In America, reproductive rights have fallen prey to a creeping theocracy

The United States of America is becoming a theocracy. The Dobbs decision has bypassed the Congress by having the Supreme Court establish a de facto religion which forces unwilling women to become mothers.

By Richard Grossman, MD © 2022

Protesters in a rally for abortion justice in Sacramento, California. Photo: Aiden Frazier

For years I have hesitated to write about the effect of religion on population.

My hesitation has not been because the subject is trivial. It has been self-preservation.
For years, as a physician who performed abortions, I feared the people of the religious right who have killed abortion providers. Criticizing their religious beliefs might be like throwing a rock at a hornet’s nest. Fortunately there seems to be less risk now that I’m retired. The pressing reason for breaking this silence, however, is the importance of recognizing the power of misogynistic religions.

Anti-woman beliefs have many manifestations. An example is the religiously-based Internet sites that state that having an abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, although reliable sources of information state that this relationship has been disproven. I call this “lying for Jesus”.

The US Supreme Court has brought this to a head with the recent Dobbs decision, which allows states to limit abortion or completely stop abortion services. What can we do? At this point I only have two ideas: help women who live in states get access to safe abortion services; and vote for candidates who support choice.


Prevent the Supreme Court from Establishing a State Religion

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

First Amendment to the United States Constitution

The United States of  America is becoming a theocracy. The Dobbs decision has bypassed the Congress by having the Supreme Court establishing a de facto religion which forces unwilling women to become mothers.

So far this religion has evidenced itself with the Court’s failure to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision. The Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization gave power to individual states to regulate the legal status of abortion. Remember, the majority of Americans are prochoice, according to several recent polls. There are fears that more is to come, perhaps even resuscitating the Comstock laws which forbade use of contraception.

Abortion has not always been frowned upon. Back when the Constitution was written, women’s healthcare was in the hands of women, including herbal abortifacients, and it is likely that men had no idea what was going on. It is silly to think that the Constitution would include anything about women’s healthcare, let alone abortion, yet part of the argument in the Dobbs decision is that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. Remember, the people at the Constitutional Convention were all white males! Abortion was acceptable in colonial America and didn’t become illegal until the mid-1800s.

This new religion was sired by the coupling of rightwing politics and conservative religions, including Roman Catholicism and the evangelicals who have overtaken the South. The primary tenets of the new religion pretend to be in favor of narrowly defined “life”, claiming that human life begins when human sperm and egg meet. It appears that most followers of this new religion don’t care much what happens to the “life” except when it is in the woman’s reproductive tract – with little attention to the person who supports the uterus. After birth, they tend to not support healthcare, social services or education – especially sex ed. Teen pregnancy rates are highest where the evangelicals are strongest.

In reality, the “prolife” people may be courting death. They are encouraging continued human overpopulation with consequent destruction of Creation. Humans are causing the massive extinction of species, many of which are essential to our own existence. Our clever synthesis and use of chemicals is toxifying the air and water with poisons, some of which last forever. And don’t forget the climate chaos that even Trump cannot ignore.

The high priest of this new religion is Justice Samuel Alito, the principal author of the Dobbs decision. His bishops are Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett; all supported the Dobbs decision. These 6 justices were all appointed by Republican presidents; the three dissenting justices were appointed by Democratic presidents. It is unlikely that this happened by chance. The unescapable conclusion is that this judgement was politically based.

What can be done about this apparent incursion of a state religion in the USA? A group of religious leaders have sued the State of Florida, which has one of the most prohibitive abortion laws in the country. These leaders claim that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new abortion law. One of them, Reverend Laurie Hafner of the United Church of Christ, stated “I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith.”

Similarly, a patient at Planned Parenthood asked me, after her abortion, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes”, I responded. “I am a Quaker. I feel obliged to perform abortions because it is one way I can help people and also help this overpopulated world.”

Rather than preserving the sanctity of human life, as believers in this new religion profess, it worships the contents of a pregnant woman’s uterus and damns the imagined evil of abortion. This religion ignores the fact that one in five human pregnancies ends in a spontaneous abortion, also called “miscarriage”. If human fetuses are so holy, why does God allow miscarriages to happen?

