Have You No Sense of Decency?

After the vigorous (although, I’m happy to say, civil) debate inspired by the first two Politics of Atheism posts, I figured everyone could use a break. The third and final part of that series will appear shortly.

In the meantime, allow me to bring to your attention a story that demonstrates the truly evil and loathsome depths to which the religious right in this country has willingly sunk.

It appears that a common tactic of the anti-abortion movement is to set up “crisis pregnancy centers” that mimic the look and feel of women’s health clinics, such as those run by Planned Parenthood, that perform abortions. When women seeking abortions call these centers by accident, they are encouraged to come in for an appointment, at which point they are bombarded with anti-abortion rhetoric, including false information about how abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, and pressured to set up meetings with doctors and counselors who attempt to talk them out of their decision. As reported by the New York Times in January (source), some of these centers employ deceptive tactics in an attempt to reel confused women in:

If callers ask how much the center charges to perform an abortion, Lisa Arnold, a counselor and leader of the postabortion group, said: “I say, ‘It changes, but why don’t you come in for an ultrasound and we’ll talk about it.’ You don’t want to deceive them, but you want a chance to talk to them.”

Needless to say, “it changes” is a flat-out lie. This center does not perform abortions at all, and opposes them even in the case of rape or incest. Its only purpose in not telling the truth is to encourage women who do not realize to whom they are speaking to show up so that they can be subjected to more direct and intense pressure. (I have heard similar stories of such centers attempting to string women along, continually stalling and asking them to come in for more appointments, until their pregnancies are advanced past the point where abortion is legal.)

This alone would be bad enough. But now consider a truly horrifying story reported by Planned Parenthood:

An Indiana mother recently accompanied her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend to one of Indiana’s Planned Parenthood clinics, but they unwittingly walked into a “crisis pregnancy center” run by an anti-abortion group – one that shared a parking lot with the real Planned Parenthood clinic, and was designed expressly to lure Planned Parenthood patients and deceive them.

The group took down the girl’s confidential personal information and told her to come back for her appointment, which they said would be in their “other office” (the real Planned Parenthood office nearby). When she arrived for her appointment, not only did the Planned Parenthood staff have no record of her, but the police were there – the “crisis pregnancy center” had called them, claiming that a minor was being forced to have an abortion against her will.

The “crisis pregnancy center” staff then proceeded to wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment over the following days, showing up at the girl’s home and calling her father’s workplace. Our clinic director reports that she was “scared to death to leave her house.” They even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion. (emphasis added)

(The full text of this story and additional commentary can be found at I Blame the Patriarchy, as well as an action alert from Planned Parenthood.)

Whatever opinion one may have about abortion, this campaign of terror waged against those who choose to undergo it by the religious right is inexcusable by any standard. Assuming this story is accurate, let us tote up the sins of this group: lying and deceit by claiming they were affiliated with the real Planned Parenthood; disclosing sensitive personal information obtained under false pretenses; abusing the legal system by filing a false police report in an apparent attempt to get the girl’s mother arrested; and last but not least, a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation waged against a frightened and vulnerable young woman. (Indeed, it makes one ask, who are the moral ones?) Joseph Welch’s legendary reply to Senator Joseph McCarthy has never been more appropriate: “Have you no sense of decency?”

As much as they decry the supposed immorality of atheists, the Machiavellian, ends-justify-the-means tactics of the Christian right wing in this country show that they are the ones without morals. As far as the religious right is concerned, their goals are the right ones, and that justifies absolutely any tactics used to achieve them. (Similar logic can be discerned in the actions of the Bush administration, which claims that it has limitless authority to wiretap American phones without a warrant, arrest American citizens and detain them indefinitely without access to counsel, a trial, or even formal charges, and otherwise violate any law it sees fit, all in the name of fighting terrorism.) Not by coincidence, this is the same logic employed by tyrants, madmen, and evildoers throughout human history, that the principles of morality must be suspended to achieve a “higher” end. In reality, there is no end higher than acting morally; morality is the end. If Christian groups oppose abortion, then they have the right to work to end it through the legal means provided by our democratic system of government. They do not have the right to lie, to deceive, to harass, to terrorize, or to seek to destroy the lives of those who disagree with them.

