No one can prove when life begins, which makes it a matter of faith, which means government can’t interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion

The current wave of anti-choice legislation passed in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere fills me with a deep sadness for the many victims whom these benighted laws will create. Women who will die or be severely injured in back alley abortions. Men and women whose lives will be made infinitely more difficult or unhappy because they have to raise children they don’t want, can’t afford or are unprepared for. Most of all, my heart breaks for the children of unwanted pregnancies, often born in poverty or with disabilities or raised by parents who didn’t really want them.

The unholy irony of these new laws is that they are passed by elected officials who typically also campaign for cutting food stamps, aid to education, health care for the poor and other programs that help children once they are born.

Like many conservative positions, the extreme anti-choice line is faith based. But there’s a big difference between the rightwing view on abortion and its position on other issues such as immigration and government regulation: we can explode the myths that underlie most of contemporary conservatism with facts, but pro-choicers base their position as much on faith as anti-choicers do.

Facts and analysis disprove virtually all of the rightwing’s assertions. Experts—by which I mean scientists, engineers, economists, sociologists and other researchers not paid by industry—have demonstrated that virtually all the premises supporting the GOP platform run counter to reality.

Some examples: Global warming is occurring and much of it is manmade; its effects will do more harm than good.

Lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs, whereas raising them usually does.

Immigrants lower the unemployment rate and raise the salaries of native-born Americans. Crime rates are lower among immigrants—legal or undocumented—than among native born Americans.

Universal medical insurance would lower the overall cost that Americans pay for healthcare.

Increased government regulations do not decrease jobs or economic activity in the overall economy.

Public schools do a better job of educating students than either private schools or privatized charter schools.

Raising the minimum wage has a meager if any impact on employment rates and tends to lead to higher wages up the employment ladder.

The more guns there are in any society, the more gun deaths and injuries occur.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point, dear readers.  Research exists that in short order destroys virtually all of 21st century conservatism.

The exception is abortion, for one simple reason: No one really knows when life begins. All we can determine is the point in fetal development when life is viable—able to sustain itself outside the womb. Even that premise is open to some question, as an infant can’t live without the help of adults to feed, shelter and protect it. Common sense would conclude that a newborn is not truly viable. In the 18th and 19th centuries, infanticide was a primary means of birth control in many cultures, including our own.  

I personally believe that a woman should control her own body and therefore should have the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. But I am also painfully aware that this argument doesn’t really hold muster under close scrutiny. Society often interferes with an individual’s control of its own body. We consider people who mutilate themselves to be emotionally unstable and in need of psychological treatment (unless society approves the mutilation, as with tattoos and or non-corrective cosmetic surgery). We have laws against assisted suicide. Drug laws interfere with the right of women and men to control their own body. We force children to attend school until a certain age. We throw in jail people who sell their bodies or use them as lethal weapons. Society therefore often constrains the bodies of people and could theoretically prevent women from having abortions.

The problem is that no one can say for certain when life begins. At conception?  At a mother’s recognition of the pregnancy? At heartbeat? At viability? No one really knows. Of course, we as a society could agree to a definition of the beginning of life, or, to put it in the center of the controversy, the point at which the rights of the fetus are as strong as or stronger than the rights of the mother.

But wherever we set the beginning of life is completely arbitrary—a first premise, an axiom in mathematics, a principle from which you argue from and never to.

In other words, a matter of faith.

Setting the point after which an abortion should not be performed for any reason is always a matter of faith, belonging to the realm of religion and not science.

Which is the very reason why American governments on all levels must as a matter of constitutional law allow abortions in virtually all cases. The United States has an absolute separation of state and religion. The titleless aristocracy that founded the country adamantly opposed having a state religion or letting the state interfere with the private practice of religion. The judiciary has reconfirmed the principle of the separation of church and state innumerable times.

Those who oppose all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, practice one faith. Those who want to abort all fetuses that will develop Down’s syndrome or other terrible ailments practice another faith. I’ll leave it to each reader to decide whose religion is more humane, more caring, and more attuned to the needs of society.

But all must agree that it is never the function of government to get involved in ontological disputes between different faiths. Constitutionally, the government cannot and should not have any position on abortion.

That leaves opponents of a woman’s right to control her own body with the traditional options that religions have in the United States. Advertise and proselytize. Convince pregnant women not to have abortions. Go ahead and tell them that all pregnancies are a blessing, even if the baby is never going to be close to normal. (Just don’t do it with lies such as the false myth that women who have abortions are more likely to get cancer.)

The marketplace of ideas is the proper place to discuss abortion, not the legislative halls or the bureaucracies of the administrative branch of government. Whether these new anti-abortion laws are moral depends on one’s religion, but there can be no disputing that they go against the principles upon which we have built our country.   

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