The ATHEIST Contribution To The Abortion Debate

Note: The Atheist Foundation intended to seek amicus curiae, and to present this submission to the High Court of Australia on 11th November, 1996. Our intention was to counter the Australian Catholic Health Care Association and The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, both of which had already been granted Friend of the Court status, and which sought the criminalisation of abortion in Australia. But in early October the parties to the case settled out of court.

Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.
P.O. Box 21,
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South Australia 5233.
Australia
Tel. +61 8 8389-1021

http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au

ARGUMENT 1

The individual woman’s right to choose whether she wants to bear a child. People are not merely a means to an end, but ends in themselves. A woman treated as an incubator of a foetus by the law is merely a means to an end and is therefore not being regarded as a person. A woman is a person, while an embryo is not a person. The woman’s right, as a person, to be treated as an end in herself, accords her the right to choose whether she will accept a pregnancy or not. The law needs to reflect this right.

ARGUMENT 2

When debating against the Christians on abortion, hoist them on their own petard.

Having a soul is important to the Christians because it is the soul that transmigrates to Heaven and “eternal life”. Furthermore, the reason why we can kill, eat and experiment on animals (and previously communists) is because they lack souls.

So when does the human foetus acquire a soul (ensoulment)?

Fathers of the Christian religion, St. Augustine (d.430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (d.1270), following Aristotle, decreed that the foetus acquired a soul after 40 days for males and after 90 days for females. (Reference: “When Did I Begin?” by Catholic theologian Dr. Norman Ford. 1988. C.U.P., pages 39-43, 193. For foetal growth sizes see the appendix, page 183, e.g. at 8 weeks (2 months) the foetus is 3cm. lengthwise.)

This example, from a Christian source, highlights a philosophical problem; the logical impossibility of precisely drawing the line in what is called the “bald-hairy” distinction problem. When is a beard not a beard – after 5 or 30 days? It is impossible to precisely draw the line between night and day, although we can tell the difference between night and day. To precisely draw the line as to when the foetus gets a soul is impossible in this continuous growth period.

Aquinas believed in “humuncleos” i.e. it was the male sperm which provided 100% of the basic material for the future foetus. The mother’s womb was just the soil in which the seed grew. The microscope and science refuted this idea of male egocentricity and is one reason why the religious do not like science.

But why didn’t God send an angel to Aquinas telling him he’d got it wrong, like God did in telling Joseph he’d got it all wrong about Mary’s adultery, since it was the Holy Ghost that got her pregnant (Matt. 1:20) God has the power to send angels anywhere anytime. For that matter why didn’t God send angels telling the Popes they had got it all wrong before their cruel and sadistic 600 year witchhunts from 1234 to 1836. Justified by Exodus 22:18, Dt. 18:10, Gal.5:19.

Another problem for the religious is that science does not support the existence of an immortal, indestructible, indivisible soul. There is no evidence for the existence of any supernatural realms, and psychology and neurology show that brain damage and brain death correspond with loss of function, personality and awareness. The evidence of science should be taken as factual rather than the unfounded assertions of religion.

ARGUMENT 3

(a) The latest criterion for death, say before allowing an organ transplant, is for the electroencephalogram to be flat, indicating an absence of mental activity, even though the heart may still be beating. (A person in a deep coma still has a non-flat E.E.G.)

(b) A necessary condition for a living organism to become a human being is for mental activity which is associated with thought and mind.

(c) The early foetus has no central nervous system/brain, hence no mental activity.

(d) The central nervous system of the foetus develops after the 4th (or even the 5th) month. (Reference: “Abortion – The Bobigny Affair, 1972” Association Choisir, pages 64-69, reproducing the testimony of M. le Professeur Jacques Monod, Director of the Pasteur Institute, Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine [Wild and Woolley]).

It is difficult to determine precisely when mental activity begins in the foetus and even more difficult to establish the point when it becomes an autonomous, thinking, feeling, emotional, self-conscious person.

(e) The medical profession applies the same criterion (absence of mental activity) for the definition of life at both ends of the spectrum.

(f) The early embryo is a potential human being, not an actual one. Things may be done to it which may not be done to an actual human being. We are all going to die, and things will be done to us then, not permitted when actually living now.

