As president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation — the nation’s largest organization of atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers that defends the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state — I support L.D. 820, a bill that will end insurance discrimination against pregnant women in Maine.

Having an abortion is a personal decision every woman needs to make for herself. Not being able to afford an abortion takes that choice away. This can cause a woman to have a child she cannot afford, further stretching the limited resources for some women. This bill restores the right to choose for women who cannot afford an abortion.

Religious arguments have no bearing on this discussion; considering any religious argument means every, often-contradictory religious arguments must be included. A decision based on a religious argument would violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on favoring one religion over another. Not considering any religious arguments, for or against, would be the most prudent position to take.

According to an article written for The New York Times, “The Ethical Brain” by Michael Gazzaniga, “Central to many of the bioethical issues of our time is the question, When should society confer moral status on an embryo? When should we call an embryo or a fetus one of us?” The main criteria: “Is a brain present? Is it functioning in any meaningful way?” Conception starts the process but “laying down the infrastructure for a mature brain and possessing a mature brain are two very different states of being.”

Gazzaniga goes on to say, “The fact that it is clear that a human brain isn’t viable (can’t survive outside the womb) until week 23, and only then with the aid of modern medical support” is a significant medical finding. A significant legal decision is that week 23 “is the same age at which the Supreme Court has ruled that the fetus becomes protected from abortion.”

The Guttmacher Institute, a primary source for research and policy analysis on abortion in the United States, shows 66 percent of abortions occur in the first eight weeks, 89 percent occur in the first 12 weeks, and only 1.3 percent occur after the 21st week. The most common reason for a late-term abortion is the fetus has an abnormality that would prevent long-term survival, yet most health care insurance policies don’t cover what they call “elective” procedures. According to Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher Institute’s senior state issues manager, “The antiabortion movement has long been an evidence-free zone and many of its signature initiatives and proposals are devoid of any factual foundation.”

The Hyde Amendment, introduced by then-Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, a staunch abortion opponent, prevents Medicaid from using federal funds for abortions. Rep. Hyde revealed his real reason for the amendment when he told colleagues at the time, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.”

While the Supreme Court ruled the Hyde Amendment was constitutional, Justice William Brennan wrote the Hyde Amendment “is nothing less than an attempt by Congress to circumvent the dictates of the Constitution and achieve indirectly what Roe v. Wade said it could not do directly.” Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote the Hyde Amendment “is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”

Opponents see this as an opportunity to force their religious beliefs onto others by preventing some women from getting an abortion. Individuals and business owners claim religious freedom if their tax dollars must pay for abortions or their company health care plans must include abortion coverage. What opponents really want is religious privilege: the legal rights to have their religious beliefs supersede another’s constitutional human and civil rights.

If you value everyone’s religious freedom and the separation of church and state, I urge you take action and contact your state senator and representative. Remember what Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter” and what Bayard Rustin, the man who organized King’s “March on Washington” said, “The proof that one truly believes is in action.”

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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