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A Fallen Cadet Lived His Ideals To The End. What About The Rest Of Us?

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Peter passed away on February 14, 2018 in Parkland FL. He is a hero, having sacrificed his life to protect his friends and classmates. He loved being in the JROTC and planned on attending United States Military Academy West Point. He liked the Houston Rockets, hip-hop music, playing basketball and spending time with his friends. He is survived by his father Kong and mother Hui, and his brothers Jason and Alex and extended family.

— Peter Wang’s memorial program, Feb. 20, 2018

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — There were perhaps five hundred of us — family, students, servicemembers, first responders, American Legion riders, JROTC cadets, Young Marines, reservists, retirees, even my Sea Cadet commanding officer from 24 years ago, squeezed into his dress whites. We parked our cars across three strip malls here on this stretch of suburban sprawl and squeezed together, flowers in our hands, under a wind-whipped tent a few miles south of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — named for one of our homegrown heroes, who dedicated her life to preserving Florida’s pristine beauty and lived to 108. The school will be remembered now not for Douglas’ abundance, doggedness, and longevity, but for the disorder and destruction wrought there in a few minutes last week by a determined 19-year-old with few life skills beyond an ability to hold a 5.56mm magazine-fed gas-operated semi-automatic rifle.

In a just world — not a perfect one, only a just one — Peter Wang, 15, would be dressing out for JROTC at Stoneman Douglas today, working on his fitness, planning the steps to a nomination and appointment for West Point. The Military Academy today announced to Peter’s family that he would be admitted as a member of the Long Gray Line’s class of 2025.

But Peter is dead. His appointment on the Hudson will not be kept. We were here to say goodbye.

“In my classroom, I tried to teach Peter principles of good citizenship,” 1st Sgt. John Navarra, Peter’s JROTC instructor, told us, pausing to allow simultaneous Chinese translation for the friends and family gathered here. “I did not realize how great a citizen he already was.”

Cadet Maj. Marshall Ryan recounted how “Peter was a hurricane of sunshine” — one of the unit’s best marksmen sure, but also a source of levity on the drill field and the firing line, always joking, sometimes even ordering UberEats on his phone as his classmates plinked away at their targets beside him.

“I always told him to lock it up,” Ryan said, “but I would be right there laughing with everybody else.”

It is supposed to be some solace to us to know Peter, this good kid, this shiny exemplar for our nutty, phrenetic South Florida community, died heroically, living his ideals to the end. He was last seen alive by his classmates holding a door in his school for others to escape the hail of small-arms fire.

I struggle with how, and when, to explain to my elementary-bound 5-year-old son that sometimes people murder other people in our schools. I always remember Mr. Rogers telling a story about seeing scary news on TV when he was a child:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

In his final moments as a human being, before an unsophisticated killer with a sophisticated weapon took away all his plans and potential, Peter Wang was a helper. He was every inch the man he’d wanted to be.

It is good that we should make sense of him, and his life, and the lives he touched. But there is no sense in his life’s abbreviation. As family members recited lines dedicated to Peter, and to the last messages that he and his classmates sent out from their high school-turned-battlezone, many in our crowd wept openly and audibly. Not simply at the injustice of it all: Many of them, teachers and friends, were survivors of the carnage that took Peter.

“He was a rock for us,” Ryan concluded, as cars whipped by behind us on University Drive, one of the county’s busiest thoroughfares. A touching memorial with a road-noise soundtrack: It was the most Florida scene I could imagine, outside of the shooting itself, a growing fact of life in our noisy, divided, and armed dystopian paradise.

Across the street, the television media waited, as respectfully as they could muster. Across the internet, the opinion-havers were tweeting and vlogging. Grown men and women were making serious money calling Peter’s death a false flag, or demanding armed drones in schools, or sneering at people for “politicizing” his death.

None of those bloviators were here with us, holding red and white flowers for Peter. None of them could hear the speakers, politicizing what’s already inherently political: the ceaseless mass murder of schoolchildren in a state where it’s harder to earn a beautician’s license than to purchase a military-grade carbine.

“One person can make an enormous difference. One person can start a war… or end one,” one of Peter’s kin told us, adding that it was on all of us to act on Peter’s behalf after we left this communion. “We have to do something. Stand up and do something for our kids.”

When he left the makeshift podium, there was applause. It was the only applause all day.