ARGUMENT 4

Up to 14 days after fertilisation the early embryo (called a zygote) can divide into two separate identical genetic twins to produce identical genetic twin babies 9 months later. At 14 days a primitive streak, or ridge of cells, develops on the disc of the embryo and then generally identical twins can no longer occur.

But, now and then, more than one primitive streak may be formed, giving rise to identical twins, or, fortunately far less often, Siamese twins. A week later the streak is replaced by the neural tube and plate, a primitive spine.

Hence, up to 14 days, it is possible to have two Toms or (exclusive “or”) two Marys. Which individual is to be regarded as the original Tom (or Mary)? If one says Tom ceased to exist at twinning to create two new individuals, Dick and Harry, then Dick and Harry no longer came into existence at fertilisation, and where did Tom disappear to when nothing had been lost?

Up to the eight cell zygote stage each single cell has the potential to produce at least one baby. That is, the eight cell embryo could become either one or up to eight babies, depending on whether twinning occurs. Sometimes it can go either way.

Fertilisation of two separate eggs by two separate sperm can occur at conception to produce two separate zygotes, say Betty and Kay. But on day 6 the two embryos can combine to produce only one zygote, known as a chimaera. (Remember souls are indivisible.)

Now is this zygote, Betty and/or Kay or someone else, a mixture of both Betty’s and Kay’s genes? Has Betty and/or Kay ceased to exist when nothing has been lost? (Extracted from Helga Kuhse, deputy director of the Monash University Bioethics centre, “The Age” 14/10/87).

ARGUMENT 5

Eleven week old embryos can be either male or female and are physiologically indistinguishable, being equipped with rudiments of both male and female plumbing, until the TDF (Testis-Determining Factor) gene on the Y chromosome switches on to change the male set of ducts to testes. The testes produce two powerful hormones, one of which destroys the female ducts and the other (testosterone) triggers a cascade of changes to produce a macho male. In the absence of the TDF gene about 6 weeks later the embryo develops into a female.

So up to 11 weeks the foetus doesn’t know if it is Tom or Mary.

Sometimes things can go wrong. If the fragment carrying the TDF gene on the Y chromosome accidentally gets onto the XX female chromosomes, the baby becomes a male although XX.

If an XY presumed male has that bit of the Y chromosome carrying the TDF gene missing, then the baby becomes physiologically female. (Extracted from Dr. Jennifer Groves, Genetics Dept. La Trobe University, “The Age” 20/6/89, 4/1/90).

Sex indeterminacy in the embryo creates an insurmountable difficulty for the modern Catholic Church, which asserts that the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. Unless the soul is also of indeterminate gender then this assertion is disproved by the sex indeterminacy of the early embryo. Sex is of fundamental importance to the Catholic Church as only male embryos can become priests.

ARGUMENT 6

Quite a large percentage (43%) of conceptions terminate naturally due to miscarriage. If an early foetus has a soul and there is a miscarriage, is it given a baptism, a burial service or death rites by Catholic Priests?

ARGUMENT 7

Joyce Cassidy in the Autumn 1989 issue of the “Humanist in Canada” looks at what the Bible itself says about abortion. In fact it says very little. The little is Exodus 21: 22-25 which does not support an anti-abortion stance:-

When men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined according to as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Hence a miscarriage from hurt is punishable only by a paltry fine, but if the mother dies, the penalty is life for life. Hence biblically the life of the unborn child/foetus is certainly accorded nothing like the status of the life of the mother.

The Bible is littered with requests for God to burden enemies with death and God-given abortions e.g. in Hosea 9: 11-14, Hosea entreats the Lord to inflict on the Canaanite tribe of Ephraim:-

Ephraim must lead forth his sons to slaughter. Give them O Lord what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” God kills children as well as adults: Exodus 11: 4-5:- “And Moses ‘thus says the Lord. About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt and all the first born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh even to the first born of the maid servant.” In Exodus 12:29 God does that.

Then Moses to his victorious soldiers in Numbers 31: 17-18:- “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves“.

Then Deuteronomy 2: 34:- “And we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed every city, men, women and children, we left none remaining.

See also Dt 3:6, Joshua 10:28-40, Joshua 11: 10-12,14,20,21 and Judges 21: 10-12.

“Quality of Life” gets biblical support in Jeremiah 20: 14-18 where he curses the day he was born and wishes he had been killed while still in his mother’s womb. See also Ecclesiastes 6: 3-5, Psalms 58: 3-8, Job 3: 16. (End of extract from Joyce Cassidy).

