Conservatives and Children’s Rights

COVID vaccine hesitancy is just the tip of the iceberg.

Writing for CNN, Jill Filipovic makes a somewhat overwrought argument in “Tennessee vaccine official’s story reveals an ugly truth about GOP and children’s rights.” I mentioned the case yesterday in my roundup post “The Stupid, Evil Party” but she draws even wider conclusions.

I have no real objections to her lede:

The Donald Trump-fueled descent of the GOP into a party of reality-rejectingscience-denying conspiracy theorists is well-documented, and a growing phenomenon, as the extreme factions of the party overtake or push out the relatively few moderate Republicans remaining. And almost nowhere is the enduring harm of the Trump years more apparent than in the American right’s response to the Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccinations, long rightly heralded as miracles of modern medicine that have saved millions of lives, are suddenly ideologically divisive along party lines.

But she extrapolates from the relatively new to paint a rather longstanding conservative tendency as part of the phenomenon:

The danger inherent in this conflict came to a head this week in Tennessee, where pediatrician Dr. Michelle Fiscus, one of the state’s top vaccine officials, was fired after circulating information about a decades-old state policy regarding vaccinations for teens.

Republicans in the US are the most likely to say that they will simply refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a Monmouth University poll. And some of these Republicans aren’t just refusing vaccination for themselves. Many of them, including elected GOP officials, are also trying to make it harder for children to get vaccinated by penalizing public health officials who point out that they can.

It’s ironic: The party of “pro-life” doesn’t believe that children — including teens — have basic rights to preserve their well-being, separate from their parents’ wishes or consent.

It’s neither ironic nor even remarkable. Extrapolating from the label “pro-life” to discuss policy preferences apart from abortion is just a tired rhetorical device. A huge number of people, mostly with deep religious faith, believe abortion is the killing of an unborn child and should either be illegal or legal only in limited circumstances. That’s neither a particularly new phenomenon nor one limited to Republicans. Opposition to abortion doesn’t necessarily correlate with other policy preferences, nor should we expect it to.

What really interested me in the piece, though, is this discussion:

The dovetailing of vaccine rejection and the rejection of children’s rights is currently playing out in Tennessee. Fiscus, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health, said Monday that she was fired after writing a memo about Covid-19 vaccinations for young people, and including the legal standard for parental consent to health care in Tennessee. As Fiscus put it in a statement, “according to Tennessee Supreme Court case law, minors ages 14-17 years are able to receive medical care in Tennessee without parental consent.”

[…]

When it comes to teenagers and vaccines, though, two right-wing authoritarian buttons get pushed: Science denial and parental control. The entire concept of children having rights has long been rejected by many conservatives ….

[…]

Many of the same folks who believe that a fetus has more rights than a pregnant woman immediately invert that relationship as soon as a child is born, arguing that parents have near-total authority over their kids — including the authority to hit their children, to refuse them a basic education and to put their kids’ health at risk.

It’s true that Tennessee, and many other states, give minor children some rights to make their own medical decisions. This is incredibly controversial, especially among conservatives.

Let’s start with the micro issue—deciding who gets vaccinated—and then move to the macro issue of parental control.

While we have been documenting Trump-inspired politicization of the COVID virus and associated mitigation factors from the beginning, vaccine hesitancy writ large has been a thing for a very long time and hasn’t been particularly partisan at all. This graphic is taken from a Vox explainer (“Vaccine support is bipartisan. Here’s how to keep it that way.“) from 2015 after the release of a Pew survey:

Republicans and Democrats had identical views in the 2009 surveys, with 71 percent of both supporting mandatory vaccination with Independents slight laggards. For reasons not explained, Democrats went up 5 points and Republicans went down 6 points by 2014. Independents went down 2 points, which may simply be a function of sampling error.

Now, this was at a point where there was a national debate on making certain vaccinations mandatory, with Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie saying he got his kids vaccinated but respects the right of parents to choose, Minnesota experiencing a measles outbreak but unable to make vaccination mandatory, and President Obama refusing to take a position on the issue. As the Vox piece presciently noted,

As political scientist Brendan Nyhan warns, politicization of the vaccine debate could be “dangerous” and have a “perverse effect.” For instance, if support for vaccination becomes primarily identified with President Obama and Democrats, and opposition to it becomes identified with leading Republicans, people could begin to follow partisan cues in making up their own minds.

