Abortion restrictions amount to legislated religion

Today, the Virginia Senate passed HB 462, which mandates that any woman having an abortion must first undergo an ultrasound, even against medical opinion. The bill passed 21-19 as two Democratic senators (Charles Colgan, Prince William, and Phil Puckett, Russell) opposed to abortion access voted for the mandate. (It is worth noting that Senator John Watkins, R-Powhatan, bucked the line and voted against the measure.) Following the vote, Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria, told The Rachel Maddow Blog he believes the amended bill will pass the House and be signed by Governor Bob McDonnell.

With the high likelihood that the bill will become law, Virginia’s elected officials join their colleagues across the country in a repressive, single-minded effort to force all women to carry each pregnancy to term. No matter what.

As Laura Bassett notes in the Huffington Post, the debate includes a dispute on the role of government and government overreach. (Bassett deftly juxtaposes the mandatory ultrasound decision with the attempt to repeal Virginia’s HPV vaccine mandate.)

Virginia’s latest obstacle to abortion access does indeed raise the issue of government mandates and government overreach. Anti-abortion measures (like mandatory ultrasound, forced waiting periods, bans on financial assistance, etc.) amount to nothing less than government sanctioned religion.

In the United States, one of the greatest influences on our view of morality is our tendency to be religious. Many legislators see abortion as a moral issue. (Sadly, too many see it as the moral issue above all others.) As moral and religious individuals, our elected officials wrongly proselytize through policy, legislating their (primarily) Christian view of right and wrong.

When we accept bills that stand in the way of women obtaining safe, legal and affordable abortion, we tacitly accept that the Christian perspective has supreme value and power in our lives—even for individuals (and there are many to be sure) who are either not Christian or have no religious leanings.

Everyone in our country has the absolute right to believe anything (and everything should they choose). However, no one should have the right to legislate a religious view of life through policymaking. (In fact, because of the flawed views of religiously guided and mean-spirited legislators, if you live in Virginia and are a piece of metal designed to kill and injure people you have more rights than a woman.)

In the matters of medicine, the personal beliefs of presumptuous, sanctimonious lawmakers have no place. (Quick reminder: Despite all beliefs to the contrary, abortion is and will remain a medical procedure just as any other surgery is a medical procedure.) We should have a simple test for abortion-related measures: Is the proposed regulation medically necessary or does it represent the limited, wrongheaded belief of a few individuals who proclaim themselves spokespeople of a deity they invented? I’d prefer to have my medical decisions made based on medicine, not delusion.

-Joseph Patrick Richards @mentalmacguyver

Silent majority

21 February 2012: DC Exile Day 28

It looks like the Virginia General Assembly’s attempt to return women to a day before the 19th Amendment is getting some great attention, notice and outcry.

Yesterday, a group of activists surrounded the Virginia Capitol in Richmond to protest the state’s persistent attacks on women’s health. (Estimates put the crowd at over 1000 persons.)

While the protestors stood silently outside, Virginia’s cowardly, misogynist legislators held off on voting on some terrible bills.

Rather than delve into the details, I’ll provide some great links from yesterday, including some spot-on editorials decrying the latest bigoted bills in Virginia.

Activists in Virginia are now poised for a statewide day of action this Thursday, 23 February. To learn more, visit NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s page.

[Updated: 12:10 p.m. MST]

News outlets continue coverage today.

House of Misrepresentatives

17 February 2012: DC Exile Day 24

Not that this news comes as any surprise, but this past week has been especially terrible for women in the US. In case you missed it, below is a brief rundown of what happened in DC and Virginia this week. (I write about Virginia for two main reasons. First, I worked there recently in reproductive rights and am plugged in to what is going on in that state. Second, I believe some of the bills under consideration in Virginia may serve as dangerous models for the rest of the country should they pass.)

In addition to the Virginia House of Delegates approving a measure to grant “personhood” rights to zygotes, legislators in the Commonwealth moved forward with other measures to destroy the rights of women. (An article from Chelyen Davis at Fredericksburg.com and David Sherfinski at The Washington Times provide valuable updates on how “personhood” may affect in vitro fertilization.)

  • Chelyen Davis also reports on a bill from Delegate Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, that would block the ability of low-income women to access assistance for necessary abortion care.
  • The House of Delegates voted to approve a bill that would force women to undergo vaginal probe ultrasounds against their will and against the advice of their doctors. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia describe the invasiveness of the bill.

And of course, there was the unbelievable absence of female witnesses during a hearing on birth control in the U.S. House of Representatives. The chair of the committee, Rep, Darrell Issa, R-Calif, even claimed a female law student was not “qualified” to testify to the committee.

Wait. So women, who take birth control, are not qualified to testify about birth control?

This week points out the dreadful truth that Republican legislators, especially those in the House of Representatives (you know, that body that is supposed to represent us?), believe that only wealthy, heterosexual, Christian White men are experts. Our legislators believe that women are not capable of living their own lives and making their own decisions. Our legislators are cowards.


10 February 2012: DC Exile Day 17

Let’s get caught up on some news from the past week.

Big Miracle

On Thursday, GF and I went to see the new film, Big Miracle. The film stars John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore and Kristen Bell. The film’s plot revolves around three whales trapped under ice (much like James Hetfield was) off the coast of Alaska. It takes a daring young reporter, a fiery unstoppable Greenpeace activist and a host of other characters to deal with rescuing these adorable gray whales. The film had two highlights for me. The first involved seeing a Russian tanker (that’s a type of ship for you nautical newbies). Ever since I was in elementary school I had a passive fascination with Russia. It is one place on earth that has a magical, sexy allure for me. When I was a kid, I would stand in the shower (taking a shower) and point my pointer finger in the air. My pointer finger was crooked toward the right (east if you’re facing north) and I always said aloud to myself (quietly and in what I thought was a Russian accent), “Yes. It points to Mother Russia.”

The second highlight of the film was seeing the Russian ship crew taking shots of vodka. I learned that it must be ok to drink and drive if you’re driving a massive piece of metal that is generally in open water. (“Wait, what’s that poking out of the water up ahead? That looks like ice. Nah. It can’t beahhhhhhhh! Cue the violins!”)

Halting the Big Miracle

Catholic bishops and leaders have been wrangling with President Obama regarding the decision that all women should have access to free birth control. President Obama issued a compromise to the mandate that all employers offer no-cost birth control. The coverage from Slate and Mother Jones is helpful in explaining just what the decision means for women working at religiously-affiliated charities, hospitals and schools. NARAL Pro-Choice America calls the decision a “reaffirmation of the commitment to ensuring contraceptive coverage.”

Based on my initial understanding of President Obama’s decision, it seems like a fair compromise and one that will allow all women in the US to benefit from no-cost birth control despite the Catholic bishops’ best attempt to stop women from having access to the full rights of citizens.

Bigoted Miracle

Why do Catholic bishops have any say in the political decisions of this country? The answer should be “they don’t,” but that is sadly not true.

I do not believe that any religious organization should be allowed to open any sort of usually-public institution. Religious organizations should not be allowed to open hospitals, schools, universities, post offices, fire departments or police stations. Religion is inherently a private matter in which private citizens can make private decisions to follow make-believe. (I did it for a large portion of my life.) But those private decisions and beliefs should never get to sway public policy. If Catholic bishops are opposed to birth control – the end. There should be no more to that sentence because it doesn’t matter what comes after their belief as far as public policy is concerned.

Sometimes I feel that we wrongly assume “freedom of religion” is synonymous with and equivalent to “freedom of unchallengeable bigotry.”