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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mandela's life fails Tobin's litmus test

Bishop Tobin was wrong to critique Nelson Mandela
By Steve Ahlquist in Rhode Island’s Future

He gets to judge us all. It says so somewhere.
Even the staunchest atheists know that upon our deaths a being possessed with absolute moral certitude will stand in judgment over us, and no matter how honorably we serve the best urges of our conscience, we know that unless we align ourselves absolutely with the values of the judge, we will be found wanting, and damned. 

Fortunately, the judge I am referring to is Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Providence Diocese in Rhode Island, a man with doubtful supernatural and ever waning temporal influence.

In his December 5th “Statement of Bishop Tobin on the Death of Nelson Mandela” Tobin showered the great human rights leader with false praise before calling the deceased leader to task for “his shameful promotion of abortion in South Africa.” Mandela earned Tobin’s admonishment by promoting and signing into law a bill that “replaced one of the world’s toughest abortion laws with one of the most liberal.”

Bishop Tobin isn't too keen on Pope Francis, either,
thinking him insufficiently zealous on abortion
It has long been known that Tobin’s anti-abortion ideology has blinded him to the fact that good and decent people can come to different conclusions as to the morality of abortion. That is why most Americans see the issue as a decision best made by the pregnant woman, in consultation with her doctor, and want to live in a society where abortion and birth control are safe, legal and available.
Further, most Americans recognize that if we as a society really want to decrease the number of abortions performed in this country, then we ought to be working to promote the economic well being of women and investing resources into women’s health initiatives. 

Instead of championing these common sense ideas, Bishop Tobin and his RI Right to Life puppet show work on reducing the public’s ability to access health care by attempting to tear down HealthsourceRI or engaging in silly and unconstitutional theatrics involving license plates.

A while back, the monomaniacal Christian attitude towards issues like abortion was diagnosed as an “illness.”

The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances… the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?

The person making this diagnosis was Pope Francis, talking about the extremes of right wing religious ideology. Francis opined that such attitudes are worse “when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope.”

Not that the Pope is above reproach. His recent statements on economic inequality, as welcome as they are in many ways, still ignore one of the greatest obstacles towards the elimination of poverty in the developing world, which is women’s inability to access decent reproductive healthcare, including abortion. 

As long as women are shackled to the demands of unwanted childbirth, they are less free to pursue economic well-being for themselves and their families. Francis might want to take some of his own advice, and reevaluate the Church’s stand on important reproductive rights issues. Even a softening of the rules on condoms and other forms of birth control would have amazing and positive repercussions world wide.

No human is perfect, even a person as universally revered as Nelson Mandela has faults, failings, misdeeds and wrongs easily attached to their legacy. But Mandela’s support for abortion rights in South Africa is not one of them. 

Guaranteeing South African women access to reproductive healthcare has freed countless families from the kind of crushing poverty large families might face and saved the lives of thousands of women who might have died accessing illegal abortions.

The South African law, according to the NY Times, assures that, “women and girls will be entitled to a state-financed abortion on demand during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if they have no private medical insurance, and, subject to widely defined conditions, for a further eight weeks.” Even minors are allowed to access abortion under this law, without being mandated to gain consent from their families or, as is the case in Rhode Island, from a judge.

In South Africa, because of Nelson Mandela’s forward thinking respect for the rights of all persons, the decision as to whether or not to have an abortion lies solely with the pregnant woman (or girl).
This is as it should be.

Steve Ahlquist is a writer, artist and current president of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism and action. He also maintains the blog Caution Church Ahead, where he writes on the intersection of religion and politics. The views expressed are his own not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.