Why your religion has nothing to do with abortion: One outraged Virginian’s perspective

If you’ve been following the conservative assault on reproductive rights, then you might know that Virginia recently suffered a right-wing takeover that threatens to shut down almost every single abortion clinic in the state. It’s been summarized well by news outlets, so if you’d like to read up on it, I refer you to here for Friday’s ruling with some links to more history, and here for some excellent coverage from none other than Rachel Maddow.

I was there on Friday as part of the public demonstration that this issue is important to us, that we will not stand for such tactics being used to circumvent the law and limit access to safe, legal abortion. I was there on Friday, and I was outraged by all the admittedly predictable anti-abortion signs, many of which invoked religion, and a few of which implied that if you were pregnant, it was by choice, and why should your baby pay the price for that choice? It’s a narrative that is borne out of misinformation, privilege, puritanical ideas about sex and sexual relationships, and a complete (and at times undoubtedly willful) ignorance to the reality of sexual assault and rape or the complex economic and social reasons why someone might choose to have an abortion.

Speaking of ignorance: Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli couldn’t have asked for a better time to come into power, following the Tea Party surge which pushed the Republican party further from the center than they’ve ever been. A life-long anti-abortion activist, Cuccinelli has benefited from how little people pay attention to state elections. Despite record-breaking voter turn-out in 2008 for the presidential election driven by both enthusiasm for Obama and a populist that wasn’t about to have another Republican in office after Bush, the subsequent elections on the state level went back to business as usual with an alarmingly low level of people participating in elections.

Not that elections are the end-all, be-all of our ability to participate in government or influence policy. I know plenty of people who abstain from voting as a form of civil protest – they don’t feel as though any career politician could possibly represent them, and they don’t want to participate. And maybe they have a point. But if you value things like reproductive rights, then we must guard them with vigilance. No matter how apathetic we may grow with our political system, particularly in a post-Citizens United world, it is still essential that we pay attention and make sure that ideologues like Cuccinelli don’t come into power.

Undoubtedly, the most frustrating thing about Friday’s ruling is that the basis for the entire anti-choice movement is steeped in religion. We all know people who are religious. Whenever I get on the subject of abortion, I don’t want a discussion like this to turn personal or hurtful. This is a complicated subject and most people have very strong opinions on it. But in wake of Friday’s events, I’m coming to the decision that it’s time to be a lot more unapologetic in my support of reproductive rights, and more importantly, try and create a dialogue which makes clear that religion should have nothing to do with abortion.

I support and respect other people’s opinions and faiths and know many of the religious people in my life to be very good people. But I’ve never heard a single anti-abortion argument that didn’t invoke religion, and until I do, they don’t sway me. The separation of church and state is one of the most important things in the United States, and religious-based arguments for something like medical treatment or health care shouldn’t have ANY influence over policies dictating medicine. Period.

Consider the following. For Jehovah’s Witnesses it’s against their religion to get blood transfusions. I work in a hospital, and I recently saw man who was a Jehovah’s Witness at work whose hospital course was complicated by his refusal to have blood transfusions. He would have been out of the hospital a month earlier (and his care would have cost 31 days worth less!). It was frustrating to the doctors and staff in his care, because they had the means to treat him, but he refused. While he was within his rights to do so, this also meant he was taking up a hospital bed and resources that someone else could have used. Still, his beliefs were respected as a patient and they treated him as best they could without the transfusion.

But let’s say someone with those kinds of beliefs came into political power and tried to outlaw blood transfusions on the basis of their religion. No one would stand for it, because the government has no business making a decision like that FOR SOMEONE ELSE. It was that man’s right to refuse one, but not his right to impose his religious convictions on anyone else.

It’s not much different with abortion. Policy motivated by religious conviction and not empirical, evidence based medicine, imposed upon a diverse, secular population, which includes Christians but also atheists, nontheists, Buddhists, agnostics, etc. practically turns our state into a theocracy and undermines everything our laws and democracy are supposed to be founded upon.

Give me an argument against abortion that doesn’t invoke God and I’ll give it some thought. But it likely won’t convince me, because reproductive freedom is one of the most important rights we have. Religion has no place in government – churches and religious organizations are welcome to exercise their right to free speech and speak out against it, but the moment that religious opinion enters a political debate, they’ve overstepped their boundaries. Those who are concerned about answering to God over abortion probably shouldn’t have an abortion. For people who don’t believe in God or even an afterlife, such an argument has no bearing whatsoever.

A family member saw something I wrote online about the anti-choice ruling here in Virginia, and responded with the following:

“The sad thing to realize is the baby she’s carrying is a separate life that God designed for a specific purpose. We will have to answer to God for every single life that we destroyed.”

I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Even if you accept the existence of a higher power or have belief in God, such a statement as that must be carried to it’s logical conclusion because of how it shapes the argument against Choice. If a woman who is raped or a victim of incest, for anyone to say that being the victim of one of the most heinous and violent crimes imaginable and then having their rapist’s baby (their father’s baby? their uncle’s?) is part of God’s plan… well, I don’t have any interest in any plans God might have that would intend for anyone to suffer such a fate. Furthermore, that kind of argument ignores the fact that the people who commit acts of rape and sexual assault are exercising free will – I think you could equally argue that advances in medical technology that allow us to terminate such a pregnancy and spare someone the further anguish of having a baby that is the product off an assault is also a “gift from God.”

Religious arguments like, “Choose Life” might make for good bumper stickers and slogans for posters, but religious arguments which attempt to simplify this complex issue into a simple one ignore the reality of people’s lives and the very real and legitimate danger of sexual assault that faces every woman on a daily basis. People who oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds need to be doing work that isn’t just focused on supporting “unwed mothers” or rape victims, but work to change the fabric of our society which makes sexual assault such a constant threat, to support social welfare programs, to fund programs that educate men about healthy sexual relationships, that teach men NOT TO RAPE, and about comprehensive sex education that makes sure people know how to prevent undesired pregnancy so that there will be fewer abortions. Unfortunately, usually people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to programs which provide public assistance or tax payer dollars going towards things like that. Well, we can’t have it both ways.

Limiting access to abortion won’t mean they stop happening – it just means they become less safe when people are desperate. For all of these reasons, I am and always will be adamantly pro-choice because no one (not the church, not the government) has the right to make such a personal decision for someone else.

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