Of Fetuses and the Everglades: Mercury Flows Downstream

The conservative right deploys right-to-life as its battle cry, but when it comes to rallying against environmental pollution that is arguably a greater threat to fetuses than abortion, the right is silent. With a few exceptions, there is hardly a whisper from the pulpits about organizing to protect the unborn by rallying congregations to support tougher anti-pollution laws and candidates for public office who support them. Mercury exposure, for example, is known to cause deformities and developmental disorders. In Florida, mercury is as ubiquitous as sulfur thrown on sugar fields by billionaire farmers, flowing downstream to God knows where.

Southern Christians (I’m singling out Southern Christians, because this writer is from Florida) ought to recognize that the rights of fetuses are harmed by pollution. So why isn’t the conservative right deploying their message machinery to educate Southern Christians about the threats of environmental pollution to the unborn, especially since it is clear thatpollution is arguably a bigger threat to fetuses than abortion?

The rapid rise in autism spectrum disorders has been widely reported in the press. What is less remarked is that the percentage of children born with development disorders — some of which may be attributable to toxins in the environment– is higher per thousand than the incidence of abortion in the general population. Now, new science verifies the significant role environmental pollution is playing in autism rates.

For Southern Christians, supporting the rights of the fetus over the rights of polluters shouldn’t require scientific proof. According to the CDC, between 1997 and 2008, the number of children with a disability rose from 8.2 million to roughly 10 million, or more than 15% of all kids between the ages of 3 and 17. A more recent study indicates that 2 to 3 percent of American children suffer within the range of autism spectrum disorder. In comparisona 2008 report by the non-profit Guttmacher Institute notes that in the U.S. the abortion rate peaked in 1980 at 2.9 percent (per 1000 women) and declined to 2 percent by 2004.

Why is a polluter given a free pass by Southern Christians for imposing toxics on the public that has no choice in the matter, when a clinic that provides poor women with a choice, isn’t? Is it poverty of imagination that keeps Christians from being the nation’s conscience on the environment or is something more sinister at work? That, for example, polluting corporations and their executives like the Koch brothers have invested millions to co-opt the conservative right?

These doubts about conservatives tie back to the refusal of the Republican Congress to unite behind efforts to stop environmental pollution from harming the fetus. Instead the GOP is holding agreement on the debt ceiling hostage until President Obama agrees to sacrifice the EPA. Instead of guaranteeing the unborn will be protected from pollution, Republicans rise in the morning to defend the rights of polluters.

In Florida, a new day for conservatives could start by organizing churches and congregations to lobby Republican legislators in Florida and Governor Rick Scott so that fetuses are protected from a threat greater than abortionists: environmental polluters. Start, for example, with new laws to ensure that mercury contamination is stopped, even when it originates in the sugar fields of wealthy campaign contributors, posing threats to fetuses and killing the Everglades.

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