The post A Fallen Cadet Lived His Ideals To The End. What About The Rest Of Us? appeared first on Task & Purpose.



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David Shulkin Failed Veterans Long Before His Travel Scandal

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David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, looked like the rare Trump cabinet member who was above using his office for personal enrichment. Then, on Valentine’s Day, the VA Office of the Inspector General released an extensive report on Shulkin’s misuse of VA staff and funds to turn a business trip to Europe last July into a sightseeing vacation for him and his wife. “This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife,” the inspector general concluded.

Following the revelation, Shulkin acknowledged making “mistakes” and remarked that “the optics of this are not good.” But he insisted that leaks about his European jaunt were part of an internal White House plot to unseat him because he has tried to put the breaks on the privatization of the VA health care system. Bolstering his argument, last week ProPublica reported that a coterie of White House staff was trying to oust Shulkin in order to promote the interests of the conservative Koch brothers, who favor total privatization of veteran health care. In the face these reports, Democrats and representatives of veterans service organizations (VSOs) have come—albeit somewhat tepidly—to Shulkin’s defense.

If one believes Shulkin, what we are seeing is a classic drama of good against evil, with Shulkin defending veterans’ interests against those who want to outsource care to private sector profiteers. But Shulkin, once a putative defender of government-provided veterans’ care, is no longer the hero he portrays himself to be. The curious case of the European vacation represents instead the latest in a series of bad compromises that may end with the dismantling of the nation’s largest and, as myriad studies confirm, best health care system. This would not only jeopardize the health of some nine million veterans, but would also set back efforts to create a more rational and sustainable health care system for all Americans.

In 2017, when Donald Trump nominated Shulkin as secretary of veterans affairs, many in the veterans community breathed a huge sigh of relief. Shulkin, a physician, had served as VA under secretary for health in the Obama Administration. He was the only Obama holdover in the new Administration and one of the few Trump cabinet members actually qualified for their jobs. He also, unlike so many Trump appointees, seemed supportive of the mission of the agency he was going to administer.

When I interviewed him for a book I was writing on VA health care in 2015, Shulkin told me that, as a former private-sector hospital administrator, he was surprised to discover that the VA was able to achieve great outcomes because it was both a provider and payer of care. He openly admired its delivery of integrated care and the fact that the system addressed not only its patients’ physical and mental health problems, but also their social, economic, occupational, and housing needs.

In March 2016, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Shulkin boasted that the VA outperforms private industry in “lower risk-adjusted mortality rates, better patient-safety statistics, and better performance on a number of other accepted process measures.” As under secretary for health, Shulkin said he did not oppose veterans getting care in the private sector when needed, but wanted the VA to coordinate that care.

Shulkin’s unanimous Senate confirmation in February 2017 represented a victory for the VSOs, who had fended off far worse candidates. As a candidate, Trump had promised the job to Tea Party Republican Jeff Miller, then a congressman from Florida. As chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Miller had barely concealed his hostility to VA health care and his eagerness to privatize it.

After the election, Trump changed his mind about Miller and temporarily flirted with Delos Toby Cosgrove, a veteran and the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. As co-chair of the congressionally mandated Commission on Care, Cosgrove consistently represented the interests of highly paid hospital CEOs, who would benefit mightily from privatization. Other candidates included Pete Hegseth, the former president of the Koch-funded Concerned Veterans for America, a fake grassroots group devoted to VA health care privatization.

Eventually, under pressure from VSOs and many Democrats, Trump picked Shulkin. Some were surprised that Shulkin would accept the position, but he did so enthusiastically, promising that veterans’ health care would never be privatized on his watch.

Yet Shulkin has since been an unreliable champion of VA health care. His public pronouncements about it have been highly critical. In his first “State of the VA” address at the White House, in May of 2017, Shulkin parroted the conservative narrative of a broken VA, insisting that it was “still in critical condition” and required “intensive care.” As I later wrote, he failed to mention a book that would be released two weeks later entitled Best Care Everywhere—a compilation of clinical case studies hailing the VA’s little-publicized role as an incubator for “real change” in treatment methods. The book’s editor? David Shulkin. Yet neither he nor VA public affairs personnel have promoted it or its message.

