For the past 30 years, Maine has been a leader in the country when it comes to supporting reproductive rights of women and girls.

When Ronald Reagan defunded family planning services, the state stepped in to increase funding for family planning and passed a model parental consent law. The state also refused to accept federal money that came with a mandate to teach only abstinence during the Bush administration. In 1999, an attempt to pass a so-called partial birth abortion referendum was defeated 55 percent to 44 percent here at a time when those bills were being enacted around the country.

Now, our governor is leading a political party whose goal is to reduce our state’s progress. Each legislative session for the last five years, Republicans have introduced anti-choice bills in the Legislature.

This year, Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, a woman with a 100 percent rating by Maine Right to Life for her anti-reproductive health votes, has introduced a bill that would give the Maine Department of Health and Human Services enhanced authority to write rules for abortion clinics. That she professes this is not a bill to limit a woman’s access to abortion but is designed to protect women’s health is laughable.

Abortions are available at three clinics in Maine. There has never been a report about unsafe clinic conditions except when a gun was fired at a clinic window in the early 1990s. Now, there are protesters outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland. Patients and staff have reported feeling unsafe walking through them to get to the door.

Someone really concerned about women’s health might better consider doing something to promote safety outside the clinics.

After reading about this latest assault on women’s right to choose how to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, I’ve decided after 35 years of working for women’s reproductive rights to declare that I can’t just be pro-choice. I do strongly believe the decision is one in which a woman, in consultation with her physician, gets to decide how to deal with the pregnancy. However, I also have become pro-abortion, just like I was pro-tonsillectomy when Bruce needed one earlier this year. We could have chosen not to have surgery, but it wouldn’t have been the best option for us.

Thirty-seven years ago in graduate school, despite using contraception, I became pregnant. I was earning $4,000 per year and barely able to support myself, let alone someone else. Having babysat for other children since I was 10, I knew that I wasn’t prepared to take care of one of my own. Raising a child took the kind of patience and energy that I, who had been anemic since my early teens, didn’t have. I also knew that I needed my degree to get a job that would provide me with enough income to support myself in the way I wanted to live.

Controlling my reproductive life and being able to choose to have a child was necessary to achieving my goal of financial independence. It was true for me, and it’s true for all women who want to be able to compete equally in the workplace. Access to contraception is critical and when that contraception fails, access to abortion is critical. That access has been under constant attack for the past 40 years.

My sisters have adopted children. As an aunt, I’m delighted they had the opportunity to adopt. As my sisters, they are equally happy that I had the opportunity to make my own decision. Not all women make the same choices, but the point is that choice is ours to make, not a lawmaker’s.

If Sanderson is so concerned with protecting women’s health, she would be leading the effort to expand Medicaid coverage for the 70,000 adults, many of them women, who are not able to afford health insurance. That health care coverage would provide for contraceptives and actually drastically reduce the need for abortion in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.

She and her anti-choice colleagues also would be championing the expansion of home visiting services for new parents to help them with the challenges of a new baby. They would be supporting the expansion of Early Head Start, Head Start, pre-school, subsidized quality childcare for parents, as well as an array of supportive prenatal services. They would be passionate about making sure children get the best start in life, rather than focusing on imposing their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

How is it that the party with the goal of limiting the government’s influence in just about every aspect of our lives can be so hypocritical when it comes to legislating what goes on in our sex lives? The answer is that religion and politics have become one for the right wing of the Republican Party.

I grew up in a Republican household, and I taught Sunday School. The Republican values today are not those of my parents or of many of my current Republican friends. I’m hoping those who hold the old Republican values will soon resurrect the value of separation between church and state and focus on the real problems facing the country.

Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.


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