A 2018 academic study on “The influence of political ideology and trust on willingness to vaccinate” (deliberately chosen to be pre-COVID) found that

decisions about vaccination are based on more than mere knowledge of risks, costs, and benefits. Individual decision making about vaccinating involves many other factors including those related to emotion, culture, religion, and socio-political context. […] Our findings demonstrate that ideology has a direct effect on vaccine attitudes. In particular, conservative respondents are less likely to express pro-vaccination beliefs than other individuals. Furthermore, ideology also has an indirect effect on immunization propensity. The ideology variable predicts an indicator capturing trust in government medical experts, which in turn helps to explain individual-level variation with regards to attitudes about vaccine choice.

But even with this lean, opting out is a widespread practice across ideological (and, presumably, partisan) lines:

Despite all 50 states requiring children to be vaccinated before attending school, all states allow exemptions for medical reasons, all but two allow exemptions for religious reasons, and almost half allow exemptions for philosophical reasons [5]. Such exemptions contradict the efforts of the U.S. government to adhere to a federally mandated vaccine schedule and achievement of universal vaccination to maintain herd immunity. Various reasons for parents not vaccinating their children exist, from mere oversight [6], socio-economic barriers (that often interact with race/ethnicity) [7], and for some the result of conscious decisions. Oftentimes the deliberate decisions of parents are based on parental concern regarding vaccine safety [8] and efficacy [9,10].

For example, there is a growing parental and public interest in natural products and even some have taken up the mantel to “green our vaccines” due to public fears of the relationship between MMR vaccine and autism (a relationship for which no credible empirical evidence has been found [11]). When vaccinations concern children, as in the case of MMR, parents lack control over the outcome of vaccination and the potential damage, although extremely rare (less than 1 in a million), can be long-term or even fatal [12]. Moreover, benefits can be difficult to calculate, particularly given that the negative consequences of nearly-eradicated diseases are no longer salient. Consequently, many parents give greater weight to the risks of vaccines than the benefits [13]. With the ubiquity of the internet and information available online along with a shifting parent-doctor relationship, parents have become more involved in vaccination decisions and often override the mandated vaccine schedule.

The anti-vax thing is widespread, with Christian fundamentalists and modern-day hippies alike finding reasons for fear, whether from influencers like Jenny Craig to various websites. It’s not surprising that, even before Trump, that there was a modest partisan and ideological lean, not least of which because Democrats are more concentrated in dense urban areas and the risk of contagion is simply higher there than in rural and suburban areas.

As I noted back in the 2015 piece, I have very mixed feelings:

My late father was almost an absolutist on parental rights. He fully backed the right of Christian Scientists to refuse life-saving surgery for their children, seeing no role for the government at all on the matter. That struck me as an extreme position even as a kid. But, while I don’t have a deeply entrenched position on the issue, I’m not so dogmatic on the other side that I think the state ought forcibly inject children with vaccines over parental objection or deny children an education because their parents are religious nuts. Like Christie, I think the risk associated with a particular disease has to be factored in.

With regard to communicable diseases, including COVID, I think the risk-reward calculus supports making vaccination mandatory for government employees, including schoolteachers, and for kids attending public schools. (But, of course, that further incentivizes the push by fundamentalists to homeschool their children, which people like Filipovich are much more exercised over than I am.*)

I have, in all candor, given much less thought to whether minor children ought to be able to override their parents’ wishes. The only issue related to that in the public spotlight over the years has been abortion access and, while I fully understand the rationale for allowing adolescent girls to make the decision without telling their parents, I’m extremely squeamish about the implications. Given how few things we’ll let even 17-year-olds do without parental consent, medical procedures seem likely something that ought to be supervised in most cases.

The actual law on this varies widely across the country, as a 2019 Forbes piece (“What Rights Do Teens Have When It Comes To Their Health?“) notes:

There are no federal guidelines regarding a minor teen’s rights when it comes to medical care, and each state medical board has different regulations.

[…]

The latest issue regarding minor teen consent (as opposed to assent or dissent) is the hot button issue of vaccines. There are currently 17 states, including those with active measles outbreaks, which allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children based on personal beliefs. The state of California requires medical exemptions to opt out.  But even these became inordinately widespread, whereby some doctors would essentially ‘sell’ medical exemptions to families who, in reality, did not have a medical indication to opt out.

