Last week, the Family Research Council, convenor of the annual Values Voters Summit, the biggest political event of the religious right, announced that the Duggar family (subject of the TLC series, 19 Kids and Counting) would be featured speakers at the upcoming Summit in Washington in September.
“Jim Bob, Michelle, and the kids have been outspoken ambassadors for Christian values in a secular world. Together with parents from across the country, we want to pay tribute to their commitment to faith and family in an industry and culture that so desperately need it,” reads the FRC announcement.
Why is this family which apparently sees no end to its childbearing a model of Christian values? Because Michelle, mother of 19, grandmother of one, lives out the “Christian” virtues of what it means to be a woman: submissive to Jim Bob, a woman of “character,” and above all else, a selfless mother whose main goal is to produce more children.
That the Duggars are being featured at the religious right’s biggest political gathering is a testament to how mainstream the Duggars’ lifestyle is in the right-wing evangelical world. That is the same world which has portrayed global reproductive health organizations as promoting a “culture of death,” abortion, promiscuity, and the decline of the “traditional family.” Frequently cited is “secular” Europe where the religious right claims that the decline of Christianity has caused a population crisis and a looming “demographic winter.”
This is a world where abortion is murder, but not only that: as RD contributor Kathryn Joyce detailed in her book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, God has a divine plan for the family, and anything that deviates from that is heretical and against God’s will. Mix in the pot a circus-like media structure that enables the dissemination of falsehoods that then get repeated by activists and elected officials, long-standing fundamentalist views of the United Nations as a sign of the Antichrist, and it’s a recipe for fundamentalism-fueled campaign against the goals of reproductive freedom and access to safe reproductive health services.
During the Bush administration, religious right groups successfully cut off U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), based partially on their bogus claim that that the UNFPA supported forced abortions under China’s one-child policy. More recently these same groups have disseminated a translation of a UN representative at 2009 conference in Mexico, in which he allegedly claimed that the dissolution of the family has been a triumph of human rights over the patriarchy. I’ve not been able to find a record of his actual statement in any language, but the quote “the high rate of divorces and births outside marriage represents a triumph of human rights on the patriarchy” has been so widely disseminated in right wing networks that if you Google it, you’ll get thousands of hits, all describing it as fact — and as proof, along with other false claims, as some anti-UN activists maintain, that the UN is an organization that promotes eugenics.
Concerned Women for America has claimed that the UNFPA has been “intimately involved” in the promoting abortion in China under that country’s one-child policy, which it claims has killed a number of people “comparable to the horrendous genocides by Hitler and Pol Pot.” (The eugenics falsehood is also disseminated about Planned Parenthood, and in this country, conservatives of late have been promoting the film Maafa 21, which claims that Planned Parenthood has been engaged in a plot to engage in “black genocide” — when in fact black women in the United States disproportionately lack access to reproductive health services.) Chris Smith, a member of Congress, has declared that the UNFPA “remains guilty of shamelessly supporting and whitewashing terrible crimes against humanity.”
The UNFPA’s work, according to its statement, “is guided by the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt. It states that abortion should not be promoted as a method of family planning. UNFPA fully subscribes to this and does not provide support for abortion services. It works to prevent abortion through family planning, and to help countries provide services for women suffering from the complications of unsafe abortion.”
But that hasn’t stopped the religious right from attempting to debilitate it. When the Bush administration, at the behest of the religious right, redirected $34 million in aid from the UNFPA to the USAID Child Survival and Health Program Fund, which funded “family planning and reproductive health care activities,” right-wing anti-abortion groups denounced that as anti-life.
The American Life League (ALL) — a right-wing Catholic group which gained notoriety last year for distributing signs shortly after Ted Kennedy’s death that read, “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” — said that contraceptives were the “abortion-inducing chemicals that kill the very children that the fund claims to help.” (ALL is behind the many efforts to put “personhood” amendments on the ballots in the states, which would define the fetus as a person and is a first step in right-wing efforts to criminalize abortion.)
Are there signs of hope? Some evangelicals are now saying they support contraception — the recent National Association of Evangelicals “Theology of Sex” says “there is legitimacy in family planning and the ethical means of contraception” — but that’s only for married couples. It’s not clear, then, what domestic sex education or international reproductive health initiatives political activists would support for unmarried women and girls. Indeed the provision of safe abortion services remains a dealbreaker for evangelicals. For example, some evangelicals who say they support contraception were dismayed and put pressure on the Obama administration after the president reversed the global gag rule, which prevented NGOs around the world from accepting U.S. family planning assistance if they performed abortions, counseled or referred women to abortion providers, or lobbied for safe and legal abortion.
Meanwhile, it’s the Duggars who are the parenting — and the Christian — superstars.
Adapted from remarks at a June 8 panel on religious challenges to the sexual and reproductive health agenda at the 2010 conference of Women Deliver, an advocacy organization that works around the globe to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.