Opposite Games by Politicians

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with a variety of health care services for women. (The federal funding was allocated for family planning and health care, not abortion.) The Virginia General Assembly earlier approved legislation that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals, and providers say the stricter regulations will force many of them out of business. Both measures were pushed by anti-abortion activists. Should personal and religious views be allowed to prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure?

"Opposite Day" is a game played by children, when speech is modified so that statements mean the opposite of what they usually mean. We are now witnessing Opposite Day played by politicians. Here are two examples:

A politician says, "This country was founded on individual freedom, and I want to keep our citizens free without government interference by a nanny state." He then tries by any means necessary to prevent women from exercising their legal options regarding their bodies, or allowing them to make informed choices after consultation with their doctor. 

A politician says, "I will do all in my power to reduce the number of abortions." He then opposes the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions: Provide comprehensive evidence-based sex education in schools; make contraception available for sexually active teens and others who want to avoid pregnancy; provide prenatal health care, day care programs, and other support systems for women wishing to give birth.

Opposite-minded politicians hate Planned Parenthood. Here are some facts from the most recent Planned Parenthood annual report. Ninety percent of the health care provided by Planned Parenthood health centers is to prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and prevent cancer deaths through lifesaving screenings. Pregnant women are also offered prenatal care and referrals for adoption. Only three percent of Planned Parenthood's services are for abortion, a procedure increasingly harder to find at other clinics. Politicians who claim that Planned Parenthood is nothing but an abortion factory must prefer to live in Opposite Day Land.

Abortion is a legal procedure in this country, yet here in my home state of South Carolina, and probably in your state, too, the Legislature is currently voting on numerous bills to restrict that legal procedure to all women. One South Carolina bill prohibits qualified health plans from offering abortion coverage, even in the case of rape or incest. Another bill would establish that the right to life for each "preborn human being" begins at fertilization.

Atheists and the religious right in this country agree on at least one thing: We prefer to see Middle East countries governed by secular laws rather than theocratic laws. Unfortunately, the American religious right reaches the right conclusion for the wrong reason--that Middle East theocratic rule is based on the Koran rather than the Bible.

We elect American politicians to uphold our secular Constitution and the laws of the land, including the legal right to abortion. Politicians have the right to worship the god of their choice, but they have no right to restrict the freedom of those who don't share their religious beliefs. That's the opposite of the religious freedom we are all guaranteed.

(This piece was originally published on The Washington Post's "On Faith.")

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