[…]

In California, minors ages 12 years and older can independently receive treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) as well as receive the HPV vaccine, which prevents human papilloma virus (HPV)-induced lesions of the genital tract in both females and males, as well as cervical cancer, throat cancers, and sinus cancers. California minors can also receive the Hepatitis B vaccine without parental consent. In Oregon, where a public health emergency has been declared due to measles outbreaks, teens ages 15 and up may receive hospital care, dental and vision services, and any immunization without parental consent. In Washington state, teen minors may receive vaccines without parental consent if the treating physician deems the teen “mature,” which seems a bit up for grabs regarding a true legal descriptor. Almost every state enables teen minors to make medical decisions regarding reproductive health, drug and alcohol dependence issues, and mental health support without need for parental permission.

Again, I don’t claim any expertise here. But it really boils down to medical professionals substituting their judgment for that of the parents. At one level, that doesn’t much bother me in that clinicians are more knowledgeable and have a bigger view of the issue. But I’m nonetheless more than a little leery of overriding parental will—or ignoring it altogether—given that parents are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of their minor children.

If it wasn’t already clear, I don’t think Fiscus should have been fired; she was acting within the guidelines of Tennesee law and using her best medical judgment. But, while I think vaccine hesitancy is just bizarre, I can certainly understand why people would have been upset that she was encouraging minors whose parents didn’t approve of the COVID vaccine to go ahead and get it anyway.

____________________

*A discussion here of homeschooling would take us down a needless rabbit hole. I’m reflexively opposed to the idea for all manner of reasons that one might deem conservative, or at least classically liberal. But, associated as I am with the armed forces, I know a lot of really good folks who homeschool their kids. And the macro-level evidence points to home-school kids being remarkably well-adjusted and prepared for college. See “Evangelical Homeschooling and the Development of “Family Values”” for a discussion of how the phenomenon went from being associated with granola culture to a right-wing thing.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Health, Law and the Courts, Parenting, Religion, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Nicely done summary and commentary on a very difficult subject.

    Ultimately, though, this is a subset of a larger conversation on public health. Sure we have individual rights but what is the responsibility of the individual to overall society? You write:

    given that parents are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of their minor children.

    Are they? Do parents take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions? If the child transmits a disease that was preventable to others, can the parents be held liable by the parents of another child? If a child dies because of negligence that is entirely preventable, can the parents be charged? Probably not. It has to go both ways.

    A problem we have as a country is that we have no memory. Seventy years ago, polio was a thing and a devastating disease that sowed panic with every outbreak. I’ve been engaged in family history research the last few months. Came across a great great aunt who had two children aged 5 and 10 who died within in 3 days of each other. Cause of death on the certificates: Diphtheria. Pretty much gone today.

    Public health is one of the great success stories of the 20th century and we let the cult of extreme individual rights bully the rest of us into accepting risk against our wills.

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  2. SKI says:

    Again, I don’t claim any expertise here. But it really boils down to medical professionals substituting their judgment for that of the parents. At one level, that doesn’t much bother me in that clinicians are more knowledgeable and have a bigger view of the issue. But I’m nonetheless more than a little leery of overriding parental will—or ignoring it altogether—given that parents are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of their minor children.

    I am someone with expertise here (healthcare compliance officer). It is not about medical professionals substituting their opinion. It is the various legislatures declaring that minors who are sexually active are emancipated for the limited purpose of making medical decisions regarding their sexual activity.

    The impetus for that legislation is often the reality that not allowing sexually active minors to interact with medical professionals without their parents consent or awareness all too often led to horrific results. The most minor of these impacts are lack of care and unintended pregnancies or untreated stds. Minors beaten, killed or made homeless. Situations where the sexual partner was an abusive family member. etc.

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  3. SKI says:

    My Kingdom, such as it is, for an edit button..

    Edited to clarify that sexual-related medical care is where these laws all started. They have recently started expanding into other areas where the legislatures are giving older minors the ability to make some, limited bodily integrity decision-making without requiring them to get a court order emancipating themselves.

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  4. Matthew Bernius says:

    This is an area where I wish we had more consistency as a culture. If we are accepting of the premise that until the age of 18 an individual is not mature enough or capable of making critical decisions without parental consent, then I think that needs to be applied equally across the board.

    That would mean eliminating the odious practice of charging and trying children as adults (especially those below 16 years of age).

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  5. Kathy says:

    Given we’re in a pandemic, I’d allow children who can talk to be able to get a COVID vaccine regardless of their parents’ wishes, barring valid medical exceptions.

    If you want to die for your beliefs, that’s your problem. If you want to kill your children over your beliefs, you’re everyone’s problem.

