A Thousand Little Moments: The Insidious Loss of Women’s Freedom to Christian Nationalism

Republicans and anti-abortion politicians cannot ignore their role in the IVF ruling out of Alabama—yet another devastating turn for women.

A mural in Rochester, N.Y., by Sarah Rutherford. (Courtesy of Chloe Lee)

I hold many other identities than “Dr. Lee.” I once taught Sunday School. I love reading and community artwork. And I want to be a mother. 

Sublimating my excess maternal energy into my preschoolers, I tried to make my classroom feel cozy and fun. We made bracelets, colored beads representing different verses of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven,” pale blue). We played Memory Match to learn the 10 Commandments using homemade cards. I wanted the children’s spiritual life to be welcoming and enjoyable. I taught that God is love, respect, integrity and empathy.

My first true crisis of faith happened when I left my marriage to a person whose least problematic feature was his proclivity for prostitutes and Ashley Madison. I could not stay married to someone who treated me with cavalier contempt. Beyond my ability to keep a clean home and to tend to his practical needs, I believe I was worthless to him, a wife only on paper.

Leaving him also meant temporarily abandoning the dream of motherhood that I’d cherished—a daunting decision at the age of 30. (He was offended; “You just don’t want to pass on my cheater genes!” he snapped when I rejected his offer of sperm donation. That and many other things I’d prefer to reduce in the population, thank you.) 

I do not miss him. But I miss what I wrongly believed him to be, and I grieve the loss of the future I imagined. I wanted a man who loved and valued me, flaws and all. I envisioned a baby girl; I’d have named her after my favorite book and my favorite flower. All that remains of my dream is a little rose tattooed on my wrist as a bittersweet attempt at hope. Perhaps one day, I will have my own little Rose who will always know how very much she was wanted and loved. 

The dream is deferred, and I cling to the fragile hope that I may realize it someday.

The dream is not only deferred but shattered for many women in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are considered children under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, leading to a flurry of confusion and fear of prosecution within the medical community. Many fertility clinics have indefinitely suspended their services. I cannot imagine these women’s pain

Ignorance and Ideology Have Led Us Here

Republicans cannot ignore their role in this devastating turn. Rigid anti-abortion efforts, enacted without an iota of nuance, led to this point—where embryos are equated with children. But it turns out that cutting off people’s chance to start families is wildly unpopular. Republicans are abruptly appreciating the precarious political position in which the Alabama ruling leaves them.

We can arguably attribute this outcome to sheer thoughtlessness. Politicians’ ignorance of basic biology that informs policy is historically well-established and offers a scathing indictment of the American education system. As recently as 2019, Ohio introduced a bill banning abortion and demanding that physicians treat ectopic pregnancies by re-implanting the embryo in the woman’s uterus. (No such medical procedure exists.)

Immediately after, politicians remained unaware of the consequences of their actions. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) responded, “Yeah, I was all for it. … I thought this was the right thing to do.” Upon learning that the ruling indefinitely paused IVF services throughout the state, impeding many couples’ ability to start families, Tuberville was at a loss for meaningful words.

But I wonder whether it goes beyond ignorance. You would think so-called pro-life legislators would aggressively support measures for creating families. Yet, neither this ruling nor Republican voting records indicate support for IVF, and some anti-abortion groups overtly protest IVF. And just this week, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) tanked a Senate bill that would have protected access to IVF nationwide.

The restrictive language of the ruling is clear; Justice Jay Mitchell writes in the majority opinion: “Unborn children are children … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location or any other ancillary characteristics.”

Fundamentally, the ruling’s logical inconsistency with the right’s stated pro-life goals suggests that this is less an issue of reproductive rights and more about eliminating women’s agency. Under the extremist destabilization of reproductive freedom, women are losing both the right to end unwanted or dangerous pregnancies and the right to become pregnant—opposite outcomes. The common factor is the loss of women’s choice.

Somehow, the sanctity of life does not appear to matter when a woman’s life is on the line.

Women Are Expendable Under Christian Nationalism

Critics of the Alabama ruling cite not only its lack of scientific basis, but also its overtly religious language, lending to concerns about the rise of Christian nationalism, a fusing of Christian values and American identity, in the United States.