The one good thing about this story is that this girl’s family is not without legal recourse. If these events happened as reported, then in addition to the criminal charge of filing a false police report, the deceptive pregnancy center should be held liable for fraud, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I hope to hear that the girl’s family has filed a lawsuit – this case should be a slam dunk, and a major punitive damage award would dissuade the lying zealots of the religious right from trying any similar tactics again. There should also be a law or court ruling requiring all employees of “crisis pregnancy centers”, if asked, to immediately disclose the fact that they do not perform abortions. Luring women in through deception is truly beyond the pale.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    There’s not really much to say, as the story tells itself, but this is simply horrendous and hypocritical. I mean…wow. I hope every single case of this is immediately brought to court. Let’s get some of that money out of the mega-churches.

    As an aside, since this is a pet peeve of mine (although I am no scholar on the issue), I personally respect Senator McCarthy and think he did the right thing. He took a list of security risks provided by the FBI and campaigned to get them looked into, only withheld the info because Truman wasn’t permitting interviews, and finally, about half of the subversives admitted, under HUAC investigation, to the charges, and the other half resigned quickly afterwards. Shortly after that, the head of State Department Security (not the correct title name, I’m sure) made a list of something like 800 more security risks (several times that of Joe). I just want to point that out as a point of interest (as for a source, check out “The Unseen Hand”, by Ralph Epperson. The book isn’t on that topic, but it has a chapter about it and references to other works).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I personally respect Senator McCarthy and think he did the right thing. He took a list of security risks provided by the FBI and campaigned to get them looked into, only withheld the info because Truman wasn’t permitting interviews…

    I strongly doubt that. McCarthy was asked on multiple occasions to provide the names of the people under suspicion and refused every time. From the Wikipedia entry:

    “On one particular occasion, he declared in a floor speech that he would happily turn over evidence of subversive activities by government employees, whereupon Senator Herbert Lehman approached him and held out his hand. McCarthy, having no evidence with him on that or any other occasion, ignored Lehman…”

    …and finally, about half of the subversives admitted, under HUAC investigation, to the charges, and the other half resigned quickly afterwards.

    What charges? The only thing McCarthy ever accused anyone of was belonging to the Communist party, and that is not a criminal offense in the United States of America. The only reason anyone was forced to resign was because of the witch-hunt atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust that McCarthy and his ilk created.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    He had a list provided by the FBI. He didn’t turn up the names because Truman and others were not allowing the information to be used. Executive Order number 9835 signed on March 22, 1947 by President Truman DID make it illegal to be a loyalty risk in the Federal Government, something completely understandable; communist was not just a personal view at the time, it was the identifier of enemies. Surely if we had found 200 Nazis in the State Department handling sensitive information, you’d not merely view that as a personal matter unrelated to work? “Nazi” was the enemy group, not just a generic description. On June 10th, Truman sent a memorandum to Secretary of State Marshall warning that the FBI department studying soviet espionage had found multiple security risks in the State Department, but he insisted that this be taken care of out of the public view. Truman, however, then issued an order instructing all federal employees to WITHHOLD loyalty and security information from members of Congress! Truman wanted this fixed but he didn’t want the Congress or the public involved. In ’49, McCarthy was given a report by the FBI stating the activities of spy rings and subversives. McCarthy began giving speeches and rattling off the various facts involved in the case; but he withheld the names, because he knew that if he gave them out, the SoS would simply claim it investigated each one and end the matter. He wanted a Congressional view into it. He also was trying NOT to alarm the public and NOT to demonize these people, the exact opposite of the claims. How can you say he was demonizing anyone when he never told the public at large that Joe Johnson was a communist, or something like that? Finally, a congressional board was made–to investigate Senator McCarthy, and nothing more.

    Finally, McCarthy got a list of information on all the individuals he was accusing from the State Department by requesting info on every security risk. The papers he got were about as conclusive as the original Nixon tapes; every piece of important info was eliminated. Not only THAT, he found proof on the payroll of 4 people hired for the short-term whose only duty was to tamper with the papers.

    So McCarthy, actually, started becoming the butt of a smear campaign and not the other way around. Although no one to this day can name a single innocent person he ever pointed out, he was accused of lying. That’s preposterous! He’s trying to point out spying, espionage, and other direct risks of Soviet infiltration and no one’s concerned!

    The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee released, on July 30th, 1953, a report called “Interlocking Subversion in Government Departments” where it seperately substantiated McCarthy’s claims.

