No place for religion in public policy

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with … Continued

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week 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 last week 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?

NO.

I thought I’d keep the opening paragraph short and sweet. Now let’s ponder the problem in more detail. In a secular society that observes the separation of church and state, neither personal metaphysical views about, say, fetal ensoulment nor religious doctrine should have any role in obstructing women’s access to a legal medical procedure. That said, I also recognize that some of us haven’t lived in that United States for the last 30 years or so — and that way too many House Republicans are drawn from that group.

Will their views prevail? Sadly, I think they just might. For too many years abortion-rights advocates felt invulnerable beneath the sheltering mantle of Roe v. Wade. For strategic reasons they retreated from the hard work of educating America as to why abortion is morally licit, preferring to focus on what they viewed as a slam-dunk rhetoric of “choice.” And so we had — to cite just one example — the National Abortion Rights Action League change its name to the meaningless NARAL in order to shed the albatross — whoops, I meant that other “A” word. (William Saletan’s 2003 Bearing Right gives an excellent picture of this process, though Saletan doesn’t draw from his narrative the same conclusions that I do.)

There’s a problem with this approach, and it’s bearing bitter fruit today. That problem is that when abortion-rights advocates restrict themselves to talking about choice, abortion opponents have the arena of moral discourse all to themselves as they make their arguments that abortion is hideous, sinful, selfish and so on. Too few voices rebut them to argue that (to use atheist Ann Gaylor’s wonderfully ironic trope) “abortion is a blessing.” Too few voices argue that since the capacity for personhood does not exist until the infant brain begins some internal wiring well after birth, the only justifications for imagining that abortion is murder flow solely from personal metaphysics or religious doctrine. Too few voices argue that in a secular society, personal metaphysics and religious doctrine are properly off-limits as drivers of public policy.

Which brings us to the present day, when a vocal anti-abortion minority — and a big chunk of moderates, especially young people, who’ve listened to the right’s uncontested jeremiads all these years and concluded that abortion is, like, you know, sort of yucky — are prepared to guide our nation one giant step down the path to theocracy.

Appalling, even terrifying, as it seems, they just might get away with it. And if they do, the missteps of the “pro-choice” lobby will merit at least part of the blame.

I’m not just pro-choice, I’m pro-abortion. And I’m losing hope.

Tom Flynn
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  • marlendale

    This is a typical “keep your religion out of public policy” tirade. So, people like Martin Luther King, Jim Wallis, Gene Robinson, and others should just shut up and stop bringing their religion into the public forum? Or would Tom Flynn only exclude people of faith with whom he disagrees.The law is the way in which a society determines what is right and what is wrong. This is based upon morality. Since religious people base their right/wrong choices on their faith, Tom Flynn would exclude every person of faith from public policy discussions. This is semi-marxist (religion is the opiate of the people) because it would mean only secular humanists/atheists would be allowed to govern, excluding the vast majority of citizens.

  • kenger1

    “Too few voices argue that since the capacity for personhood does not exist until the infant brain begins some internal wiring well after birth, the only justifications for imagining that abortion is murder flow solely from personal metaphysics or religious doctrine. Too few voices argue that in a secular society, personal metaphysics and religious doctrine are properly off-limits as drivers of public policy.”The difficulty I have with the above is that Mr. Flynn seems to ignore the fact that conception is integral to the creation of each and every human life. Without conception, there would be no human beings.The reality that Mr. Flynn seems to dismiss out of hand is that at the moment of conception a unique human life is created that has everything it needs to continue in existence, apart from natural causes or a willful act of abortion that brings an end to that life.

  • fishcrow

    You should definitely lose hope, Mr. Flynn. Your ideas are just a sad leftover from the days of hippies and such. The pro-abortion crowds are diminishing, being replaced by a generation that has once again embraced reason and morality. We’ll let you stay as a historical oddity.

  • YEAL9

    Once again:

  • MadrakTheMightyNonTheisticNonSectarianWarriorPriest

    @Yeal9 – And by what measure exactly are you saying: “Obviously, Planned Parenthood, parents and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts”? Do you have any data showing that any other programs would have done better? Abstinence-only programs don’t work: see here

  • Dliodoir

    “the capacity for personhood does not exist until the infant brain begins some internal wiring well after birth”If you argument is that abortion is a moral choice until “personhood” does your quote above indicate that you believe it a moral choice to terminate the life of a child after birth? How about where injury or disability prevents the formation of the “wiring” you deem necessary for personhood? Can we morally end the life of all people with developmental disability or catastrophic brain injury? Peter Singer and other utilitarians would agree with you. So would supporters of eugenics. I tremble at cold, sinister perfection of the world you seem to desire.

  • Christian1941

    Most folks seem to forget the Margaret Sanger created Planned Parenthood as a way to get rid of black babies and reduce the numbers of blacks. So the question is, how well has that worked? The answer is, very well.

  • Jen_R

    Mr. Flynn, please consider familiarizing yourself with secular arguments against abortion. Yeal9, please consider not spamming the comments section of every post on this subject with the same long comment.

  • smohame

    Mr. Flynn, we are humans … give you ideology to yourself.

  • YEAL9

    One result of unprotected sex besides the one million abortions/yr:from the CDC-2006″Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of STDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

  • ITs-TIME

    “Testing, Testing, Happy Every-Day”

  • eezmamata

    Yeal9 makes me grateful for the wheel on my mouse. I can scroll past his verbal diarrhea with little effort.One has to wonder, does he get some kind of sexual pleasure from this, is it some kind of brown shower for him?