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  6. wr says:

    “This is incredibly controversial, especially among conservatives.”

    So is the idea of a minimum wage. Or that whites are not inherently superior to all others. Or that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.

    What “conservatives” find incredibly controversial tends to be the stuff of simple, basic facts.

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  7. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Matthew Bernius:

    Recently, I’ve started thinking that we need another category between “child” and “adult”. So “minor” would be perhaps 14-18 (I’m not sure where the right cut-off would be).

    A child is fully the responsibility of the parents, and they have “full” control (obviously there are exceptions) of the child.

    A minor has limited self-control–especially for things like seeking medical help, gaining employment, deciding which parent to live with in cases of divorce, or seeking a “divorce” from their parents (not emancipation, but being able to live with another legal guardian).

    An adult has 100% self-control. That means dropping all “21-and-over” restrictions to 18 (if that’s where the line stays). If you’re old enough to serve in the military, you’re old enough to have a beer (I know it’s a tired cliché, but I feel it’s justified).

    10
  8. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Recently, I’ve started thinking that we need another category between “child” and “adult”. So “minor” would be perhaps 14-18 (I’m not sure where the right cut-off would be).

    The law of Austria does pretty much that.

    The relevant criterion is whether the child is able to understand the possible outcomes of their decision. With children over 14 that is legally assumed (so it would require a court order to declare them unfit).

    If a fit child does not wish to consent to a treatment, the will of the parents is irrelevant as its their bodily autonomy. The parents would first have to declare the child unfit to get back the right of decision.

    If the fit child wishes to receive a treatment, but the parents disagree, the child’s will is paramount for small (i.e. non-permanent) treatments.

    For permanent treatments, both parties agreement is required. The child could then contest the parents decision in family court. The court will decide that request based on the (hopefully) objective best interest of the child.

    In all, a very nicely balanced regime.

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  9. @Mu Yixiao: I think something like this makes sense.

    5
  10. drj says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Recently, I’ve started thinking that we need another category between “child” and “adult”. So “minor” would be perhaps 14-18 (I’m not sure where the right cut-off would be).

    This is the way forward and – especially regarding medical care -already the practice in several European countries.

    Of course, conservatives won’t like it. They want control over others at all costs.

    5
  11. drj says:

    Extrapolating from the label “pro-life” to discuss policy preferences apart from abortion is just a tired rhetorical device.

    There is nothing tired about this.

    It exposes the lie that the anti-abortionists primarily care about human life rather than exercising control over female bodies.

    In political arguments, intent matters.

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  12. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:
    @drj:

    I didn’t know that Europe already has something like this. That’s encouraging to hear–especially if it’s working reasonably well.

    4
  13. KM says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    The relevant criterion is whether the child is able to understand the possible outcomes of their decision.

    And here’s where an eminently rational idea will die in America. They will insist adding fully or completely or even the deceptively tricky reasonably to insist that since kids can’t or don’t think things through to the fullest, they should not have the lion’s share of control over themselves. How could you trust a minor to know better than an adult, especially their parent, when they can’t truly grasp the consequences of their actions?

    BS of course – how many adults can or do think things through to the fullest or understand the possible outcomes of their actions? How many adults take things seriously to act to prevent negative scenarios instead of not comprehending how bad things can get? A sobering recent example would be Surfside – how many adults put aside needed repairs for years due to cost and did not expect the damage to cause a collapse (even though it’s fairly obvious in hindsight)? They weren’t explicitly told collapse would happen due to lack of repair but is it reasonable for someone to assume an aging, repeatedly damaged building in clear disrepair to suffer some form of catastrophic structural disintegration? A month ago, pretty much everyone would say no but now – now, not so much.

    Adults who think minors shouldn’t have bodily autonomy will often cite their immaturity as the reason; they can’t, don’t or won’t see how their choices end so we shouldn’t let them make choices against their parents’ wishes. They hold children to standards they don’t hold themselves to. No one expects an adult to prove they fully understand the consequences of their actions before allowing them to do anything – we assume they theoretically can and that’s good enough. The thing is there’s no magic switch that kicks in on your 18th. You’re just as young and dumb you are an hour before your birthday as you are an hour in…. and that’s not counting how we give people a pass for the hours in the day that happened before your actual birth time. Why is someone born at 9pm at night suddenly cognitively different at noon of the birthday other than legal fiction?

