Pennsylvania Ultrasound Bill Wrongly Restricts Women's Right to Choose

A new bill proposed by Pennsylvania Representative Kathy Rapp would require any woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound. During this procedure, the doctor would be forced to put the view screen in her field of vision so she could see the fetus and observe its heartbeat. Although she'd have the right to close her eyes, there is no doubt that this ordeal would still put her through an exceptional amount of psychological and emotional stress.

Then again, perhaps she should be grateful that the people trying to diminish her ability to make lucid choices about other parts of her body are at least leaving her with unquestioned sovereignty over her eyelids.

All questions regarding the legality of abortion ultimately revolve around whether aborting a fetus is an act of murder; after all, abortion should obviously be prohibited if it constitutes an act of homicide, while it is entirely justifiable if it doesn't constitute the taking of a human life. Unfortunately, the debate as to when life begins still rages on among scientists, with prominent figures in that community taking both sides of the question. Indeed, a 2009 Pew Poll found that 52% of scientists identified as liberal (who, according to another Pew Poll taken that year, support abortion rights 70% to 23%), 35% as moderate (pro-choice by 55% to 37%), and 9% as conservative (anti-abortion by 63% to 30%). For those who worked specifically in biology and medicine, 58% self-labeled as Democrats (pro-choice 60% to 31%), 31% as Independents (pro-choice 47% to 44%), and 6% as Republicans (anti-abortion by 63% to 32%).

In the absence of a scientific consensus as to life's inception, a free government based on the concept of individual rights must respect each woman's liberty to use her own judgment should an unwanted pregnancy occur. While other people in a woman's life certainly have the right to try to influence her decision - through moral persuasion, a practical analysis of alternatives, or yes, even an ultrasound procedure - the state should not have the authority to force any of those influences upon her. Barry Goldwater, one of the modern Republican Party's foundational figures, explained it best when he observed that despite personally opposing abortion, "in a pluralistic society the issue is not ours to decide alone."

Unfortunately, this issue has heavy religious overtones, which raises passions and causes drastic schisms in perspectives. The aforementioned Pew Poll found that only 28% of Americans whose religious attendance was weekly or more support abortion rights, compared to 53% whose attendance was monthly/yearly and 64% for those whose attendance was seldom/never. Positions also varied wildly among different religious groups, with white evangelical Protestants being the least likely to support abortion rights (23%), Jews being the most likely to do so (76%), and those without any religious affiliation ranking second highest (68%). In short, while religious views are hardly the sole factor that determines outlooks on abortion, religion undeniably provides emotional fuel for this fiery issue.

This brings us back to Kathy Rapp, who earlier this month defended a House Resolution that proclaimed 2012 to be "Year of the Bible" by insisting that "the Bible was instrumental in the founding of our country." A few weeks earlier, she had even supported dedicating November 2011 as "King James Bible Heritage Month," which Jews like me noticed excluded not only our co-religionists, but all other non-Christians. Of course, this is exactly what Rapp and other members of the Christian Right -- including Pennsylvania's own former Senator, presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- intend to accomplish. By depicting America as a nation founded on the conservative values taught in their interpretations of Christianity, they can justify imposing their moral beliefs on those who don't share them, be it by banning abortion, limiting female access to contraception, preventing homosexuals from marrying or serving in the military, or using public schools to promote their religious beliefs through teaching creationism or mandating school prayer. What liberals need to remind them is that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," to quote a treaty signed by President John Adams. If that doesn't work, then they should respond by quoting Thomas Jefferson himself:

"Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights ... Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential to a free society."

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