The Universal Notebook: Abortion vs. reproductive rights

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Gov. Janet Mills is being criticized in some quarters for changing her mind. During the campaign, when asked her position on abortion, she said she would simply support Maine’s existing laws, which allow abortions up until viability. Now she has introduced legislation to allow ending pregnancies much later under some conditions.

Mills is right to do so. When she was made aware of the circumstances of a Maine woman who had to leave the state to terminate a pregnancy in which the fetus was sure to die, she acted in good faith to correct that rare but real injustice.

Edgar Allen BeemAccording to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans support legal abortions in most cases. We all wish it were never necessary to end a pregnancy, but we also know that is not reasonable. There are medical, psychological, social and economic reasons that some pregnancies should not be carried to term. The obvious cases involve rape and incest and pregnant children. To insist that a 10 year old be forced to give birth is beyond cruel.

Abortion, however, is the Achilles’ heel of progressives. We are even uncomfortable with the language used, preferring “reproductive rights” to “abortion,” “fetal tissue” to “baby.” To anti-abortion activists every cell is a “baby.”

But what it comes down to for most of us who support a person’s right to an abortion is who gets to decide whether they give birth. We who are pro-choice believe it’s a decision to be made by a pregnant person in consultation with their doctor. Abortion foes want politicians to enact laws controlling a woman’s body. It is the ultimate subjugation of women.  

Anti-abortion activists believe they hold the moral high ground, but it’s clear they do not care at all about the lives of the mothers. You cannot be serious about preventing abortions if you don’t support sex education, contraception and programs that support families with dependent children.

When people advance “religious” objections to abortion, they should be reminded that even “religious” people are divided on the issue. The Catholic Church may oppose abortion, but the majority of American Catholics believe abortion should be legal if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health (69 percent) or is the result of rape (66 percent).

The Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Assemblies of God oppose abortion with few if any exceptions. But the United Church of Christ (to which I belong) and the Unitarian Universalist Association favor a person’s right to an abortion with few if any restrictions and mainstream Protestant denominations (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist) support abortion with some limitations.

The bottom line, however, is that religion has no place in a public policy debate. 

Maine’s Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Deeley has called Gov. Mills’ proposal to allow late-term abortions when doctors agree they are necessary ”radical and extreme.”

“This is no longer a discussion of heartlessly destroying a fetus, which is immoral on its own,” argued the bishop. “This is an unborn child.”

But how can we accept the moral authority of a church with such a well-documented history of abusing living children and discriminating against women? It’s fine for a bishop to preach to his own congregation, but his religious beliefs have no place in the laws of the land.

America is not a theocracy…at least not yet.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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