    Children are smarter than adults give them credit for. Yes, maybe a decision they make isn’t as well reasoned as it could be and yes, they may make a choice that might negatively impact their health. It’s still *their* lives though and they should have the final say unless there’s a massively good reason to say no. The reasons adults give are almost invariably selfish and based on personal belief or quackery, not “the child’s best interest” or “understanding all outcomes”.

    7
  14. Moosebreath says:

    @drj:

    “It exposes the lie that the anti-abortionists primarily care about human life rather than exercising control over female bodies.”

    Agreed. It strikes me as obscene that someone can be called “pro-life” when they are actively opposing efforts to control an epidemic which has already killed roughly 1 in 500 of the people in this country, or when they sign into law a measure decriminalizing intentionally running over protestors.

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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mu Yixiao:..we need another category between “child” and “adult”…

    Teenagers?

    3
  16. Blue Galangal says:

    @Scott:

    Do parents take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions? If the child transmits a disease that was preventable to others, can the parents be held liable by the parents of another child? If a child dies because of negligence that is entirely preventable, can the parents be charged? Probably not. It has to go both ways.

    Exactly – let me know when they start charging parents who keep loaded guns in their glove compartments or under their beds. It’s always a “tragedy” that “no one could have foreseen” and the poor (irresponsible) parents have “suffered enough.”

    @KM:

    How could you trust a minor to know better than an adult, especially their parent, when they can’t truly grasp the consequences of their actions?

    They honestly don’t think adult WOMEN are capable of making decisions about their own reproductive health, including obtaining prescriptions for the Pill to treat PCOS. I’d be very surprised to hear they think teens are “competent” to make decisions. Unfortunately.

    8
  17. Mister Bluster says:

    @Blue Galangal:..It’s always a “tragedy” that “no one could have foreseen” and the poor (irresponsible) parents have “suffered enough.”

    More than once I have read that these totally preventable firearms deaths of innocent children are God’s Will.

    3
  18. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    Specifically as regards medical treatment, children and teens are as advised by a doctor or other medical professional as adults. The standards, then, on whether a child can choose a vaccine are far different from whether they should get a tattoo or drink alcohol.

    There’s also the matters of need and urgency. Medical care is needed, a tattoo or a drink is not. Medical care often cannot wait long before there are long term consequences, or immediate adverse effects. No one has died from waiting a few years to be able to smoke a joint.

    3
  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    Most people recognize that children need to be treated differently than adults, but while we agree that there should be some limitations on what rights children have, we don’t have a consensus on what rights they retain, and how exactly they go from one state to the other beyond a magical transformation occurring at midnight on some arbitrary date.

    The general conservative opinion seems to be that prior to that date, children are in effect property that their parents are free to deploy however they like without any sort of consent from the child whatsoever.

    3
  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    But it really boils down to medical professionals substituting their judgment for that of the parents.

    This is an example of that: it’s portrayed as entirely as a conflict between the parents and the medical professionals, because in the conservative mind, the children-as-property do not have any position of their own that should be reflected in the discussion.

    5
  21. George says:

    @drj:

    It exposes the lie that the anti-abortionists primarily care about human life rather than exercising control over female bodies.

    Slightly more than 50% of anti-abortionists are female — does that apply to them as well?

    Besides that, sometimes groups have more than a single primary care. Conscription for instance served the dual purposes of creating a bigger army and exercising control over young poor male bodies (greater control than even abortion, given that the control often meant living in trenches for several years and walking into machine-gun fire).

    And the larger army goal used to apply abortion (and even birth control) as well — those were future soldiers (also known as cannon-fodder) being aborted. There’s a very long history all over the world of rulers encouraging high birthrates as a way of increasing power.

    1
  22. Gustopher says:

    @drj: Since unborn children haven’t had the opportunity to sin, do they ultimately end up on heaven or hell?

    Focus on the Family concludes that they go to heaven.

    https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/heaven-and-the-eternal-destiny-of-preborn-infants/

    Isn’t aborting your child the right thing to do? The ultimate act of sacrifice and love for your unborn child? Give your child over to God before the child has the opportunity to be damned.

    These people aren’t pro-life, they’re pro-damnation.

    5
  23. Gustopher says:
  24. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    Depends. Are you asking a Catholic or Protestant?

    First of all, any Christian that believes in Original Sin should say that the baby is born with sin–until it’s baptized in Christ.

    I don’t know what the various Protestant denominations say, but Catholics say that an unbaptized baby (or child, or adult) goes to Limbo–a neutral place that is neither Heaven nor Hell.*

    =====
    * This may have been revised since I was in catechism back in the day.