I am worried that minority religious beliefs are being imposed on the majority by a powerful minority. Americans must push back in the upcoming elections and send a signal to the Supreme Court that we won’t tolerate a state religion.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022


This article was first published in Richard Grossman’s newsletter. If you like what you read, please contact Dr. Grossman to subscribe to his monthly essays on population at:

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23 thoughts on “In America, reproductive rights have fallen prey to a creeping theocracy

  1. It is also important to consider theocracy in conjunction with plutocracy – donors puppeteering for a theocracy. Follow the money. Certain ethically challenged politicians created the current Supreme Court, which has moved plutocracy far forward with decisions employing disingenuous legal reasoning. Formula for the decline of a nation: Plutocracy + theocracy = aborting democracy.

  2. There are three potent forces that have got us into the current unholy mess, with an ungovernable eight billion, instead of a halfway-manageable two or three.

    Organised religion, neoliberalism, and the United Nations. Politics, so they say, makes for strange bedfellows.

  3. There is no overlap between abortion (or reliable contraception) and overpopulation.
    For millenia mankind has had little access to either of these things – yet the human population has remained at or below 1 billion, due to high infant mortality and early average death.
    Progress has prolonged life, and at the same time made it easier to abort life both at its start and its finish. Coincidentally, or rather concurrently, great swathes of the natural world have bitten the dust, and so have the world’s many religions as the worship of science, progress, and mammon take precedence. I say concurrently because coincidentally implies there is no connection – but I thimk there is.
    Curiously, hand in hand with all this “progress”, have come human population explosions so gigantic that they threaten not only the survival of thousands of plant and animal species, but also our own survival.
    Far from reducing population, it seems to me that easy contraception and abortion have made humans more careless than ever, more wasteful, and more greedy. Just as our waste products can be disposed of out of sight, so can our little mistakes involving sperm and egg. I live near a carcass rendering plant – this is where the bodies of factory-farmed animals are disposed of. It is in the middle of nowhere – however a nauseating odour betrays its presence for miles around. No doubt dead embryos are disposed of even more unobtrusively. That does mean that the process does not bear thinking about. Or filming. No-one films the carcass rendering plants, and we will not stop eating too much meat until there is one on everyone’s doorstep.
    If people have more babies than they can feed, they must learn the hard way not to do it. Otherwise overpopulation and overconsumption will continue until there is nothing left.
    There is no human right to abortion, not surprisingly. Only the right to marry and found a family (Article 12 ECHR), and the right to life (Article 2). The ECHR only covers Europe, of course. But I doubt if any Nation anywhere has enshrined a right to abortion in law. They may have made it legal, but they won’t have made it a human right.

    1. Humans have always practiced abortion and contraception (there are books on this), only it was less reliable and more dangerous. What legal abortion does is not increase abortions, but make them safer.

      1. The WHO says around 73 million induced abortions are performed every year, worldwide. That reduces the world birth-rate quite a lot, I admit – annual world births are around 140 million at the moment. But like the much-vaunted education for women, surely this only increases consumption? – since reducing population in a nation increases longevity and increases spending power, for both men and women. And it is CONSUMPTION that is the problem as much as numbers, surely? Even at very basic levels, as we can see from the rubbish arising out of slums and refugee camps. The excavated rubbish dump of a large medieval town in Europe might contain thousands of pottery vessels and thousands of leather or rope sandals. But not much else.
        I just can’t see how any “solution” applied by humans can actually solve anything, when things have got this bad and the whole world expects a certain level of consumption AS OF RIGHT.
        To see abortion and contraception and women’s liberation and the de-fanging of religion as part of a “solution” is just another form of human hubris. Do atheists consume less than religious fundamentalists? I don’t think so – all the evidence points the other way. Most religions try to deter excessive consumption of anything.
        When men are liberated from serfdom by education (and most of them haven’t been, yet), do they consume less? No, they consume more. Why would women be any different? My uneducated grandma consumed very little all her life (1900 to 1980), though she was quite prosperous. Yet even a very poor woman nowadays consumes more than she did – and I (highly educated and reasonably well-off) consume far far more than she did, even though I live very simply (by today’s standards}. My only child (now 35) has probably already consumed 10 times more than ALL my grandma’s six children did in their entire lifetime. Education of women and their “liberation” is just another useless “quick fix” fantasy. It just enables us women to consume more. And we do. Even if we feel guilty about it, the fact is that in order to take part in life at all (no luxuries, just basic work, rent, food, etc.), you need to be getting and spending at a level that is increasing as fast as human numbers are. Faster, probably (the two things are not easy to compare). Even small farmers seem to be caught in this trap – though they of all people should be able to live sustainably.
        The only thing that is going to solve anything is a gigantic event or series of events far outside our power to bring about – powerful though we are. Alternatively, our “progress” may start to consume itself, like ourobouros – an old myth that accurately describes how civilizations start to destroy themselves, or eat themselves up, once they get too big, to fulfill a proper cycle of life and death which is not linear but circular. I suppose the current high level of abortion could be seen as part of this cycle, and thus not wholly irreligious – but it does go against the basic instinct not to destroy innocent new lives, or frail old lives nearing their end without full permission. A foetus cannot give permission, and this has to be a problem to all but the most ruthless.