ARGUMENT 8

The general need for birth control.

The 1960/61 Pears Cyclopaedia, page C33, said that the 1960 world population was 2.5 billion and predicted then that in 25 years time (1985) it would be 4 billion. In fact, the world reached a population of 4 billion in 1974. The world’s population is now 6 billion. By the year 1804 humanity had attained a population of a billion, a number that has been added to the world’s population since July 1987! (October 1999=6 billion.)

Pears said that in 600 years time, at the present rate of population increase, there would be only one square metre available for each person on Earth to live on.

Something has to give, since Catholics oppose contraception: Their population policy will, logically, result in the destruction of life on this planet.

ARGUMENT 9

The ANZ Journal of Psychiatry reported that in 17 studies in 4 countries over 20 years, “induced abortion does not cause psychological problems for women”. There is a real sense of relief after an abortion but what upsets women is when anti abortionists try to impose their morals and “guilt is deliberately induced as part of a system of social control” (“The Age 7/1/90). 1

But Christians do not mind other people suffering. The reason is the religious doctrine of Redemptive Suffering – people who suffer are ennobled and reach maturity and realise the need for Jesus and God and appreciate, redeem, the suffering Jesus underwent when He sacrificed Himself for the Sins of Mankind on the Cross.


1 And Miriam Clare, author of “The Abortion Dilemma: Personal Views on a Public Issue”, said: “Contrary to what Right-to-Life members said, many women did not suffer guilt after having an abortion, though some felt a sense of loss. A woman who gave up a child for adoption was more likely to suffer terrible regret and distress.” (Reported by Pamela Bone, “The Age”, 23/9/96).

ARGUMENT 10

Contraception is not 100% successful and so with the best laid plans unintentional and unwanted pregnancies will occur. 2

If abortion is unlawful then it follows that sexual intercourse that does not have procreation as its objective is made unlawful with the punishment for the “crime” being the enforced pregnancy and birth of a child or children. (It is a punishment, as this is not an accidental outcome of sexual intercourse, but an inevitable one). Furthermore, the punishment for this “crime” falls solely upon women though in every case it is committed by both men and women equally. The punishment for this “crime” includes economic costs for the “guilty” woman while it often imposes no economic costs on the “guilty” man.

This is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church (which never respected women’s reproductive choices 3) but why should an atheist, for example, be bound by the rules of the Roman Catholic Church? And why should the religious rules of a particular religious organisation be enforced as secular law by a secular government? We Australians cannot seek to change, by peaceful means or otherwise, the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, which are those of a foreign power which has tyranny, rather than democracy, as its form of government.

Are we all to be forced, eventually, by law, to become Roman Catholics, or to obey Papal Law?

And having established, in Commonwealth laws, the existence of supernatural “souls” (for the purposes of denying women the right to abortion) will our legislators enact further laws to protect these “souls” from evil (e.g. through the compulsory baptism of newborns)?

In other words, will the Commonwealth “establish a religion”? – (Article 116 of the Australian Constitution.)

Unfortunately, the dangerous powers forbidden to the Commonwealth are not forbidden to the States. That is, unless one State were to activate Article 117 of the Constitution through enacting legislation that offered freedom from religion and from religious observance (i.e. protection from discrimination on the basis of religion or belief). Alternatively a State could offer protection from enforced pregnancy directly as being, thereby,”a disability” and a coercive use of the power of the State to physically, psychologically, economically and socially restrict and control people on a discriminatory gender basis. (Enforced pregnancy is also the last surviving vestige of legally sanctioned enslavement: Even if it does exist in Australia in little more than theory, what previously subject race would feel safe with slavery laws still on the books, unrepealed by a not altogether repentant State! Only the Catholic Church, stalwart supporter of racial slavery in the United States, uses its unaccountable political power to campaign throughout the world in support of the retention of gender slavery.)

“Article 117” of the Australian Constitution states:

“A subject of the Queen, resident in any State, shall not be subject to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him [or her] if [she] or he were a subject of the Queen resident in any other State.” 4

Hopefully, Commonwealth and State legislation which provides such protection will be enacted as a consequence of Australia’s international obligations under the “Declaration on the Elimination of All forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.