Shulkin has insisted that he opposes privatization. Yet that seems true only in the narrow sense that he has not suggested a wholesale transfer of VA care to private operators. As sociologist Paul Starr has written, privatization has a broader meaning. It involves “any shift of activities or functions from the state to the private sector.” Other hallmarks of privatization include attacking public sector unions, blaming system problems on public sector employees, starving the public sector of resources, and insisting that the private sector can provide better and more efficient services than the public.

The secretary consistently checks all these boxes. He has enthusiastically supported denying due process to VA employees and argued for the firing of employees for even minor infractions. He has also tried to starve the system of needed resources. In the fall, he tried to shift almost a billion dollars from programs earmarked for the homeless, mentally ill, and female veterans toward general operations. Only an outcry from patient safety experts and advocates for the homeless prevented the secretary from eliminating over $400 million needed for homeless programs as well as getting rid of the Patient Safety Centers of Inquiry, which help keep VA patients from dying from preventable medical errors and injuries.

In early 2017, Shulkin announced his support for outsourcing audiology and optometry to private sector providers, since, as he put it, “there’s a LensCrafters on every corner.” And in November it was revealed that, without the knowledge of the VSOs or Congress, the secretary had been holding secret talks to explore the possibility of merging the Veterans Health Administration with Tricare, the insurer that pays for private sector care for active duty military personnel and military retirees. Such a move could fundamentally transform VA health care into a mere payer, rather than provider of care. VSOs reacted with outrage.

Shulkin’s support for outsourcing is also evident in discussions of the future of Veterans Choice, a temporary program enacted in 2014 that allows veterans facing long wait times or travel distances to instead receive private-sector care paid for by the VA. Shulkin has long supported some version of a permanent expansion of the Choice program—and his support continues in spite of a an inspector general report documenting $89 million in fraud and abuse. The program has also racked up over $4 billion in cost overruns and diverted almost $15 billion to private sector providers that could have been used to the hire more VA staff.

That’s important, because there are currently over 35,000 unfilled positions at the VHA. A recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine revealed that shortages of VA staff, office space, and exam rooms were impeding the delivery of high quality mental health care to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration and Shulkin extended eligibility for hundreds of thousands of veterans, without providing funding for any new staff. This will further boost the caseloads of already overburdened VA caregivers. That, in turn, will lead to more staff burnout, higher turnover, and patient complaints about appointment delays.

Shulkin is also promoting the outsourcing of the VA’s highly successful in-house electronic medical record technology, VistA. In spite of many warnings that this move may not produce information sharing between the VA and either the Department of Defense or private sector providers, Shulkin has pushed for the use of a commercial product from Cerner, a for-profit health technology company. According to University of Pennsylvania Professor Ross Koppel, an expert in health care information technology, “the shift from Vista to Cerner will be wrenching and it’s unclear that its advantages are worth the cost.”

Some VSO officials believe that it’s better to have a tarnished Shulkin in charge of the VA than any likely replacement named by Trump. Yet now that his job is jeopardy, with some congressional Republicans calling for his resignation, Shulkin may be less able and willing to protect the agency from those trying to do it the most harm.

Shulkin’s February 15 appearance before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs—a day after the inspector general report became public—was not reassuring. He defended a proposed budget in which half of $4 billion in new health care funding would be diverted to private sector providers. Conveniently, 27 positions in the VA’s Office of the Inspector General would be eliminated—presumably making it more difficult to blow the whistle on any future taxpayer funded junkets, Choice program cost overruns, or VA contractor abuses.

In his testimony, Shulkin went further down the outsourcing road by arguing that the VA should focus only on what he called “foundational services” like primary care, mental health treatment, geriatrics, and extended rehabilitation. A wide range of other services—cardiology, oncology, urology, etc.—would no longer be integrated or comprehensive. Instead, they would be turned over to private doctors and hospitals.

According to Shulkin, this does not represent “the onset of privatizing VA.” However, a narrower government focus is exactly what the private health care industry wants. There is no big money to be made from delivering the labor-intensive services needed to manage the chronic, long-term conditions of many veterans. That’s why private providers are waiting to profit from any episodic, high-cost medical interventions that they can bill to the VA.

Tim Walz, a Democratic congressman, saw the writing on the wall: “I think it’s more and more difficult, Mr. Secretary, to say, ‘I’m not supporting privatization at the VA,’ because it appears like you are.” But Walz’s Republican colleague, committee chair Phil Roe, didn’t seem bothered by the proposed elimination of “non-foundational” services. Instead, he expressed his concern that Shulkin’s foreign travel had created unnecessary “distractions” for the agency.