      2. I think, if I may, you are confusing different issues. Usually, women do not have abortion just because they want to consume more. They have abortions because they do not want or cannot afford a child, because it’s a risky pregnancy, because they do not want to have a child with a particular person they are pregnant by, because they were raped, because they already have all the children they want, because there are things they want to do in life more than raising a baby, because they are not ready yet…
        Abortion might contribute to reduce population overall, but no one is arguing is should be the main tool for this. Ideally, you should be able to use effective contraception, sterilisation or abstinence and abortion should be a last resort.

        You say “a foetus cannot give permission”, and that’s kind of the point. A woman has agency, self-awareness, is able to think and feel, and that is why she should decide, not the foetus. I respect that people feel differently about this but rationally you cannot compare a grown woman to a potential human life that isn’t fully a person yet. I think it would be more “ruthless” to force a woman through a pregnancy she does not want. A pregnancy is a huge deal as well as dangerous, and being responsible for a child is a life-long commitment.

        As for the rest, as has been said many times in this blog, we need to reduce both the population and the overall level of consumption. It is not an either/or thing.

      3. I agres, Gaia! the difference between the past and the present is the safety and effectiveness of modern contraception and abortion.

    2. Thank you, Edith. My understanding is that every society that has been studied by anthropologists has had means of abortion. Also, abortion was practiced in colonial and early America by midwives, but didn’t get the attention of male law-makers until the mid 19th century.
      I don’t understand what you meant by: “There is no overlap between abortion (or reliable contraception) and overpopulation.” In the past the population was fairly constant because of disease and battles–it is estimated by archeologists (eg LeBlanc) that 10 to 15% of young males were killed in raids and war. Good nutrition, sanitation and medical care have caused the increase in population. According to one scholar (Potts) no country has achieved replacement fertility or less without access to legal abortion.
      If you don’t support abortion for religious reasons, why does God cause (or at least allow) more than 20% of human pregnancies to miscarry?

  4. God discards many more conceptions than Dr. Grossman points out when he says 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Before implantation about 50% of conceptions are lost–that is, the fertilized egg doesn’t even make it to the beginning of pregnancy.

    The “it’s not population it’s consumption argument needs to be followed to its logical conclusion which is that it much then follow that it is ok for increasing numbers in poor countries to stay poor. Since rising numbers lead to land destruction, forest clearing, soil losses, and migration, as well as wars and famine (children dying of kwashiorkor, etc.) This insistence that the poor stay poor is morally indefensible. And ecological folly. If birth rates don’t drop, death rates eventually increase–as concept known as “density dependent mortality” that regulates populations of most species. Human have the option of reducing fertility which allows long lives and prosperity. Of course the rich need to cut consumption–and we wouldn’t be worse off if we cut consumption considerably (more leisure, more time for family and friends and education and art and nature). But the answer is “both” not one or the other. Phil Cafaro explained that environmental impact is like calculating the area of a rectangle. You multiply height times width. To get environmental impact, multiply population times consumption. Both matter. Cutting population might make it easier to sell the idea of reducing acquisitiveness in a less stressed world. And it would certainly make it easier to retire coal fired power plants and stop forest clearing that is destroying the lungs of the planet.

    1. Thank you, Max. Yes, the percentage of human pregnancies that are miscarried is probably greater than 20%–I’ve seen as many as 90% suggested. I purposely chose a low percentage. Theologically, it would seem that if even one pregnancy is allowed to be aborted spontaneously by an omniscient, omnipotent God, that there is a message for us mere mortals.
      I also agree about consumption. I would like to know the Ecological Footprint of those who bring this up–I’ll bet that it is considerably more than the 2 hectares that is the average limit for a sustainable planet.
      The reason that I focus on population is that, in my 40 year practice of OB-GYN I have seen thousands of women who want to limit their fertility, but I know of very few people who want to decrease their consumption. Let’s go with the low-hanging fruit!

