In the two years leading up to his death this past February, the legal and political philosopher Ronald Dworkin was completing a slim volume with a weighty title. Religion without God, which began as a series of lectures in 2011, set a lofty goal: to propose a “religious attitude” in the absence of belief. Dworkin’s objective was not just theological. The book, he hoped, would help lower the temperature in the past decade’s battle between a group of scientists and philosophers dubbed the New Atheists and an array of critics who have accused them of everything from Islamophobia to fundamentalism to heresy.
It’s hard to miss the fallout from the barrage of abortion restrictions that hit state legislatures this year. Four abortion clinics in rural Texas announced plans to close after determining it would be too expensive to comply with a new state law imposing unnecessary medical standards. Clinics in Ohio and North Carolina, where similar laws have been passed, say they may also have to close. Iowa’s telemedicine abortion program—a creative workaround designed to bring first-trimester abortion to women in rural parts of the state—was recently shut down by the state medical board. In states nationwide, the hurdles to access safe, high-quality abortion care are getting higher and higher.
In early August, several dozen teenagers and a few adult supervisors descended on the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a request: They wanted the curators to add an exhibit on abortion. When their demand was rebuffed, the teens—who were spending the week in the city as part of a pro-life training camp sponsored by Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust—unfurled a banner outside the building calling Albuquerque “America’s Auschwitz.”
The protest catapulted Albuquerque into the national media, but the demonstration is just one part of a larger experiment by the recent wave of pro-life activists flocking in from out of state: Can they transform New Mexico—a moderate state with liberal abortion laws—into another combat zone in the abortion wars? After a number of failed efforts to change policy in the legislature, abortion opponents have homed in on Albuquerque. Earlier this summer, they gathered enough signatures to put an ordinance banning abortion after 20 weeks before city voters in a special election. While similar bans have been passed in a dozen states, the proposed law would be the first to limit legal abortion at the local level. The immediate goal is to end the controversial practice of third-trimester abortion, but the campaign could also serve as a model for pro-life activists who are eager to spread red-state extremism into more moderate parts of the country.
Last week, as children across the country returned to school and struggled to remember the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was considering whether to make it easier for them by removing “under God.”
This might seem like déjà-vu. Church-State separationists have been trying to pry “under God” out of the Pledge since Congress inserted the phrase in 1954—more than a decade after it was adopted. But the case filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA), which is representing an atheist family from suburban Massachusetts, may be different. Rather than contesting the language in federal court—where any challenge is likely to come up against an unsympathetic Supreme Court—lawyers have opted to sue in state court. The legal angle is also new. Traditionally, lawsuits challenging the “under God” in the Pledge have hinged on concerns over the separation of Church and State. But lawyers in the Massachusetts case are charging that the practice violates the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious creed. The Pledge, advocates say, ostracizes nonbelievers by linking patriotism to belief in God. “Children every morning are pledging their national unity and loyalty in an indoctrinational format, validating religious God belief as truly patriotic and invalidating atheism as second-class citizenry at best, unpatriotic at worst,” David Niose, former president of the AHA and lead counsel on the case, told the court.