In reality, the greatest threat to VA health care, at the moment, is the bipartisan push for expanding Veterans Choice. Even before Trump took office, few members of Congress from either party were committed to improving VHA funding and staffing, hiring practices, or management culture. Instead, they were bickering about the pace and scope of outsourcing, with some veterans’ service organizations feeling they had no option but to give up ground just like the Democrats.

Under a president who has publicly stated that he wants to see 90 percent of veterans receive care in the private sector, any VA secretary who serves under him—whether named Shulkin or not—won’t be much of a bureaucratic buffer against dismantling the agency piece by piece. That takes a real opposition party, interested in wooing working-class Trump supporters who are veterans, back to the polls for Democratic candidates in 2018 or 2020, based on broken Republican promises.

Now, more than ever, veterans need a strong voice, on their own behalf, not Democrats who echo GOP rhetoric and co-sponsor bills damaging to the VA. If veterans’ service organizations and Trump’s putative opponents in Congress can’t provide that soon, they will end up being enablers of changes in veterans’ health care that few of its recipients ever asked for or wanted. And nine million patients will not be thanking them when the impact of those changes is more widely felt.

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Comixcal

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“There are two Oaxacan foods – what is served for tourists, and what people really eat,” says Marahí López, the chef at Comixcal, an Oaxacan restaurant in Mexico City’s Santa Maria La Ribera neighborhood. “There is a way that Oaxacan food is sold that is totally detached from the way we eat it in Oaxaca.”

López knows of what she speaks, hailing from Juchitán, the culinary and cultural capital of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. She met Alexis Jiménez, who is from the Central Valleys surrounding Oaxaca City, while both were attending university in Mexico City. López and Jiménez teamed up to establish Comixcal in June 2016, after receiving degrees in Gastronomy and Anthropology, respectively.

The two set out to provide Oaxacan cuisine as Oaxacans eat it, while interest in Oaxacan food was booming in Mexico City and abroad. “Comixcal is an expression of what we have eaten in different regions around Oaxaca,” she says. “This is the Oaxaca we are discovering as we go.”

Their restaurant inhabits a cozy two-storied storefront a block south of the iconic Moorish Pavilion in Santa Maria La Ribera, a laid-back neighborhood full of architectural and cultural gems on the edge of Mexico City’s historic center. The restaurant is named for the clay ovens used to bake totopos, the hard corn tortillas unique to the Isthmus.

Since opening in June 2016, Comixcal has worked to win over customers who have preconceptions about Oaxacan food or were unfamiliar with seasonal fare. Oaxacan food is staggeringly diverse; the state comprises sixteen indigenous cultures, as well as Afro-Mexican communities, each with their own culinary traditions.

“Oaxaca is a poor state, and it’s a state that has to eat,” he observes. “You see many forms of poverty in Oaxaca, but poverty in the flavors of our food isn’t one of them.”

Comixcal sources many ingredients from local producers in Oaxaca, including totopos, tostadas, chile peppers and beans. Direct sourcing is part of their mission to build product supply chains to support local farmers.

“We had costumers complaining in December that the salsa wasn’t spicy,” says López. “But the chiles we use are seasonal and their flavor changes during the winter.”

She says they are gradually building a clientele that marvels in regional and seasonal complexity, instead of recoiling from it. “We want customers who want to learn about every dish, who will ask you questions.”

It’s a brisk evening in February when we visit, and young couples share mezcals upstairs, while an older couple seated on the ground floor orders a full dinner. Space is tight, but the small staff work together seamlessly.

Before we have time to review the menu, Jiménez brings out a complementary mezcal. The warm, smoky flavor kicks the chill out of the air.

The consummate anthropologist, Jiménez sees food through the lens of culture. He explains that as the spirit has boomed nationally and internationally, the intricacies of the production process are being overlooked in the interest of scale. So don’t come here looking for name-brand mezcals. More to the point, Jiménez would rather you consider the social conditions of mezcal producers than the minutiae of one agave species or another.

“Behind every mezcal is someone who worked the land to create it. That part is getting lost,” he says. As a result, Jiménez’s curated mezcal menu includes the community each mezcal is produced in, the name of the producer and the species of agave. Tobalá, cuishe, espadín, pulquero and mexicano are just a few of the varieties currently available. The menu also includes a handful of mezcal cocktails and craft beers.

