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March 5, 2010
BILL MOYERS: If any health care reform emerges from the bonfire of partisanship and dissembling in Washington, one thing seems certain -- it will be incorrigibly biased against a woman's freedom of conscience when it comes to abortion.

She will be ever more subject to the state's control and ever more at the mercy of religious doctrine to which she may or may not subscribe. In this respect, both reform bills in the House and Senate differ only slightly. Each is tough on women.

As you've been reading, Catholic bishops in particular have led the lobbying charge to prohibit any woman who receives insurance subsidies under the legislation from using that money to buy policies that cover abortion. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for one, says any compromise on this would be, quote, "morally unacceptable." This, from an all-male hierarchy of clergy morally compromised themselves by the church's failure to protect the children in its care from abuse by its own priests, and by ongoing efforts to cover up the full extent of the scandal.

Nor have their own sins prevented protestant politicians and preachers from casting stones at those who would to any degree support a woman's freedom of choice being covered by the current reform bills. I would include among that pious flock many who champion family values, abstinence and homophobic bigotry while indulging in or turning a blind eye to sexual harassment, sampling the pleasures of brothels or heading to Argentina for more than language lessons.

Given the human lapses in their own ranks, you might think that such people would practice a little more forbearance toward the personal anguish of other mortals. But right now, Utah, a state dominated by the Mormon church, is about to make criminals of women who even go looking for what used to be known as a back-alley abortion.

In the New York Times this week, reporter Kirk Johnson told the story of a young woman whose desperation set in motion the machinery of state oppression. We don't even know her name, but it's been impossible to get her out of my mind. Last year, seven months pregnant, and desperate she paid a man $150 dollars to help her induce a miscarriage. They went down into a basement and he began kicking her -- again and again, blow after blow, his shoe into her swollen body. Only another woman, having endured anything similar, can imagine the torment in that young girl's mind, a torment ignored through the centuries by men who make laws they insist women must live by.

Somehow, the fetus survived and the girl gave birth last august. The child has been adopted. The man she hired to attack her is in jail. But the state wants to make this young person, and others like her, criminally liable for inviting violence against herself. The legislation is on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature. Maybe they will inscribe the new law onto every basement and back-alley wall in Utah. But they should also carve on the walls of the state legislature and the governor's office the words of the humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who urged us to "think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight."

I'm Bill Moyers.
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