  5. Linking abortion to overpopulation is the kiss of death in PR terms. You might as well just close down this website now, having allowed an abortionist onto it to tarnish the subject – or even befoul it, a much stronger word which is not unwarranted.
    Also what does anti-abortion have to do with religion? Most abortions last year were performed in China. Next was Russia (though Russia is higher per capita than China, with Vietnam coming second in the per capita figures).. The religions of the West have had zero impact on their own abortion rates too. Most First World nations have high rates of abortion. The top ten (not per capita) are China, Russia, US, India, Vietnam, Ukraine, Japan, UK, France, Canada.
    Are we saying there would be more than 73 million abortions a year if religion was not interfering? (whether or not more abortions would be a good thing). How unscientific can we get? Where is the link? Where is the evidence?
    Yet religious and other conscientious people DO accuse those who try to educate about overpopulation with deliberate extermination of humans – and the ignorant approach of this article merely fuels this very large group’s much more damaging ignorance.
    I could weep when I think of the decades of odium the great environmentalists and preachers (if I may use this word about scientists) against human overpopulation have endured, without once mentioning abortion or euthanisia. I think some may mention women’s liberation + contraception as a solution – I think this is a mistake, made for emotional reasons and under considerable pressure from the prevailing Zeitgeist. These latter-day Malthusians are deeply kind men, concerned for the future of our species and others, all doing their level best to avoid tricky subjects like the deliberate ending of human life or – even trickier – the much lower consumption of “career” housewives whose only job is the full-time one of keeping household consumption right down at genuine sustainability level, and teaching any children to do the same.
    My favourite Overpopulation guru is one I had never heard of until recently, when I started using youtube more during the lockdown – yet he should be a household name – William Robert Catton, Jr. (January 15, 1926 – January 5, 2015) The “Overshoot” guy. Luckily he does have a large following in America (unpublicized in the mainstream media of course), so there are quite a few videos of him in his later years. He had four sons himself, but then he is far too clever to make the mistake of linking ANY deliberate ending of human life with his passionate but highly intellectual advocacy for much lower human populations.
    Another recent youtube discovery is the charming William E. Rees FRSC (still alive aged 74). Wiki says “Rees has said that the “enlightenment project,” rooted as it is in Cartesian dualism, has resulted in a techno-industrial society that sees itself as somehow separate from the biophysical world. This dualism and its expansionary-materialist worldview are the basis of many of the “environmental problems” facing humankind.” ”
    This is the level we MUST be at, and stay at. Not fossicking about with human remains in the gutter. Or telling all the world’s poor they can all live like Americans one day – this is Elmer Gantry territory, shifted from fake religion to fake philanthropy.

    1. Edith, religion definitely plays a role in abortion access in my country, Italy. Look up “obiettori di coscienza”.
      And if you feel so strongly against abortion, you must also accept that many overpopulation activists feel differently and think that letting a woman decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not is one of the many things we need to advocate for.
      Finally, if you’re so worried about human lives, you should know that many women who do not have access to legal and safe abortion try to abort anyway, and often die in the process, sometimes leaving orphans behind. Legal abortion means less deaths, not more.

      1. I am personally disgusted by any deliberate taking of human life, and I see that my emotional language has obscured the reasoned argument I was making or trying to make. I was trying to decouple the rights and wrongs of abortion, and the rights and wrongs of religion come to that, from the subject – because they make it toxic and so even less persuasive. These “debates” go round and round everywhere ad infinitum, and they never help – because there is no “answer”, so no way forward can be forged from the usual Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis path.
        I am not here to judge desperate women who feel they have to resort to abortion – if they must, they must, and the process should try to keep them alive. In that respect, legit abortionists have an important role – but I do not want to see them making contributions to overpopulation campaigns unless they keep their specialism out of it.
        I was not arguing pro or contra making abortion legal, in short. That debate is, I repeat, toxic.
        You article on the Per Capita Fallacy is the best I have seen anywhere for a long time (excluding living “stars” like William Rees and Paul Ehrlich). I was completely blown away by it – and meant to post an unusually short (for me) comment just saying thanks, well done, this is brilliant and ties up all the threads.
        It actually does what I am pleading for – lifts the topic up into the pure air of the intellectual stratosphere. I will read it again (with pleasure) but I do not remember it mentioning abortion even in passing, or contraception for that matter. Like all great articles it builds to a magnificent ending, where the consumption of anyone (even in a developing country) is compared with that of the few groups of humans that do still live sustainably. That was heroic of you, really, because consumption – including consumption in the Developing World – is the one topic that everyone wants to avoid. Our whole way of life is built upon it, all over the world. Abortion, and even the liberation of women IMO, are red herrings, taking us away from focusing narrowly on this huge “elephant in the room” labelled Growth &Progress – so quite apart from any moral issues they raise, they are almost physical barriers across the road with arrows pointing away from the road saying “DIVERSION”, as with actual roadworks.
        The quote in my previous post from William Rees says it all – and I must apologize to Phil Cafaro for not mentioning his recent article about Rees, I was over the moon to see it (and yours) and thought, at last, we are getting into the stratosphere. I suppose this is partly why I was so dismayed by the above article – my parents started talking about overpopulation in the 1960s in quite elevated international circles and so I have been a continual witness from childhood to the fury aroused by this topic and by the mere mention that there might be too many humans. That fury is very much present to this day – I have learned to ignore it, but also not to provoke it unnecessarily. xx