    2
  25. drj says:

    @George:

    Slightly more than 50% of anti-abortionists are female — does that apply to them as well?

    Of course. There are plenty of women who are`more than happy to impose their morality on others.

    Conscription for instance served the dual purposes of creating a bigger army and exercising control over young poor male bodies (greater control than even abortion

    I’m not entirely sure what your point is, but the Germans/Russians were at least an objective threat.

    People sleeping around and unable to care for a child not so much. How does this hurt you?

    4
  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I don’t know what the various Protestant denominations say, but Catholics say that an unbaptized baby (or child, or adult) goes to Limbo–a neutral place that is neither Heaven nor Hell.

    This is folk Catholicism (e.g. a lot of Catholics believe in Limbo, but it’s never mentioned anywhere in the official catechism). I believe the church’s official position is that it doesn’t know what happens to unbaptized infants who die before reaching the age of reason (as indeed it takes no position on the salvation of any specific individual as that’s up to God’s grace, not theirs).

    2
  27. George says:

    @drj:

    People sleeping around and unable to care for a child not so much. How does this hurt you?

    Doesn’t hurt me at all, I think abortion is an issue solely between a pregnant woman and her doctor. I just think people tend to overlook what drove so many reproduction laws — the need to have plenty of cannon-fodder for wars.

    To ensure that supply, nations wanted to control the bodies of women young enough to give birth and men young enough to usefully die in battle (well, poor ones, rich women could always get an abortion and rich young men always had ways to avoid the draft, like of course your last president Trump, or the one who started the Iraq War 2, Bush Jr).

    Anti-abortion didn’t arise in a vacuum, it was always about having a large supply of the poor for wars or to do manual and very poorly paid (if paid at all) work. You’ll note that many of the pro-lifers have always been the same who think there’s nothing wrong with sending men off to war to die.

    2
  28. KM says:

    @Gustopher:
    Well now, what a bunch of godless heathens. Someone should slap them with a KJV and send ’em back to Sunday School.

    Christian theology almost universally holds that everyone has the taint of original sin unless actively cleansed of it and that there’s no such thing as a human being born without sin…. with some rather obvious exceptions of course :). In fact, to argue that one *can* be born without sin in a fallen world means one is theoretically capable of living one’s entire life sinless and thus not need to be saved. That completely undermines the whole message that Christ is the only Way if you can start out the gate not needing Him; since most will hold young children cannot sin before the age of reason, we’re now up to age 7 of them being perfect, sinless creatures not needing Christ / God in any fashion. That’s….. that’s not something an evangelical with be comfortable with if you broke it down for them.

    I know people don’t like thinking through what the strict dogma of monotheism actually means in logical terms. Folks don’t like the notion of an all-powerful, omnipotent and loving being that can be tricked, stalled or defeated by evil and yet they don’t want to blame any evil on Him. If God is the Ultimate Source and Authority, then all things happen with His permission, even sin. That doesn’t sit too well with the human psyche so workarounds start getting tossed to soften the edges. What do you mean children and the unborn goes to Hell since the only way to Heaven is active acceptance of Christ? He wouldn’t do that!! Ummm, ummm, ummm, there’s an exemption for the unknowing because if you can’t understand or know, you can’t accept right? Oh, people who’ve never heard of Christianity would then automatically get into Heaven too? Ummm, ummm, age limit! Yeah, only under X age counts because kids are innocent and God wouldn’t punish the innocent, right? … right?

    What it comes down to is they’d rather twist themselves into theological knots or toss out fundamental tenants than admit there’s no real Biblical justification for anti-abortion other than Thou Shalt Not Murder and even then it’s flimsy due to definitions. It *feels* like it should be something Christian though, a warm vague fuzzy generic sentiment to make you feel like a “good person”.

    3
  29. Dutchmarbel says:

    There is also the problem with divorced parents who have a different opinion.

    On the basis of the Dutch Medical Treatment Contract Act of 1995, minors aged 16 and older are in principle capable to decide on their own about medical treatment. However, children aged 12–16 have the right to consent to medical treatment (unless they are not yet capable to do so, for instance, due to a cognitive impairment), but they cannot exercise this right independently: their parents need to consent too. This ‘dual consent system’ is not absolute, that is, situations could occur, in which a refusal by (one of) the parents can be ignored, for instance, if a refusal would have serious negative consequences for the health (prospects) of the child. For Covid vaccinations it has been specifically decided that for 12-15 yo the wish of the kid is decisive.

