In junior high, we had an English assignment to read George Orwell’s classic, 1984. By that time, the story was probably a dozen years old, and I don’t recall thinking that the year 1984 would soon arrive. I have a different concept of time now, and 20 years doesn’t seem quite as distant. Earlier, Orwell wrote Animal Farm, which we also were expected to read, but it seemed to be too much make-believe for my liking. I enjoyed 1984.
One of the memorable concepts in that book was the “Thought Police.” The mythical country of Oceania survived due to the power of controlling people by controlling their thinking and words. A resident of Oceania knew that every word or thought they had was subject to evaluation, and they faced the possibility of punishment with even a minor slipup.
The real year 1984 came and went with nothing more than a passing reference to Orwell’s popular book. The world was nowhere near experiencing the concepts described in the book. Now it’s 2021, and it seems the “Thought Police” have arrived, at least in Texas, where I live.
The not-so-great state of Texas recently enacted legislation that is a perfect fit for a work of fiction such as 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale. The law is unique in the sense that it is not enforced by any government agency but by private citizens who are willing to rat on their neighbors. The legislation empowers people to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion. By the way, abortions are determined as any time after a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, usually at six weeks.
In Texas, the complaining person is not required to have any relationship or connection to an abortion provider or a woman seeking the abortion. This means that family members, abortion providers, rape counselors, doctors, and even pastors are susceptible to lawsuits. The people who sue can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 plus attorney fees if they win. Consequently, there is not some police force out there stopping abortions. Essentially, every one of us in Texas is now incentivized to put a stop to abortion with the promise of reward.
“Right to life” people claim they are not targeting women seeking abortions. The plan is to punish those profiting from abortions — clinics, doctors, any abortion providers. They deny they are asking people to spy on neighbors. The law does not specify that abortions are illegal; it merely rewards those who want to stop them. As you would expect from the Texas Legislature, there are no provisions for rape or incest.
“As you would expect from the Texas Legislature, there are no provisions for rape or incest.”
In Orwell’s 1984, there were no written laws. People were kept in line by the Thought Police. It was a way to uncover anything that went against the doctrines of the government. People became so self-conscious that living was difficult. Things like a nervous tic, an anxious look, or muttering under your breath could give away that you had unacceptable thoughts. Those prescribing the punishment were not interested in actual evidence of a crime. The hope was to punish thoughts and ideas before they became a crime.
The Thought Police did not try to control crime. The effort was to control the thinking that led to a crime. In other words, they sought to get into the minds of others. You will find this quote made by the protagonist: “We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we will never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him.”
Nonconformists were not killed. They were broken and re-educated through deprivation and torture. This approach to controlling people’s behavior has been tried before. Perhaps the most obvious in the United States is the work of Senator McCarthy, who threatened and punished people he accused of being communists. Many lived in fear that McCarthy’s followers would attack the slightest word or action without any defense.
The new Texas law seeks to do the same thing. Proponents admit it does not make all abortions illegal, but they hope to intimidate enough people to eliminate all abortions. Abortion does not need to be illegal if people are too afraid to have one.
“Abortion does not need to be illegal if people are too afraid to have one.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen not to consider the constitutionality of this legislation, consensus is that eventually it will be ruled out of bounds. It’s little more than an attempt to skirt the legal system and impose restrictions on people. Instead of trying to pass an unconstitutional law (at least according to Roe v. Wade), it’s an attempt to shame people into accomplishing what the law could not.
I’m reminded of the Pharisees during Jesus’ day. The Romans did not allow them to pass restrictive sabbath laws, although they had their own extensive set of restrictions. Since they were not able to imprison sabbath violators, they shamed them. They watched Jesus carefully and continually questioned his sabbath activities. They wanted people to understand Jesus could not be God’s prophet because he didn’t keep God’s rules.
Another historical example can be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne was publicly shamed and humiliated for committing adultery. She was forced to wear the scarlet-colored letter “A” so everyone would know what she had done.