There is a distinct difference between true Christian values and Christian nationalism as I see it in practice. Tied inextricably to the latter is a misogynistic entitlement to women’s submission. This is not Christian. The Bible explicitly calls for love and respect between men and women.

“Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” (Ephesians 5:28-29, ESV)

People with misogynistic tendencies preferentially focus on the preceding verse, which calls for wifely submission, and ignore this follow-up in Ephesians. But a reading of the full text actually suggests mutuality and equality, not the forced submission of women that today’s GOP has enacted by eroding reproductive freedom.

I support Christian values. I was raised Christian by conservative parents, and I taught in church. But I’ve become jaded with self-styled conservative Christians who do not practice the values I learned. I share my infidelity story to highlight how male hypocrisy forces women into compliance at the individual and systemic levels. This infuriating daily occurrence has become a way of governance.

I see the same pattern of targeting women amongst “Christian” politicians, while failing to behave ethically, as I did in my former spouse. My response to these men who promote family values and a return to the Bible is: You first. 

A litany of Republican politicians openly espouse Christian values, while treating their marital vows as mere suggestions, among other cardinal sins: Ken Paxton, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump come to mind. Undoubtedly, there are many liberal politicians with similar moral flexibility. But they’re not the ones weaponizing religion to restrict women and to push a national moral standard to which they fail to adhere.

Beyond their ethically compromised extracurricular activities, many Republican legislators show callous apathy toward women’s lives. Their deliberate dismantling of abortion protections has endangered women’s health and denied them emergency care.

Their refusal to protect women in life-threatening situations goes further: Circulating the internet today is an appalling Missouri law barring women who are pregnant from finalizing a divorce until delivery, without exception for victims of domestic violence, although pregnancy is a well-known risk factor for intimate partner homicide. Three other U.S. states have laws which disallow a divorce to be finalized if the woman is pregnant: Texas, Arizona and Arkansas.

And the Fifth Circuit has decided that a domestic abuser’s right to own a gun supersedes his victim’s right to physical safety.

Somehow, the sanctity of life does not appear to matter when a woman’s life is on the line.

Modern conservatism eschews its own professed values, instead labeling women who dare to resist subjugation as the problem. Republican advocates have made no secret of their disdain for women who seek identities outside marriage and childbearing, callously deriding feminism as the threat to family stability. House Speaker Mike Johnson claims the Bible constitutes his worldview, has opposed birth control and has claimed causality between moral decline from feminism and no-fault divorce and mass shootings.

I believe Johnson opposes not moral decline (he’d look to his own party if he did), but women’s choices.

I obtained my divorce on fault grounds, citing my ex-husband’s adultery, but I wholeheartedly support no-fault divorce, which has decreased cases of domestic violence and spousal homicide for women. Proud Christian nationalists would gladly overturn this protective measure. 

If this were truly about defending life, these self-proclaimed Christians would take every measure to protect women. So why won’t they? And if this were truly about Christian values, why are male sins that harm women excused?

I grieve the loss of the future I imagined. … Perhaps one day, I will have my own little Rose who will always know how very much she was wanted and loved. 

Abuse and hypocrisy, often from men, threaten family stability more than feminism or divorce ever could. I’ve written extensively on what it means to be a good man, and I wish Johnson would encourage men to follow these examples, which would actually be consistent with his stated biblical worldview. But men who believe in the inherent inferiority of women will never own their destructive actions.

Meanwhile, feminism gave me an education and career, helping me escape male contempt. Women who preceded me, including my grandmother and great-aunts, of minimal education and few resources outside marriage, were less fortunate, confined to lives of sexual and physical abuse by “Christian” husbands, some of whom even served as church deacons. Their families only remained intact because the women could not leave. 

I left my ex-husband for many reasons, and I’m lucky that I had the option to choose a better life for myself. I want the same for women nationwide.

Women must resist the future that hypocritical men flying under false colors of morality have designed for us. If our country’s concept of family stability relies on depriving women of their choices, we do not have stable families; we have prisoners.

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Chloe Nazra Lee, MD, MPH, is a resident physician in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. Her professional interests include women’s mental health, trauma disorders, and working with survivors of abuse.