    For general medical treatments there is an overview of the rules of the EU countries (incl. the UK because the overview is from 2018) about the age at which children can consent to medical treatment without parental consent.
    https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2017/mapping-minimum-age-requirements/consent-medical-treatments

    5
  30. Gustopher says:

    @KM, @Mu Yixiao: I’m going to take Focus on the Family at their word.

    And the entire question of whether you can be born without sin in a fallen word is sidestepped by aborting the child before it is born.

    And, if it is indeed harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, then above a certain income, limbo is the best they can hope for.

    God is all knowing and all powerful. He wouldn’t set up this incentive structure if He didn’t want to reward this behavior.

    2
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    First of all, any Christian that believes in Original Sin should say that the baby is born with sin–until it’s baptized in Christ.

    And, of course, this is why children also go through a catechism/confirmation class and eventually kneel at the alter to formally embrace the religion their parents and godparents baptized them into as babies. The Amish have a similar rite in rumspringa where if the children decide to continue in the community, they are then baptized.

    Low church sects don’t follow the practice–holding that you can’t be baptized on the basis of someone else’s claim of faith (though some passages in the NT argue against that very point)–and have adopted a concept of prolonged innocence wherein God’s grace and mercy preserves the soul until a (very) loosely defined age of accountability. Age of accountability is such a vague concept that low church groups go to great lengths to evangelize children specifically. I have no data on how well evangelizing children outside of a family and societal structure specific to the faith in question works, but I’m inclined toward skepticism.

  32. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    To paraphrase and old joke, Catholics have their beliefs, Protestants have their beliefs, and God has His.

    4
  33. KMr says:

    @Gustopher:
    Eh, the Lord yeeteth and the Lord yoinketh away. Such is life and His Will. Personally, I think mankind wrote down the rules in a way that made sense on Earth to a human psyche in specific timeframe and context so we’re all gonna be surprised in the end. I think the things you need to do to be damned are few in nature but most people are not getting the happy paradise they think they are.

    As for sidestepping the question, not really since rendering it moot doesn’t mean the scenario can’t happen, it means you don’t care about for that specific case anymore. Much like letting cases about TFG’s emolument violations go because he’s no longer in office, it’s a dodge to not deal with something that’s clearly a problem but nobody wants to handle the fallout and tears. If you have a soul at conception as many of them implicitly claim, then either we’re all sinless Christ-like beings for a surprisingly long period of time and then suddenly doomed sinful wretches on an arbitrary deadline (much like the bday example above)….. or they’re making it up to make themselves feel better that God’s not sending babies to hell. If the latter, hey feel free – it’s their strict theology that’s making them feel they need wiggle room on a delicate subject. If you think there’s multiple paths to God however, there’s less need to mangle your own dogma to close a loophole.

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  34. Mike in Arlington says:

    It’s interesting that the conservatives in this example are framing the issue as “children’s rights” but they aren’t arguing for the rights of the children, rather they want the ability of their guardians/parents to make decisions for their children.

    I don’t think anybody in this discussion was taken in by this sleight of hand, but I think we should keep an eye on how the issue is framed and call this out, because it’s one thing to advocate for someone’s rights, but it’s another to argue for the power to make decisions for another person, which is a harder argument to make.

    Of course, there are definitely situations where it’s 100% appropriate to exercise that sort of control over another person (e.g. young children and others who cannot effectively advocate for themselves), but that ability to control another person’s decisions needs to have checks and accountability because it may not always be done in their best interest (see: Spears, Brittany)

    The reason I wanted to point this out is that if you look at it from this perspective, the desire to control whether a child receives a vaccine squares better with wanting to control a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

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  35. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I was very active in our local Catholic church up through high school. I was an altar boy, a lector, and an usher–even when I had decided that I didn’t believe anymore. My big revelation was around the 3rd grade in catechism when talking about “mortal sins” and excommunication (both my parents were divorced (for good reason) so had been excommunicated–even though they were very active in the church and welcomed by everyone (including the priest)).

    I asked “If God forgives everyone who’s sorry or admits a mistake… why do we excommunicate people?”

    The teacher had the best answer I could have heard: “Sometimes God’s laws and the Church’s laws aren’t the same”.

    And, of course, this is why children also go through a catechism/confirmation class and eventually kneel at the alter to formally embrace the religion their parents and godparents baptized them into as babies.