Texas politicians have not created something new. They are rehashing what novelists and religious fanatics have attempted previously. The tragedy is that our politicians are unaware they are playing the role of the bad guys in each instance — the Pharisees, the Thought Police, Rev. Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, the theocrats of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
“Texas politicians have not created something new.”
A few years after we moved into our current house, a friend offered to build a deck in our backyard to extend a small porch. We bought the lumber, and he provided the labor. After a couple of weekends of hard work, we had a great new way to enjoy our backyard. About a month later, a city building inspector came to our house. He said a neighbor reported that we were building, and we didn’t have a permit. I was surprised that we needed permission to lay some lumber in our backyard but, apparently, we did.
He inspected the deck and determined that it was sound. However, he instructed me to go downtown and pay for a building permit. Even though the deck already was complete, I still needed permission. We lived on a new street and knew everyone in the neighborhood. In fact, we watched most of the houses being built. It was easy to determine who turned me in because she was the only one who would have cared. I ran into her husband one afternoon and asked, and he never denied it was her.
I didn’t do anything about it (don’t tell, but I didn’t even pay for a permit). But it didn’t make for a good neighborhood to have one neighbor calling the authorities on another. If she had knocked on my door, I would have gladly shown her the deck and the high quality of work being done. She even could have informed me of the need for a building permit. My deck didn’t hurt her property value; in fact, because it enhanced mine, it benefited her and everyone else in the neighborhood.
My point is that it’s crucial to know and understand what people are doing before running off and trying to get them in trouble. Before filing a lawsuit against a young girl for thinking about an abortion, find out what you can do to help her situation. Abortion is a complicated issue, and few people are doing it for the excitement of killing babies.
“Before filing a lawsuit against a young girl for thinking about an abortion, find out what you can do to help her situation.”
The easy thing and typical thing to do right now is to accuse me of supporting the killing of babies and pronounce a curse on my house. Before you do that, let’s continue this discussion — you have more to think about.
In the same way that anti-abortion people chose “pro-life” to identify their position, the other side chose “pro-choice.” The reason is that it is always better to be “for” something than to be “against” something. It doesn’t sound as mean.
Being “pro-life” doesn’t necessarily mean that you stand for all things that contribute to and strengthen life.
To be labeled “pro-choice” doesn’t mean you always support abortions.
I consider myself anti-abortion and pro-choice. What I mean by that is I would not choose abortion for myself (an easy choice for a 70-year-old man who does not need to worry about impregnating anyone), but I think others should have the choice for themselves.
In most cases, if a woman came to me for advice for herself, I would strongly encourage her to consider life and make her choice prayerfully. If someone trusts me enough to confide this information, I should also be willing to help her deal with her situation rather than filing a lawsuit against her. I also can see situations where I might lean toward abortion, but they would have to be extreme circumstances. For example, doctors know that the baby in her womb is already brain dead, but she has three months remaining; I would be OK with abortion in that case. These are not easy choices, but I do support a woman’s right to be the one to make the choice.
Being pro-choice does not mean I’m pro-abortion.
Being pro-choice does not mean I’m pro-abortion. There might be a few, but I’ve never met anyone who goes around meeting with pregnant women suggesting they have abortions. I’ve never heard a political candidate advocate in favor of abortions, and I would never support one that did.
The only way to eliminate abortions is the same way to eliminate wars, capital punishment, poverty, lack of health care, gun violence and other problems. It will only happen when we learn to live in harmony and demonstrate love to one another. It’s to follow Jesus, the one who shows us what it means for God to walk among us. The tragedy is that followers of Jesus are some of the most hateful, life-sucking people among us. No election is ever going to fix that.
The new Texas legislation leads us down a dangerous path that will make abortion an even more divisive issue. It will turn neighbor against neighbor and family member against family member and do nothing to change the life situations of women who are suffering. The idea of having Thought Police should make all of us uncomfortable.
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.
If Jesus could be changed by a sass-mouthed woman, maybe legislators and governors can be too | Opinion by Laura Mayo
When your religion goes against my religion | Opinion by David Bumgardner
When being ‘pro-life’ really isn’t: How I became a Democrat who opposes abortion | Analysis by Chris Conley