A Solomon's Choice on Abortion: Let Compassion and Justice Prevail

A Solomon's Choice on Abortion: Let Compassion and Justice Prevail
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In the Hebrew Scriptures, God grants King Solomon "a wise and discerning mind," so that he would have "discernment in dispensing justice." (1 Kings 3:16-28)

What follows from there is a complex story of two women, mothers of two similarly aged boy children, one of whom has died in the middle of the night. One of the women says her son is alive, and that the other has tricked her by placing the dead child in her arms. The other woman says, "No, the live one is my son, and the dead one is yours." They argue incessantly before the king.

Solomon steps forward and asks for a sword. To find the true mother, he exclaims, "Cut the live child in two, and give half to one and half to the other." The real mother, "overcome with compassion for her son," reveals herself by saying, "Give her the child; only don't kill it." The other, revealing her deception, says, "Cut it in two."

I fear that those of us who support health care reform and reproductive justice for women are being put in the position of the real mother. We know that millions of Americans will benefit from health care reform, but we are being asked by some to sacrifice our own rights in order for a reform bill to pass. Surely that is the position many House Democrats found themselves in last week.

But what about those House members who supported the Stupak amendment, placing new restrictions on abortion services - then voted against health care reform? That group included all of the Republicans but one, and a number of conservative Democrats. Like the other mother, their commitments were to their own interests, rather than to passing health care reform for all.

One can't help but think of the U.S. Catholic bishops as well. Through their support of the Stupak amendment, they intervened to inject their particular religious doctrine into health care reform, rejecting the rights of women themselves to apply or reject the principles of their faith in making decisions about their pregnancies. The bishops are making a similar move in the District of Columbia, where they are threatening to end Catholic social service programs if the city council authorizes civil marriage for same-sex couples.

In order to impose their narrow religious perspective on the rest of us, the bishops would deny health care and social services to people in need, and would stand in the way of urgently need health reforms. It appears they would prefer that the child be cut in two.

The hero of the Bible story is Solomon, who created a context where justice and compassion would prevail. So, too, must our national policymakers. I call their attention to this principle of justice from the Religious Institute's Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as Moral Decision: "No government committed to human rights and democracy can privilege the teachings of one religion over another. No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion, nor should government take sides on religious differences."

The Senate first, and then the House conferees and the President, must not ask women to choose between health care reform and their right to abortion services. One in three women in their lifetime will need both. We need to assure that the final bill increases health care coverage overall without denying access to safe, legal abortion services.

Let us pray for wise and discerning minds.

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