    Low church sects don’t follow the practice–holding that you can’t be baptized on the basis of someone else’s claim of faith.

    I don’t know the official Catholic doctrine on this, but I always perceived it as “our congregation is accepting this child and taking on the burden of their sin until they can do so themself”.

  36. Lynn says:

    @drj: ” There are plenty of women who are`more than happy to impose their morality on others.”

    Phyllis Schlafly.

    2
  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: @KM: More than one of the young men who grew up in the Baptist church with me went on make the same argument that Gus just did. Some of them even went to seminary and became pastors of churches. But to the best of my knowledge, not even one of them ever shared that thought with their congregations.

  38. flat earth luddite says:

    @KM:

    With apologies to all in this particular thread, @Luddite is now hearing a hoary old Zappa tune in my head. Dumb All Over…

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: That’s certainly an approach to the question. Within the Lutheran Tradition–which is where I ended up when I left evangelicalism behind–the focus is more on the idea that the parents and godparents will combine their efforts to raise the child to understand the teachings of the church and the church will supplement that effort as the child grows older. The particular church that I moved to had pastors who hold that living a “Christian life” constitutes an informed decision to embrace the teachings within the catechism and live according to those teachings as God gives understanding. The pastors have at times frustrated parents by telling their children that if the children come to decide that they don’t believe and won’t live by the teachings, they shouldn’t kneel at the altar and swear that they will. They’re not just magic words and baptism doesn’t simply make you a child of God no matter what.

    Your teacher’s comment was very wise. It would have been even wiser if the church would understand what grace actually is and would practice it. They’d still never get perfect at it, but maybe they would have done a better job of convincing you that words mean things. YMMV.

    2
  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    Boy, you’d think given my line of work that I’d have some insight on this.

    Nope.

    2
  41. David S. says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Tbh, the arbitrariness of physical age is part of what makes it fair, in that it’s equally unfair and blind to all. Any other test would risk a worse unfairness. I’ve thought about this stuff in relation to voting age (i.e., why shouldn’t a 14 y/o be able to cast a ballot? Why not 10? 8?) and any test you could offer would be morally equivalent to the SAT and provide a delightful basis for disenfranchising older people to boot, as well.

    @Stormy Dragon: I was expecting the “age of reason” (i.e., “The name given to that period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible.”) to be relevant here, but the article doesn’t mention sin or damnation, so it’s not clear to me what the canonical answer is.

  42. JohnMcC says:

    @KM: Exodus 21:22 and following… Considers the Law governing Israel in the case of two men fighting each other and one of them injures a pregnant woman who then miscarries (from the verses, the wife or kinswoman of his opponent). There are two outcomes: If the woman subsequently dies, the man who struck her is guilty of murder and will be put to death. If the fetus dies, the man who’s wife or kin has the right to pretty much whatever financial damage he demands.

    TL:DR — The death of the woman is murder; the death of the fetus is not. According to the Law.

    Now, the Law also forbids lots of great stuff. Shrimp. Tattoos. Going without a silly hat in church! Christians don’t care. They make their own rules. And Evangelicals by-and-large believe in some variation or another of the concept of different Devine “dispensations” as the eons roll by. They will be sincere when they say, in essence, ‘that was then; this is now.’

  43. JohnMcC says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Wow. So even the Amish have disputes over infant baptism. That’s just amazing.

  44. Not the IT Dept. says:

    People need to wander over to Youtube and find George Carlin’s 20 minutes on “Growing Up Catholic”. He nails it. Best 20 minutes of your week.

    1
  45. @JohnMcC:

    So even the Amish have disputes over infant baptism. That’s just amazing.

    The whole point of the Amish is the question of infant baptism – it is the reason why they (Amish, Memnonites, Hutterites, etc. – the Anabaptists) split from mainstream Christianity

  46. Barry says:

    @Scott: So someone should risk their own health taking the vaccine to protect others when those with vaccine still can transmit? And yes.. people have gotten sick and died from the shots. The flu kills many people as well and we ain’t getting crazy over that. Our immune system has kept us alive for thousands of years.. so no need to mess with it.

  47. @Barry:

    Our immune system has kept us alive for thousands of years.. so no need to mess with it.

    Smallpox, polio, measle, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, and a host of other diseases would like a word.

  48. @Barry: And yes, flu can be very dangerous, and why I get my flu shot.

    I would also note that the flu is a lot less deadly than Covid was last year. I have written about this multiple times. The numbers are what the numbers are.