Finally the election season is over, the campaigning is finished, and America made history by electing Barack Obama to be its 44^th^ President. Certainly Dr. King’s dream is no longer only a dream, and we will one day be able to tell our children and our grandchildren, most sincerely, that America is truly the Land of Opportunity, a place where no dream is too big and no goal unreachable. This is most certainly a watershed day in this great nation’s proud history.
But now, even with the election season behind us, there can be no rest for the weary. We stand at a crossroads, my friends, and our decisions and the actions we take now will reach far into the future, and will affect not only our generation, but the generations to come. We must ask ourselves what kind of a society we want to live in, what we want America to look like, and what kind of example we want to set for the world. This is no time for apathy, no time to relax, no time to rest. The tolling bell of this election does not signal the end, rather it is a clarion call to action; we are only just beginning. We must decide: do we stand to the side and become spectators to history, or do we jump into the fray and make history?
Imagine your local hospital closing its doors forever, or your doctor being forced out of practice. Where would you go? What would you do? And how, in a country with some of the most advanced medical expertise in the world, can this happen? This is not about the rising cost of healthcare. This is not about reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. This is not about the high price of medical malpractice insurance. No, this is about hospitals, physicians, and myriad medical professionals unable to adhere to the dictates of their moral consciences. This is, ultimately, about abortion. Abortion is, without a doubt, the most divisive issue in America over the past 35 years. My purpose is not to lecture you about your beliefs, or to try to change your mind. My intention is not to convert you, but simply to ask you to hear me out.
Among President-elect Obama’s first priorities as President is to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). FOCA was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 19, 2007 (H.R. 1964). The Senate bill (S 1173) was introduced the same day on the Senate floor. The intended effect of the bill is to, most basically, codify the majority decision made by the Supreme Court in the case of Roe. v. Wade. This may seem simple enough: it legislates a federal right to abortion. However, the bill goes deeper than that. The bill would, based on its language, undo all federal, state, and local legislation that is construed as limiting access to abortion. This includes legislation that the Supreme Court has determined does not conflict with the decision rendered in Roe, including federal and state bans on partial-birth abortion, restrictions on federal funding for abortions, and parental notification laws. What is most troubling, however, is not that the government will grant unfettered access to abortion, but that the law will mandate that doctors and other medical professionals, medical clinics, and even hospitals will no longer have the right to decline to provide abortions.
The Catholic Church’s position on abortion is very clear; imagine a Catholic hospital being told it must provide abortion on demand. Imagine a Pro-Life physician being told she must provide abortion on demand, an act which would clearly violate the dictates of her conscience. Now imagine this same hospital or this same physician being forced to close, rather than to abandon their consciences. Imagine not having a hospital in your town because the government sought to force it to violate its very mission. Imagine your doctor retiring because the government told her that her only other option was to violate her own morality. This is most certainly not a “pro-choice” policy.
The bill also includes a provision that prohibits any government agency or official from taking any action that would “discriminate against the exercise of” the rights created by FOCA, as respects any “benefits, facilities, services, or information” regarding abortion. Such language leaves government officials open to lawsuits for doing or saying anything that can be construed as “discriminating” against abortion. Such broad language may include health education in public schools. In fact, the language is so broad and vague, that it could be construed to apply to pro-life speeches given by public officials! Certainly such a restriction on free speech and free and open public discourse violates the rights granted to all Americans by the First Amendment.
No matter what your views are regarding a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, all reasonable people can agree that forcing individuals or organizations to profoundly violate their morality or their conscience. If you believe that a woman has a right to choose whether or not to seek an abortion, then it should follow that a private hospital or a physician in private practice should have the same right to choose whether or not to provide that service. Is it right to force someone to act against the dictates of their conscience? Did the government force conscientious objectors into military service? Are these individuals and institutions not simply exercising the same right of conscientious objection? Is it right to threaten a public official for speaking his or her mind on a matter of moral and political importance?
My immediate concern is not whether you are Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. My immediate concern is that this law, FOCA, reaches too far and strips away too many rights. This is not enabling legislation, this is disabling legislation. I urge you to contact your Representative in Congress, as well as your Senators, to and appeal to them to oppose this legislation. Appeal to them to protect rights of conscience. Appeal to them to protect our First Amendment rights.
This is no time to rest. This is a time for action. Our voices must be heard loud and clear, and with your help they will be. I ask you, as a likewise concerned citizen, to pass the word along to your family, friends, and coworkers. We have the opportunity and the privilege to continue making history, to protect our most fundamental rights as Americans. Please don’t let this opportunity pass us by.