Original article published in USA Today by William Weld as an Opinion Contributor available here
Demonstrators rally in New York on May 21, 2019
Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP
Being pro-choice doesn’t make me anti-life. Instead, I know that no one should be allowed to bind others to the dictates of their religious beliefs.William weld
Throughout my career, whether in office as a public servant or working in the private sector, I have believed that the fundamental role of our government is to manage the country’s resources in a fiscally conservative, responsible manner and to assure that all citizens are equally protected under the law. No citizen should ever have to live in the shadows in order to be safe, and “equal rights” are only equal when they apply to all citizens.
By these standards, the new anti-abortion laws recently passed in several states are deeply disturbing as they clearly undermine the rights and safety of women.
Draconian and highly punitive of both women and doctors — in Alabama doctors can now face up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion — these extreme laws are frightening examples of government not just failing to protect the rights of women but also guaranteeing that many citizens will be forced back into the shadows.
Fear, persecution and secrecy
In addition to running rough shod over every woman’s basic human right to govern her own body, the new laws actively promote a sinister culture of fear, persecution, stigmatization, secrecy and hiding. By making abortion illegal, they greatly increase medical risks to women who may turn to illicit backroom options for termination. Given the systemic racism and prejudices against the poor in the American criminal justice system, the new legislation is sure to hit poor women and women of color harder than anyone else.
Because of all of these injustices and more, I have always been and will always be what the political world calls “pro-choice.” But let’s pause and strip the word “choice” of all its modern political freight. Taken by itself, what does this one-syllable six-letter word imply? It implies options, variety, alternatives. It suggests the possibility of individual and different preferences, and of subsequent acts of decision and selection based on those preferences. At its deepest level, the word “choice” presupposes situations where important fundamental freedoms exist.
It is in this sense of the word “choice” that I have always been, emphatically and unequivocally, a supporter of every woman’s right to manage her own pregnancies.
The fact that my stance makes me what the political world calls “pro-choice” does not mean that I am pro-abortion. It does not mean that I am anti-life. It does not mean that I would ever support third-trimester terminations of pregnancies, except in those very rare cases where a mother’s life is seriously endangered. And it most certainly does not mean that I don’t respect and support the right of other individuals or families or religious groups to reject any possibility of abortion for themselves. To choose to do so is their basic human right.
As a matter of fact, in the generic meaning of the word “choice” — i.e. an opportunity for an individual to consider his or her options and make a personal selection — you could call me “pro-choice” on just about every front. I am in favor of people making their own decisions when it comes to their religious beliefs, their political allegiances, their sexual and gender orientation, their educational options, their health care providers and just about everything else.
Anti-abortion laws based on religion, not science
Weld previously served as an attorney in the Senate’s investigation of the Watergate scandal. Later he worked as an attorney at the Justice Department, where at one point he was responsible for supervising Robert Mueller, the future FBI director and special counsel who investigated alleged ties between Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.
What I strenuously object to is a group of government officials getting together to make sweeping ontological assumptions about the prenatal vesting of human rights and then using these assumptions as an excuse to step into people’s personal lives. Both Alabama’s and Georgia’s recent anti-abortion laws put forward the hypothesis that unborn fetuses are persons or human beings entitled to legal protection. But this is their hypothesis — a position they have chosen to adopt, not an indisputable and scientifically proven fact. Frankly, this is religion, not science.
Every individual should be entitled to believe anything he or she chooses to believe — but no one person or group of people should be allowed to subject others to a legally binding system of crime and punishment that is founded upon personal beliefs rather than upon constitutional law.
It is worth noting that the extreme terms of the Alabama law — which bars abortion even in cases of rape and incest — have drawn criticism from hard-right leaders like Pat Robertson and Tomi Lahren. This poses another unsettling question: Is the recent surge of anti-abortion bills really about enacting new laws? Or is it a deliberately over-the-top campaign meant to stir up controversy and provoke legal battles that will eventually punt Roe v. Wade all the way back to the Supreme Court?
Like so many of the unsettling policy and legislative changes enacted under the current administration, the rising tide of extreme anti-abortion legislation seems deliberately designed to seed fear, anger and division, and to undermine our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
About Governor Weld
William Weld served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. He is a candidate for the Republican Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Follow him on Twitter: @GovBillWeld.