Jiménez lets the mezcals speak for themselves. “I have never said I’m an expert on mezcal, or a Maestro mezcalier,” he says. “I just know I am a lifelong drinker.”

The restaurant’s food menu is equally thoughtful. We gobble up the garnachas, tiny corn discs, lightly fried and topped with beef and a selection of salsas. Then comes the chile relleno, a pasilla chile stuffed with seasoned beef, which is served up with rice and a salad. The spice of the chile and the succulent meat pair perfectly, while the rice tempers the strong flavors of the main dish. Other entrées include tlayudas, enchiladas de coloradito (yellow mole) and estofado de lengua, a meaty stew made with cow tongue, an innovation Jiménez attributes to his grandmother.

While meat dishes make up most of the menu, generous portions of vegetables, including bean sprouts and the lightly pickled cabbage known as repollo, make for refreshing additions. Bean soup might sound like a plain dish, but flavored with avocado leaves it takes on new qualities.

Prices are accessible, especially when compared to other Mexico City restaurants that flaunt farm-to-table fare. The current menu highlights dishes from the Isthmus and the Central Valley, but López says they will soon be rolling out a new menu with dishes from Coastal Oaxaca.

“There are two Oaxacan foods – what is served for tourists, and what people really eat.”

It’s not surprising that Comixcal’s founders want you to understand the people of Oaxaca, just as much as the food – it’s to be expected when a chef and an anthropologist team up. But that mission became urgent last fall. “For us, the history of the restaurant is a story of ‘before’ and ‘after’ September 7th,” López says, noting the day in 2017 when an 8.2 earthquake hit off the coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

López posted the next day on social networks that Comixcal would receive donations to send south. She imagined they would send a pick-up truck of supplies down to the Isthmus, and then return to business as usual.

But after closing the restaurant on September 8 to organize donations, they didn’t re-open for an entire month, turning the space into headquarters for a massive donation reception and distribution system. Even after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit south of Mexico City on September 19, Comixcal continued to send supplies to Oaxaca.

At the end of a grueling month, they had coordinated for more the 1,500 tons of supplies to be sent to communities in Oaxaca. “It is an obligation to help our region, and it is an obligation as Oaxacans, even if we weren’t from the Isthmus,” says López. “That’s how our communities work.”

Jiménez explains that it is not just distance that separates urban Mexicans from their rural counterparts.

“The earthquake showed us the lack of understanding of the different Mexicos,” he says. While donations overflowed in Mexico City, some rural communities faced dire shortages in the weeks after the earthquakes.

López and Jiménez diligently tracked shipments of donations from the restaurant to remote towns on the southern Pacific Coast. In the same way their menu explains to Mexico City diners where their ingredients come from in Oaxaca, the pair posted photos on Twitter to show donors exactly where their partners delivered the supplies in the Isthmus.

Comixcal is working to build connections, both between Oaxaca and Mexico City, and within their own neighborhood. López explains that Santa Maria La Ribera is home to a large number of Oaxacan youth who study at the nearby campus of the National Polytechnic Institute. Many of them came into the restaurant to volunteer, and to feel connected to their community, hundreds of miles from home.

During the relief efforts, she says, “You would come into the restaurant and hear everyone speaking Zapoteco, down to the different regional varieties and each neighborhood of Juchitán. That builds trust.”

The two feel right at home in the neighborhood. “Santa Maria La Ribera reminds us of Oaxaca, because people go out strolling to the Pavilion.” López says. “Neighbors put on events for the community.”

She says that neighbors came out to help at the restaurant during the earthquake, and nearby restaurants donated food. While the dining scene in Santa Maria is more limited than in neighborhoods like Juárez or Roma, López likes being off the beaten path.

Sandwiched between working class neighborhoods and trendy San Rafael, Santa Maria is starting to feel the squeeze as gentrification in Mexico City advances north. The pressures of rising rents and cost of living in the neighborhood have given birth to anti-gentrification initiatives.

“We hope it doesn’t turn into a Roma or Condesa,” says López, citing two of Mexico City’s hottest neighborhoods for dining, but also among the priciest. “The neighborhood would lose the feeling you get when you take a stroll to the Pavilion, that feeling of knowing your neighbors.”

