As an ordained Presbyterian minister who taught ministry students for more than three decades at Bangor Theological Seminary and, now in retirement, volunteers as a chaplain for Planned Parenthood, I’m hopeful that the Maine legislature will pass LD 820, which will provide expanded reproductive health care coverage for low-income women and their families.
The wisdom reflected in this bill is about fairness and equity. If private insurance covers prenatal care, it should also cover abortion care. If public insurance — in this instance MaineCare — covers prenatal, it should also provide abortion care for Maine women who elect to end a pregnancy.
In my role as chaplain, I’ve learned a great deal from the women who come to Planned Parenthood for abortions. I’ve witnessed how they carefully, courageously, and prayerfully make decisions about whether and when to bring new life into the world. Sometimes their answer is yes; other times their answer is no.
No matter which decision they make, whether to birth and parent a child or end a pregnancy, I’ve come to marvel how women are all acting for the very same reason: out of their deep love for, and valuing of, new life and out of their determination not to birth a child when the timing is wrong or they lack adequate resources.
It doesn’t surprise me that women who seek abortion care include Catholic and evangelical women, as well as women from other faith traditions and from none. That diversity fits with reputable research that shows how the majority of religiously affiliated women in the U.S. rely on access both to contraceptives and to safe, legal, and affordable abortion. Most religious people also support public policy that maintains equal access to reproductive health care for all.
The bill currently before the Maine Legislature is not about the morality of abortion. As Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire notes, when it comes to abortion, there’s a lively, respectable moral debate going on in almost every faith community. Good, responsible people of faith hold differing positions and can offer morally persuasive arguments for the positions they take.
In the midst of our moral disagreement, I hope that, at the very least, we might share a commitment to the principle of noncoercion: That in matters of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, people should be free to make their own reproductive decisions without force or pressure, including without financial pressure.
The issue LD 820 seeks to address is about basic fairness and about correcting an injustice. People without insurance should not be treated differently from people with insurance. Insurance coverage should not cover only some care, but rather cover the full range of care.
In reflecting on this proposed legislation, I encourage Mainers to conduct a moral audit of this bill.
First, ask whether this bill is fair and helpful to Maine people, especially to low-income women, women with health risks and other vulnerable people. Then, to make doubly sure that the bill is just and fair, ask yourself, “Am I willing to trade places with the poorest, most vulnerable Maine women?” If you hesitate even a bit, then it’s wise to keep your focus on the urgent need to provide basic fairness and greater justice for Maine people and their families.
Passage of LD 820 will help guarantee that access to the full range of reproductive health care is available to all Mainers. That’s the way life — and reproductive health care — should be in this state.
Reverend Marvin Ellison is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a retired professor of Christian ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary.