My Time with the AHA


AHA2So I had a chance to participate in a “Reproductive Justice Forum” that was held at the University of Oklahoma earlier this month. But I discovered immediately that it was not that at all. It was an abortion debate. And while the flyer did not mention the group behind it, it became apparent, once I arrived, that this was being put on by AHA, Abolish Human Abortion. To bill an abortion debate as a reproductive justice event gives you a picture of one of AHA favorite tactics.

AHA5They take progressive lingo and iconography to lure folks into a debate. Their logo uses the same bird as the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. Their most common brochure uses the Human Rights Campaign logo. Their hash tags on social media include #prochoice and #feminism. I first met them at a human rights festival where they wore HRC logo t-shirts so that they could find liberals to debate abortion with. So of course they would have a “reproductive justice” forum. And when I asked them about this subterfuge they seemed rather proud of this tactic.In that sense, their self identification with the abolitionist movement to end slavery begins to make sense.  To use progressive language creates a noble air about their campaign.

Except when it doesn’t. Because the tactics of AHA remain the same as other extreme anti abortion groups. These tactics certainly include harassing women at clinics but also tracking down women online who have openly considered abortion. It includes calling pastors of churches to inform them that their parishioners were seen at the clinic. It includes harassing the police departments that insure the safety of the staff who work at the clinics. It includes protesting abortion doctors at their private residence and publishing vaguely threatening  flyers identifying these doctors. And debating anyone including children at community events.

These tactics should be familiar to folks. But I want to focus on what makes AHA unique. Partly it is their views about the pro life movement. Secondly it is the ideology which shapes their understanding of abortion.

AHA6According to the AHA, they reject the pro-life movement and even the label itself because any legislation which criminalizes some abortions but allows others is an “endorsement” of abortion. So a fetal heart beat bill, which is a common right to life bill, means abortions are permitted before there is a heart beat. Therefore such a bill actively “endorses” abortion before a heart beat.

Therefore they are more likely to condemn the right to life movement, the Catholic Church and evangelical Protestants, than liberals. And I think this feeds into an anti establishment feel of this group. Given that when I attended their forum, the large majority of folks, were millennials, often from a lower income strata, this feeds into the dynamic we see in the wider country. Young people, disaffected with institutions, are looking for groups, that are opposed to the establishment. Being a “rebel” is part and parcel of being in AHA.

A common theme is how they are the only group which is actively living out Christianity. Most folks who are living their own lives, thinking about the bills, going to work, going to church are invariably hypocrites. Thus to go after folks, who may or may not be opposed to abortion, as “fakers”and hypocrites, especially when such folks are not keen on being accused as such, is a validation of their own faithfulness to Christianity. If you upset folks, well, that is because you are being that more true to the Gospel.

This works because they have an “absolute standard”. One they are proud of in the discussion I had with them. The moment an egg is fertilized we have a human person. This is why they oppose in vitro fertilization, what they call the “frozen holocaust”. Their absolute standard means that apparently abortion can occur before pregnancy, before implantation. Which is why they oppose so many forms of contraception.

But in my discussion with them, this standard was not really absolute. They actively endorsed the death penalty. Their recent abortion bill in our legislature would provide the death penalty for abortion doctors. And they were indifferent when I asked about women who would die from illegal abortions. And more so when I asked about those who died because of the lack of health insurance coverage, because of environmental contamination, because of poverty, hunger and war. So much for human rights.

This is not so much a pro life position as a pro birth position. As one participant said, “I think of fetuses a lot”! Yes, they do.

A word about “speciesism” which is their favored term. For them it means that having human DNA requires protection, except for the exceptions I mentioned earlier.  Not having human DNA means no moral obligations are to be had. Because having that DNA means they were made in the image of God.

But that is a curious way of being made in the image of God. Usually God is thought of a divine reality that has choice, volition, consciousness and will, ie those things which make us a person. When they kept on asking me when life began, I went there. But such a standard was rejected. Not only because first term abortions would not be murder. But even worse, this would make my cat a person! I would argue that my cat is a person as are mammals in general. And as persons we have moral obligations towards them.

And women are persons too! And we have moral obligations towards them! What does that entail? It is a pretty profound form of coercion to require the services of their body, which are to be always superseded in the interests of continuing the pregnancy. I don’t believe a fertilized egg is a person but a woman is. So a woman’s choice should always be respected on whether she wants to continue the pregnancy or not.

But given my standard of personal consciousness and will, don’t fetuses later in the pregnancy have this? Yes. And then we have two persons to weigh interests against. But not for AHA. They would require no weighing. Abortion is to be forbidden in all cases, even in cases where the health and life of the woman was at risk. Which is to say that to be pregnant means a woman loses even the basic right of self defense.


As you can see by their caption of their photo of me, they have some gender issues. Not because women were not involved, though men were clearly in the leadership. But rather that a woman’s issue would not be a concern for everyone who supports women. By the time you are cyber stalking women to make sure a pregnancy takes place, yes you have stumbled on a woman’s issue that ought to concern the rest of us as well!

It ought to concern us that Oklahoma politicians are working with such groups. And that they are receiving material support from some churches. It’s hard to envision their next move. Is it like the siege of Wichita? Is it clinic bombings which some leaders of this group have been connected with? Not all members lean that way but it only takes a few to be concerned.

AHA9I’m concerned for the safety of women, the clinic staff, anyone involved in the effort to provide reproductive health care, especially in the state of Oklahoma, where AHA is nationally headquartered.

And I worry for many AHA members. These are folks society left behind. They told me many of their personal stories and of the hard lives they have lived. They were generous to have me share my ideas in their forum. But this group, like many cults, swoops up and exploit such folks. Makes them part of a cosmic battle and gives their lives meaning.

And we’re all caught in the cross hairs.

Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman UCC, Oklahoma and a board member of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice

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