      2. Thank you for your words about my article.
        I understand you want to keep the issue of abortion separate from environmental issues, and I respect that there are people who are really upset when they think about abortion and wish it never happened, but at the same time really care about the planet. There are many other ways these people can contribute to positive environmental change even if we’re not all on the same page about abortion.
        But in the real world some abortions are basically unavoidable, and contraception at the very least IS a huge part of how we regulate our impact on this Earth – unless you expect everyone on the planet to give up sex after a second child, which is unrealistic.
        Individually, if an issue makes us uncomfortable we have the right to avoid it, but not to ask others to do the same. I believe that movements that advocate for change cannot afford to stay away from difficult, practical, how-do-we-actually-get-this-done issues. If there were only win-win solutions, we would never have any problems!
        Take migration, for example. Many here agree it should be regulated. But HOW? Sending people back is cruel. Locking them up is cruel. Attacking them while they try to get in is cruel. But allowing unlimited access into a country also creates serious problems.
        This debate, as you say about abortion, is definitely toxic. People fall out over it. So what do we do? Do we just pretend it isn’t happening because we don’t want to choose one uncomfortable option among many other options, all uncomfortable?

  6. Dear Gaia – William Rees has said that the “enlightenment project,” rooted as it is in Cartesian dualism, has resulted in a techno-industrial society that sees itself as somehow separate from the biophysical world. This dualism and its expansionary-materialist worldview are the basis of many of the “environmental problems” facing humankind.
    This Expansionary Materialism (EM) is present in all our ideologies – communism, socialism, capitalism, liberalism, even environmentalism in its current incarnation. Rees is understating the problem when he says EM causes “many” of the problems, IMO.
    IMO it causes all of them. We need to tear all the “isms” up and start again.
    There is no Theocracy, even in Iran. There is only Mammonocracy. This has caused Iran to run out of water – and Syria too. These are early birds – the rest of the world will follow suit one day – a day that is looming nearer with every passing minute.
    Archaeologists are discovering more and more about Early Man – and every discovery shows that Early Man was deeply religious in his worldview, in a way that was closely intertwined with the NATURAL material world around him. Some sort of spiritual side connected with the natural world is at the heart of all religions, even today’s somewhat pallid versions of belief in the “Spirit World”.
    Far from pretending abortion does not exist, we are in danger of pretending that spirituality in any form does not exist. All modern philosophers (and many ancient ones) agree about this – it is not just my opinion. And Philosophy was renamed Science at the Englightenment – so it would not surprise me if all or most Scientists also believe that we do not see everything and that there are things humanity cannot dominate and control, despite its increasing control over tiny chromosomes, never mind tiny foetuses. Civilization after civilization has crashed into ruins because it believed it was God – and ours is about to do the same.

    1. Edith, I respectfully disagree. Western thought has been anthropocentric from way, way before the Enlightenment. So have all the cultures that have had Abrahamic religions (even before those religions were developed), so that includes not just the West but the Middle East as well – which is actually where a lot of Western thought comes from. And even from the little I know of the great Asian spiritual traditions, they might not be as anthropocentric but I don’t see their environment as having been treated much better. Feeding humans and prosperity were and are the priority, not preserving the natural world as such, much less animal rights.
      There have been many, many human cultures, and some were not anthropocentric as we intend it today. But we now know that the megafauna was wiped out by humans not just in Europe, but also in North America and Australia, at the very least, so in those places we tend to associate with animistic or pantheistic cultures.

      The way I see it, all humans have made similar mistakes with similar consequences throughout history. Instead of blaming complex intellectual traditions without taking into account their context, we should figure out a way of moving on now.

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