox has a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from her current pregnancy that places her at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of her reproductive functions if a D&E abortion is not performed.”

But Kate is, as you’ll recall, a Dallas woman, and Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Even so, there was supposed to be a medical exception for cases like Kate’s. However, the legislative language was unclear, and the Texas medical community expressed their concerns for two years. After numerous reports of medical care being delayed or denied, lawmakers discreetly passed another bill earlier this year, but it only addressed two specific medical conditions – neither of which applied to Kate and all of which shows that writing laws about doctoring does not a doctor make.

As if accessing healthcare in the United States wasn’t costly and cumbersome enough, it’s apparently necessary to find lawyers as well. Kate’s legal team from the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote, “[Her] physicians have informed her that their ‘hands are tied,’ and she will have to wait until her baby dies inside her or carry the pregnancy to term, at which point she will be forced to have a third C-section, only to watch her baby suffer until death.”

If Kate’s story had ended when a judge initially ruled in her favor, it would still be a heartbreaking one – that she and her husband lost a pregnancy they desperately wanted and that, in 2023, an adult woman had to seek permission to follow the medical advice of her healthcare provider. But Paxton made sure Kate ran out of time and was forced to leave the state to find an abortion elsewhere.

Sadly, what happened to her is not exceptional. In 2020, Texas reported 50,000 abortions. This year, there have been 34. With abortion bans passed in nearly two dozen states – despite being widely unpopular with voters – these tragedies are bound to keep happening. The bans have succeeded only insofar as they have paralyzed the medical community with fear of litigation. Americans still need abortions; they just have to travel to get them. But not every person can afford to, and nobody should have to.

I’ve written before about my own abortion experience and how even though one in five women will have one before they’re 45, most of us choose not to speak about it because 1) it is – or, at least, ought to be – a personal decision, and 2) there is a deep fear of judgment and rejection by friends and families – especially in religious communities. Today, the medical procedure I underwent to improve the outcome of my miscarriage is now illegal in multiple states, and I would have had to be near death for doctors to intervene.

It takes tremendous courage both to endure a pregnancy and to end one. I’m proud to work for an organization that is unafraid to fight for a different America, where medical decisions are made by doctors, patients, and scientific evidence – not dictated by the radical religious beliefs of a few. Ken Paxton once unironically said, “Our Founding Fathers correctly understood that a government that mandates one opinion over another is tyrannical.”

And yet today, Americans’ reproductive rights are being stripped away by Christian Nationalists and other religious extremists trying to impose their beliefs on others. Please support American Atheists today with a gift of $10, $25, or $50 so we can keep fighting back.


Sam McGuire
National Field Director

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