    One of the first big acts against McCarthy at this time was a book called “Senator Joseph McCarthy” by Richard H. Hovere, which was one of the first big lists of McCarthy’s “crimes” of name calling. Within this book attacking name calling, McCarthy was called the following names; a bully, a seditionist, a species of nihilist, a screamer, a political thug, a master of the mob, a black arts practitioner, a champion liar, a prince of hatred, possibly a homosexual, a rue hypocrite, morally indecent, perhaps crazy, an outrageous flourflusher, a fraud, a heavy drinker, and a demon. This is the professional rejection of McCarthy’s claims; it’s good to see that argument ad hominem was not the order of the day and instead professionalism and intelligence refuted his arguments.

    Now, as you know, McCarthy was part of the Army-McCarthy hearings of ’54. Right after these started, Ike issued an executive order prohibiting testimony from any members of the executive branch without prior permission, which was never given. So, these weren’t even fair hearings at all.

    Senator Ralph Flanders introduced a resolution on July 30, 1954 to censure McCarthy for 46 different actions “unbecoming a member”. They managed to only condemn him, which is a slap on the wrist, and only for two counts.

    Now, let me give the exact stats, since I estimated before; of his list of subversives (which were by then well known, just not public. The White House knew, the State Department knew, and the Senate knew), 81 in all, the following things happened;
    57 were summoned by the loyalty board and 54 admitted to all the charges.
    By November of that year, all the rest had resigned suddenly.
    The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee reveals that, on June 27, 1956, The Security Chief of the State Department, Scott McLead, drew up a list of 847 security risks in the State Department.

    As an interesting note, in New York, the Constitutional Educational League was offering 10 grand to anyone who could prove even one case of McCarthy being wrong. It was never claimed.

    So, McCarthy was following the EO about loyalty risks, as well as more obvious laws regarding spies and soviet agents (which are also illegal, clearly), did nothing more than demand a fair investigation, was smeared left and right while being denied a fair investigation for years, and was finally shown to be 100% correct on every count. I fail to see a single crime McCarthy did except to underestimate the extent of the subversion.

    Let me state, though, that I am not in support of COINTELEPRO or J. Edgar Hoover’s campaigns. I completely dislike investigating the Hollywood Ten or other civilian communists. But that wasn’t McCarthy, that was Hoover. Even if you believe McCarthy started it, what he actually DID was both correct and needed, and effects after that were unfortunate but not intended. Furthermore, if Truman had simply handed over the information requested and allowed his staff to be interviewed, the problem would have ended in perhaps a year at most and the outcry would have been limited to those spies and subversives.

    Sorry to ramble on so long, it’s just something I really hate; that whistleblowers on government problems, while so loved in the media or about Enron or whatever, are absolutely hated when they point out something that’s not just annoying, it’s downright frightening and dangerous, such as enemy spies. If you want some source material, I can rattle some off, but it’s all in books.

  • andrea

    too bad that these “Christians” haven’t read their own book and saw that you aren’t supposed to lie for God (see Romans, Chapter 3, the first handful of verses). There will be so many “good Christians” in hell that there won’t be any room for anyone else.

  • lpetrich

    And how many Communists did “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy ever find? 0.

    All he ever succeeded in doing is acting like a total jerk.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Actually, he found 81 in the state department. No, wait; the FBI found them, McCarthy just got them fired as per US law. I know, a Senator upholding the law; no wonder it surprises people!

  • andrea

    actually. the 81 weren’t all “communists” and weren’t all fired. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCarthy It’s a pretty good article about a man who was more than a bit of a loon.

    and yes, I know, wiki isn’t always accurate but I trust it a fair amount since all can create input to the entry.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    I don’t trust wiki either, not over anything controversial. If it was the chemical effects of opium, I’d trust it, but since the very thing I’m arguing against is the common misconception of McCarthy, reading the common misconception isn’t going to help much. Right in the beginning, it attributes all to McCarthy the witch hunts; those were by far the business of COINTELPRO and J. Edgar Hoover. Although McCarthy did publically shout about public communists, his main concern was trying to get the same 81 security risks out of the State Department, and nothing more. The only thing he ever did that could be seen as outside fo that was when he began to get cynical when no one was bothering to uphold the law about having spies in government and were instead mad at him; they refused to investigate! How can we call that Justice? Why didn’t they just do the investigation and see that these people were innocent?

    BTW, I didn’t say all were fired, I said they resigned.

  • Philip Thomas

    The horrifying tactis of some of my fellow pro-life activists are beyond belief. I can now see why people get so upset with them…