Reproductive outlook?

The desert breeds obsession; look to the Middle East-spawned religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for proof of that. These kindred monotheisms spring from fanatics wrestling with avenging angels, inner demons, and a smiting God under a hammering sun, and while these legends make for engaging sermons, they have little to do with the reality average people face every day. It may be why the anti-choice group Priests For Life has planted itself in Amarillo, Texas, where the Great Plains crumble into the sands of the American Southwest. Isolated from civilization and deep in the blood-red heart of Republican Texas, these modern-day Torquemadas, led by Father Frank Pavone, are facing the recent defeat of policies that oppose reproductive freedom.

The facts aren’t encouraging for fundamentalists on either side of the Reformation: California and Oregon defeated a measure that would have required parents of women under 18 to be notified before an abortion was performed; in South Dakota, arguably one of the country’s most conservative states, 56 percent of voters killed a proposed law to ban all abortions except in cases where it was absolutely necessary to save a woman’s life — which, for an anti-choice advocate, is never as valuable as that of the unborn; and Missouri passed a constitutional amendment, vigorously opposed by evangelical Christians as well as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, protecting stem-cell research.

Pavone and his handful of followers appear to have violated regulations for tax-exempt nonprofits, effectively crossing “the line by publishing a Voter’s Guide which clearly delineated who they thought people should vote for, based on keywords and criteria (such as ‘pro-life’),” according to Frances Kissling, president of Catholics For A Free Choice. Pavone’s rationale, “government is subservient to God and that man-made laws are only legitimate when they adhere to God’s law,” defies the Constitution and makes the Catholic Church guilty by association. The group’s move more than a year ago to Amarillo from Staten Island may in fact be a banishment, considering the church promotes progressive policies overall if sex is removed from the equation. Kissling added that the Catholic Church isn’t “monolithic. Most bishops, including Cardinal Egan in New York, understand that Pavone crosses the line, and try to keep a distance. A few radicals, like `Bishop` Yanta `of the Diocese of Amarillo`, however, want to push these issues regardless of the law and provide cover for Pavone.”

The electoral shift to the left wasn’t across the board, and Texas voters, as a rule, stayed conservative, but pro-choice proponents did see some improvements — five new state representatives and a new state senator support the right to choose. Yvonne Gutierrez, director of communications and public affairs of the Planned Parenthood Trust of San Antonio and South Central Texas, is optimistic that local women will see improvements in reproductive rights. Despite the political leanings of Texas as a whole, Gutierrez feels that San Antonio isn’t as “ideologically conservative as everyone thinks,” and that groups like Priests For Life don’t grasp the realities women face. Because despite a diversion of $10 million in funding to other, unqualified centers (some fronting for religious conservative groups), and the closing of a Southside clinic, San Antonio’s Planned Parenthood patient donations reached $150,000 last year. Proving that the value of Planned Parenthood doesn’t go unnoticed, especially by those utilizing their services (the clinic saw approximately 30,000 patients last year; only 10,000 were for abortion

Religious conservatives won’t grasp how humans actually deal with sexuality and reproduction anytime soon. The ongoing U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved on November 14 a document encouraging married couples to use “natural” contraception based on a woman’s menstrual cycle. As any woman (or any man who’s ever lived with a woman) could tell you, that gamble is more likely to pay off with another mouth to feed than not. Unless they’re willing to do more than pray for the results of that gamble, these celibate, cloistered men of conviction could best serve by sitting in the sun and tending to their personal, heat-induced mirages.

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