Building close relationships with your neighbors is a relatively simple yet profound task. It is what makes Santa Maria La Ribera so quietly charming. It’s also the main aim of Comixcal – by modestly cooking up some of the best Oaxacan food outside Oaxaca, López and Jiménez want to introduce Mexico City diners to the people and culture behind this now trendy regional cuisine.

Location

[mapsmarker marker="10689"]
 
Comixcal
Address: Dr. Atl 176, Santa Maria La Ribera
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 2:30-10pm; Sun. 2-6:30pm; closed Monday

The post Comixcal appeared first on Culinary Backstreets.

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Everything You Know About Rabbits Is A Lie

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Originally, during Lent, you couldn’t eat meat, except for fish. Then rabbits snuck in. As with most religious traditions, the story of why is built on a foundation of lies.

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"The excitement of a scientist studying rabbit DNA discovering a very specific Catholic myth basically no one has heard of is extremely charming, however."

"You can eat laurices this Lent if you want to, but know it’s not because it’s okay with the Catholic church: it’s because you a freak for bunny fetuses."
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And The Winner Is: The Rob Porter Scandal

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I’d have lost an office pool on which scandal would finally rouse the GOP Congress to do some oversight of the Trump administration.

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What a 16th-Century Abortion Ban Revealed

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The legal status of abortion has been a fraught subject in many times and places, including Catholic-controlled sixteenth-century Italy. Prior to 1588, historian John Christopoulos writes, Catholic law held that abortion was homicide only if the unborn had been infused with a rational soul—something that was believed to occur at around 40 days after conception for a male and 80 days for a female.

Yet clerics’ writings on the issue portrayed a more complex issue. A husband who beat his pregnant wife might be guilty of abortion, but only if he intentionally caused her to lose the pregnancy. Some Church texts warned that “procuring things” to end any pregnancy at any stage, or even to avoid getting pregnant, was a sin equivalent to smothering an infant. A doctor or apothecary might be guilty of a mortal sin if they offered an abortion even to save a woman’s life.

Making things even more complicated, Christopoulos writes, premodern Europeans saw female bodies as “intrinsically deceptive,” meaning that a therapy that purged the womb to restart menstruation might be seen as having nothing to do with true pregnancy. “[T]he expulsion of a lump of flesh, or an immature or unformed fetus did not necessarily signify that a true or viable conception had been terminated or that a child had died,” he writes.

Rather than refraining from the widespread practice of abortion, many Catholics would simply accept or ignore excommunication from the church.

During the Counter-Reformation, ecclesiastical authorities put a new emphasis on stamping out illicit sexuality of various kinds. For them, abortions were a particular problem because they could hide sinful sexual relationships, including those between priests and women in their spiritual care. In the 1570s and 1580s, abortion—whether or not the fetus was ensouled—was increasingly seen as an “atrocious and grave” crime that could not be absolved in the confessional but must be addressed by a bishop.

It was also a common crime. While it’s impossible to know how many abortions took place in this era, Christopoulos writes that the church seems to have considered it a widespread, socially accepted practice.

In 1588, Pope Sixtus V tried to change that. He issued a papal bull officially classifying abortion, regardless of the stage of fetal development, as homicide. This was both theological dictate and criminal law, subjecting violators to excommunication and worldly punishment.

The papal bull meant that anyone who had sought, performed, or aided in an abortion must be excommunicated from the church and could seek forgiveness only by travelling to Rome. But the trip was dangerous, expensive, and almost impossible to undertake secretly. Immediately, bishops and vicars from around Italy began writing to the pope, asking for clarifications or special permission to absolve violators.

The volume of requests for exemptions made it clear that the papal bull was unenforceable. Rather than refraining from the widespread practice of abortion, many Catholics would simply accept or ignore excommunication from the church.

Sixtus agreed to many of the requests, allowing priests to absolve people involved in abortions who were unable to travel to Rome. This was to happen in the privacy of the confessional to prevent the kind of social discord that could follow from the public revelation of an abortion. Christopoulos notes that the pope’s responses gave no indication that he expected the sinners to suffer capital punishment, as we might expect if they were actually considered murderers.

After Sixtus’s death in 1590, Pope Gregory XIV quickly rolled back the dictate, limiting it to ensouled fetuses. This, of course, offered no permanent resolution to the legal status of abortion. In the centuries that followed, the issue has remained among the most divisive imaginable in both secular and religious contexts.

The post What a 16th-Century Abortion Ban Revealed appeared first on JSTOR Daily.

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