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It’s bad policy to blur the lines between religion and politics

Published: Mon, January 24, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Across the country, Legislatures made up primarily of men are working with renewed enthusiasm and increasing prospects for success to limit the ability of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

Legislatures and governor’s mansions that switched from Democrat to Republican, or in some cases from moderate Republican to more conservative, are choosing to use their new power to intrude on the lives of American women. That they ran on platforms that were ostensibly all about excessive government spending, lost jobs and government intrusion is not lost on some of us.

Among the laws being drafted or already introduced are some that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks after conception, establish mandates that women view ultrasound images of the fetus before receiving an abortion or curb insurance coverage for abortion — even if the insurance is provided by an employer with no input of government funds.

The New York Times reported that Kansas’ new conservative governor, Sam Brownbeck, used his State of the State address to urge the Kansas Legislature to send him legislation that “protects the unborn, establishing a culture of life in Kansas.” One of the bills he wants to see is a bill requiring women to submit to an ultrasound examination before having an abortion.

The mandatory ultrasound bills are particularly odious because they allow the Legislature to directly intrude on the doctor-patient relationship. They contain an implicit message that a woman who has taken serious steps toward having an abortion is unaware of what she is doing and should be forced to view an ultrasound before having a medical procedure. In addition to Kansas, the Times predicted that the first states likely to pursue ultrasound legislation are Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and Ohio. Try to imagine a predominantly male Legislature taking a similarly paternalistic attitude regarding any medical procedure that men undergo.

The most serious flaw in such legislation is that it blurs the line between state and religion.

The life debate

At its core, the debate over when life begins is one of religion and faith, especially among those who hold that life exists from the moment of conception and from that moment on it is government’s job to protect that life.

Some religions and sects hold that belief, others do not. Those that do are within their rights to hold their members accountable. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Catholic Diocese, did that last year when he announced that a nun who was administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital there was excommunicated for allowing an abortion to be performed on a seriously ill woman who was 11 weeks pregnant. He also stripped the hospital of its Catholic status.

A bishop is free to believe that it is God’s will that a woman die rather than have an abortion or that a woman be compelled to bear a child conceived in rape or incest.

But that standard should not be codified by a state Legislature or Congress.

Tens of millions of Americans who do not belong to one of the strains of Christianity, Judaism or Islam that prohibits abortion in varying degrees should not be legally bound by their fellow citizens’ religious beliefs.

This past weekend, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not, decried the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that 38 years ago recognized that government should not take sides in the debate over whether abortion is “right” or “moral.” It is a decision that should be hailed by people who call themselves conservative and claim to believe the best government is the least government.

One of the things that has set this nation apart from its beginnings is that it is not a theocracy. But when the Legislature begins codifying religious dogma, it’s on the slippery slope to theocracy, and people of all political and religious persuasions should be alarmed.

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