I’m pretty sure some of the things I’m going to say will stir up the Internet trolls. Against all advice, I like reading their comments, mostly because of the way they provide examples of points I’m making in the column. Whether it’s racism, women’s reproductive rights or pathways out of poverty, their efforts to prove I’m wrong are generally quite helpful to my case.

I was going to start the column with the words “female genital mutilation” but decided that might be a little much for those reading this over their morning coffee. I added the previous paragraph as a kind of trigger warning. What I’m about to say will be offensive to some.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would hear the words “genital mutilation” coming from the mouth of any nationally elected official, much less the president of the United States. Wow. The part of Barack Obama’s recent speech to the Kenyan people about the rights of women blew me away. If you haven’t heard it, and you are among the millions of people who believe women’s rights are human rights, you might want to Google it. It will cheer your soul.

That would be a soul that is taking a beating here in this country. Every day, we are treated to one Republican presidential candidate or another declaring their opposition women’s reproductive rights. Is this not the 21st century?

Oddly, they find no contradiction between advocating for government control in this area, while remaining firmly opposed to making sure the chemicals in food, clothing and beauty products are safe for pregnant women to eat, wear or use on their bodies. Why isn’t making sure the development of that fetus is protected from environmental assault just as important to them? That contradiction is where it becomes plain that theirs is a war on women’s control of their bodies.

Unfortunately for the country as a whole, denying women the right to control their fertility results in an unequal playing field in the economic arena. It’s not an issue of right or wrong. Well it is, but it’s also an issue of success or failure, as Obama points out in his speech. “Any nation that doesn’t maximize the potential of women and girls is doomed to fall behind in the global economy.”

Here’s my question to those who are so intent on controlling our bodies, denying us an equal workplace playing field, and who at the same time are hoping the country can remain an economic powerhouse: What sports team would take a field with only half its team? As the president pointed out in his speech, “That makes no sense.” Why voluntarily limit the team’s potential? But that is what we are doing and worse. We are calling this attack on reproductive rights a “women’s issue,” which is designed to devalue its importance in the political arena.

How did we get to politicians’ religious beliefs becoming the foundation of their political beliefs which need to be imposed on the rest of us? The right wing of the Republican Party would have you believe that foundation has always been there. However, the Rev. Isaac Backus , the most prominent Evangelical Baptist minister in New England, observed in 1773 that when “church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Those who are so sure that we should all be reading the Constitution and holding our elected officials to its tenants seem to ignore the fact that the word “God” is nowhere to be found in that document. No reference to Christianity or the Trinity. No reference to the country being Christian. The lack of those references, actually has given us more religious freedom than any country in the world.

What the lack of a reference to God means is that Christians, or any other religious groups, have the right to practice their religion but they don’t have the right to make the government enforce their beliefs on others. At least that was true until late in the last century, when the Republican Party decided it needed the support of the evangelical right to win elections.

In truth, the evangelical position on the separation of church and state stands the early evangelical position of Rev. Backus on the separation of church and state on its head. History and facts clearly confuse some people.

In any case, we are in the 21st century. Why not support free access to contraception and education to prevent abortion in the first place unless their goal is to control women? Sorry, guys. The men lose all around. Worse, so does the country.

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


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