2 Dianne Jones, director of South Australia’s Pregnancy Advisory Centre said about 60 per cent of women coming to the centre seeking advice on pregnancy had been using contraception. She said: “The Catholic Church obviously assumes women can completely control their situation and their relationships. Of course that’s not possible”. (“The Advertiser”, 28/12/95).

3 A recent study by Gunnar Heinsohn and Otto Steiger of Bremen University claims the main purpose of the Church’s continuous deliberate carefully organised witch-hunts was the annihilation of all birth control. Those who had the ancient contraceptive knowledge (Incl. from Aristotle and Pliny) were the local village midwives and herbalists who passed on the secrets from mother to daughter. Over 200 herbal preparations were used. The Malleus Maleficarum handbook of questions and torture included seven main crimes of witches for blocking reproduction:-
1. Fornication and adultery (sexual satisfaction without conception);
2. making men impotent;
3. sterilization;
4. homosexuality (sexual satisfaction without reproduction);
5. contraception;
6. abortion;
7. infanticide.

The Church eventually succeeded in eliminating those who carried the knowledge and the need for witch-hunts gradually disappeared.

4 NOTE that “a subject of the Queen” does not refer to a British subject only, but also to Australians. Australia is a constitutional monarchy – the Queen is the Head of State and Queen of Australia as well as the Queen of Great Britain (separately), and Australians are subjects of the Queen.

The executive power (the governing and administrative power) of the Commonwealth of Australia is vested in the Queen (section 61, Constitution).

Australians are described in the Constitution as subjects of the Queen and not subjects of the Governor General (nor citizens). (sections 34(ii) and 117, Constitution) .

Lastly, but probably most importantly in a symbolic sense, is the Schedule to the Constitution which requires all Federal Parliamentarians to swear an oath or declare an affirmation of allegiance to the Queen. This oath of allegiance can only be changed by alteration of the Constitution unlike the Citizenship Oath which can be changed by an Act of Parliament or the Ministerial Oath which can be changed by Proclamation.” …”Palmer’s Australian Politics”.

The Australian Constitution guarantees individual rights only in specific areas such as religion and participation in elections. It guarantees equality only for interstate residents, s 117.
…from “Women and the Constitution: Proposal for a guarantee of equality“,

by Elizabeth Evatt, 30 January 1998
Women’s Constitutional Convention,
29-30 January, Parliament House, Canberra.

ARGUMENT 11

“The Bible” cannot be accepted as a source of ethics by a humane and secular government.

“The Bible” is replete with examples of what are, by modern secular standards, barbaric moral precepts.

EXAMPLE 1: If a man rapes an unbetrothed (female) virgin then the punishment is to force the man to marry the woman with no right of divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). (i.e. the woman is punished!)

EXAMPLE 2: (Exodus 22:29). Firstborn children should be sacrificed to the Lord.

EXAMPLE 3: (Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21). A child who curses his or her parents is to be put to death. A stubborn and/or rebellious child is to be put to death.

All ethical thought needs to be justified by reasoned, rational arguments and based upon factual information which is scientifically obtained.

Religious sources include the laws of ancient tribes, and the stories told by ancient tribal peoples as myth and folklore. Such non-factual information, without rationally arrived at precepts, based upon mythological beings, and having relevance to the societies of ancient tribal peoples, cannot be the foundation for modern secular laws legislated by and for a humane society. If people wish to follow such precepts they are free to do so, providing that they do not harm others or infringe the legal and/or human rights of others in following such precepts.

Only through reason can we reach agreements and principles by which we can all be governed. The taking, in any form, of one or another set of religious precepts as a basis for our laws is a recipe for conflict, violence, revolution and civil war. (And would not enactment into civil law of Roman Catholic religious laws be a valid reason for others to claim that Islamic sharia law should also be enacted?).

Such a social disaster is evident in Bosnia-Herzegovina where fear and suspicion that laws based upon or favouring the beliefs of one or another religious group will be imposed by the State on everyone is the cause of civil war and barbaric crimes, such as rape camps and “ethnic cleansing”.

Atheists in particular have a desire to live our lives free of religious rules and edicts: For us, “freedom of religion” is freedom from religion.

NOTE: See Appendix A:- “Biblical Precepts: Questionable Guidelines” for more examples).

