Yesterday my daughter Annie and I traveled to DC to join two of my longtime High School friends (Melinda Reynolds-Moran and Dr. Laura Valente, two proud, strong, successful alums from the Sachem Class of ’82) for the Women’s March. My daughter, a senior at Southold High school, had never been to a protest, so I asked her to join me on the trip, and since my wife could not attend, it would give us a chance to spend some time together. “Annie, you’re taking an AP US Government and Politics class this year; this protest could offer something your text or teacher can’t, and that’s seeing and feeling democracy in action,” I said as I packed her bags in our car.
“Why do you care so much about this issue? You’re not a woman,” she asked as we left the gas station in Cutchogue and began our 7-hour drive to Washington DC. “You’re right, I do not have a uterus, yet I care about abortion rights,” I said.
Although I can’t recall my exact words, I explained that this issue is important to me because I believe our government is overstepping its role when it tells a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. We also discussed the law that the Texas Legislature passed on September 1st, banning almost all abortions, and that this was the first real public and organized demonstration in protest of such an unjust law.
I also added a little factoid to the conversation. This protest is also happening at a very strategic time – just before the first Monday of October – the start of the Supreme Court’s new term. I shared the urgency of the matter: that during this term, the court is likely to review a restrictive Mississippi law that could provide an opportunity to overturn its precedent of Roe v.Wade. The court overturning Roe v. Wade is possible, meaning that every state would be free to ban or allow abortions. This is all conceivable now because of the addition of three conservative justices by former president Trump.
The ugly truth is that these three Trump appointments have motivated conservative state officials across the country to begin an anti-abortion offensive. Already 19 states have adopted 63 laws restricting access to abortions. According to a Planned Parenthood report*, this would mean 36 million women in 26 states – nearly half of American women of reproductive age – would likely lose the legal right to an abortion and related procedures, resulting in increased levels of maternal and infant mortaility, childhood poverty, and pscycholgical difficulties due to carrying an unwanted or unsafe preganancy. *(https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/new-research-from-planned-parenthood-and-in-our-own-voice-shows-that-half-of-women-of-reproductive-age-could-lose-access-to-legal-abortion)
For this reason, Congress needs to continue to fight to make the right to abortion a permanent fixture in federal law and to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court. The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 that would prohibit governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services, passed in the House in September but is still languishing in the Senate.
At some point, the conversation shifted during our drive. “But, we’re Catholic. Aren’t Catholics Pro-Life?” Annie asked. I considered her question – I am Catholic, I sat on the Pastoral Advisory Council of my church, and am a member of the Knights of Columbus, yet I believe in a person’s right to choose what they do with their body because, as a teacher of American History and Political Science, I know this: America is a Constitutional, Democratic, Republic and no one should be forced to live under restrictions imposed by others’ religious beliefs. Even as an ardent, practicing Catholic, I would never think for a moment that I had any right to impose my beliefs on others. As a member of Congress, I will respect our Constitutional separation of Church and State, and I will always champion laws that allow everyone to live lives in concert with their own moral convictions.
As I dig deeper into the core values of my Christian faith, the themes of empathy, understanding, and love are fundamental truths. There are so many ways that we can take positive steps to support the most vulnerable in our society. This includes but is not limited to supporting children in foster care, single mothers, and the elderly.
Perhaps we can find common ground on both sides of the table to agree that the goal should be to reduce the need for abortion, rather than introducing legislation to ban abortion altogether without solutions in place to help pregnant women. Some basic examples include:
- Expanding access to birth control;
- Reforming sex education in public schools to prevent unintended pregnancies;
- Reforming foster care and adoption systems to promote safe pathways and placement for children; and
- Prioritizing maternal healthcare, paid family leave, expanding Medicare and Medicaid, and reforming private insurance to ensure that giving birth in hospitals does not become a debt inducing event
I might not have a uterus, but through my life experiences, research, and conversations with the women in my life I’ve reached a deeper understanding of the issue. I’ve also come to understand that this attack on women’s bodily autonomy is also an attack on women’s health care. These bans that criminalize abortions are also restricting access to urgent medical care during the case of miscarriage, regular gynecologist care, preventative testing, contraceptive access, and OB care such as ultrasounds to keep babies ALIVE and HEALTHY.