ARGUMENT 12

If there were such things as immortal, indestructible, indivisible, supernatural souls (which objectively do not exist) then they would in no way be inconvenienced through abortion, just as they would remain unaffected by miscarriages (the fate of 43% of all souls!). Buddhists and Hindus claim that souls are perpetually reincarnated anyway, until they reach the state of nirvana. (“Nirvana” comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘extinction’).

Roman Catholics claim that all born human beings are “sinners”, and that the sinful thought is equal to the sinful act. But the aborted or miscarried soul is in an enviable position, for having never been born, and incapable of both thought and action (See Argument 3), it is without sin and goes straight to heaven. As earthly life, in the context of eternity, is of insignificant duration, such souls would have to be considered as immeasurably advantaged over others.

It is important to distinguish the brainless early foetus, which is destroyed when aborted, from the supernatural soul, which, being indestructible, is not harmed. The destruction of brainless human tissue is not a crime. (E.g. The removal of an acute appendix, results in the destruction of brainless human tissue). Each cell (except gametes) contains all of an organisms DNA and is therefore, potentially, capable of becoming a complete, new, genetically identical organism (clone). Nobody will be charged with mass-murder for removing an appendix on those grounds. But because each human cell is potentially capable of becoming a human being the Roman Catholic Church must believe that each living human cell has a soul, waiting to be born.

ARGUMENT 13

Anti-abortion legislation contravenes the Australian Constitution.

Anti-abortion legislation is based upon the acceptance, on faith, of supernatural entities called “souls”. These “souls” should not be confused with the “psyche” studied by psychologists and treated by psychiatrists. The psyche (Greek for “soul” or “breath”) is both mortal and destructible, aware of the reality of death and of its own extinction, and subject to fragmentation, or division, as in “multiple personality disorder”. The “soul”, by contrast, is immortal, indivisible, and indestructible.

The adherents of anti-abortion legislation offer no scientific evidence to prove to us that such a supernatural entity exists. Instead they refer us to supernatural realms and supernatural beings, the existence of which we are also asked to accept on faith. In other words, we are asked to accept their religious beliefs and to enforce their religious edicts through legislation. The adherents of anti-abortion legislation seek to punish, through the judicial and prison systems, those who defy these religious edicts.

“Article 116” of the Australian Constitution states:-

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth (at least) does not have the power to establishRoman Catholicism (or any other religion, new or old) in secular legislation. Yet anti-abortion legislation is the enforcement of a set of religious beliefs. Anti-abortion legislation is not supported by the scientific evidence of “ARGUMENT 3” which is that no human life is destroyed by abortion, only brainless human tissue is destroyed.5

The human tissue in question is a part of a woman’s body and cannot be considered as a human being prior to the development of a central nervous system. Like the rest of her body this tissue remains alive and viable only within and as a part of her body – it has no viability outside of this context. Even fully formed actual human beings may be removed from life support by medical staff, and die: A woman who removes her support for an, as yet, unformed, potential human being, is entitled to do so – it is her own business! This is the scientific (factual) perspective – i.e. there is only one human being present, no “murder victim”, as the Catholic Church would have it.

No non-Roman Catholic should be required to obey Roman Catholic dogmas, and the law should not be used to compel even Roman Catholics to obey such dogmas. The Australian Constitution protects us from Commonwealth legislation “imposing any religious observance“. Collins English Dictionary (Australian Edition, 1982) defines “observance” as

“1. recognition of or compliance with a law, custom, practice, etc
2. the act of such recognition
3. a ritual, ceremony, or practice, esp. of a religion”.

Anti-abortion legislation imposes “compliance with a [religious] law” upon women seeking to terminate a pregnancy and upon those who contract to assist women in doing so: It is therefore unconstitutional. If only one State were to provide protection against this form of gender-based enslavement on the basis of protection against discrimination with regard to religion or belief, on the basis of gender discrimination, or on the basis that the imposition of enforced pregnancy imposes a disability, then all States, in accordance with section 117 of the Constitution, would be forced to recognize abortion as a right.


5 Also, Miriam Clare (author of “The Abortion Issue: Personal Views on a Public Issue”) says: “Brain movements detected early in pregnancy, at about four weeks, do not signify an actively functioning brain. Early ultrasound images show movements but these are reflex actions. The foetal heartbeat may also be heard earlier, but synaptic connections, which allow information to pass from neuron to neuron, do not begin to form until around the 28th week of pregnancy.

“Until then, there is no sensory perception and the foetus cannot feel pain. Without a human brain to define us as human beings, our behaviour is not recognisable as human.” (Quoted by Pamela Bone, in “The Age”, 23/9/96).

 

ARGUMENTS 1, 10, 11, 12 and 13 by Frances Loeber.
ARGUMENTS 2-9 by Dean R Dowling. B.Sc.


LIST OF APPENDICES:
1. “Biblical Precepts: Questionable Guidelines” Compiled by Donald Morgan.
2. “Christian Morality“, by Dean R. Dowling, ‘
3. “Witch Hunts And The Christian Mentality“, by Dean R. Dowling, ‘


THE CHURCH’S HOSTILITY TOWARDS WOMEN AND SEX

The burning of witches was justified by Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, Galatians 5:19. The official witch-hunts lasted 600 years from 1234 to 1836. The infamous 1487 “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Hammer for Witches”) was the Inquisitor’s handbook of questions and torture to be used by the best legal and judicial minds of the time. It had more than 30 reprints by 1669 in a time of massive illiteracy. (The “Malleus Maleficarum“, translated by Rev. Montague Summers, 1948, is in print – Dover paperback. The Summers 1928-48 introductions and the text are eye openers with regards to the religious/legal mentality). The confession was obtained by three levels of torture, hence the term “the third degree”.

The 15th-18th Century Woodcuts and Engravings. “The reproductive organs of both male and female were the first objects of torture… While men were, in the mercy of God, strangled or otherwise killed before being burnt at the stake or the wheel, women were fried alive. The most bestial, pain producing tortures were uniformly reserved for the female, usually after sodomizing and raping.” (“Unzipped – The Popes Bare All“, Arthur Frederick Ide, p.154). People who say that all this happened a long time ago conveniently forget that the Resurrection occurred even further back in time.

Dean R Dowling


For Blasphemers

Branks

Called branks, or shames, iron masks were placed on the head of the blaspheming offenders, but they were heated before being fastened. The funnels at the orifices were for the convenience of introducing melted lead, boiling oil, or sharpened instruments through the brank. Often there were also inner sharp, iron spikes which were forced into the heretics’ mouths, or shoved through the apertures. From 1500 to about 1800 the branks were most often used against women who were labeled “scolds.” In the latter instance, the principle underlying the use of the branks was mulier taceat in ecclesia (Let the woman be silent in church.) This, of course, was finally reduced to the idea of “Let the woman be silent in the presence of the male.” George E. Macdonald Thumbscrew and Rack (Austin, 1983). 

Witch’s Seat

Witch's Seat

For the female there were no supporting belts or pulleys to bring even temporary respite when the victim’s body was pulled up occasionally from the pyramid. Instead weights were attached to both arms and legs. The illustration is one of a “treatment” frequently inflicted on witches. Austrian archival sources, reprinted in Roland Villeneuve La Musee des supplices, (Paris, 1982).

The Water Ordeal

The Water Ordeal

Note the priest taking down the forced confession.

The Water Test

The Water Test

Most (perhaps 85 percent) of the victims of death by torture were women.

It is estimated that during the period 1450-1800 between two and four million women were burnt at the stake. But there were other niceties of killing.

One of these was called the “water test.” In this, the victim was usually shackled hands and feet together as in the illustration. She was then thrown into a river. If she sank, and died (foreground) she was innocent. If the water rejected her, this was proof of her guilt. Alan C. Kors & Edward Peters Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1700 (Philadelphia, 1972).

The Spider

The Spider

This instrument, a cluster of steel hooks pointed like needles, was designed to be spread over the breast of the woman. The central ring is then pulled, drawing the points together and tearing the flesh away from the breast. The reproductive organs of both male and female were the first objects of torture.

Women’s breasts were torn off with the spider rather than cut off cleanly with the sword, or knife. While men were, in the mercy of god, strangled or otherwise killed before being burnt at the stake or wheel, women were fried alive. The most bestial, pain-producing tortures were uniformly reserved for the female, usually after sodomising and raping.

 

Illustrations and notes obtained from “Unzipped – The Popes Bare All (a Frank Study of Sex and Corruption in the Vatican)” by Arthur Frederick Ide, American Atheist Press , 1987, Austin, Texas.

 

By Frances Loeber and Dean R Dowling

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