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Amy Coney Barrett should step aside if she can't be impartial

Amy Coney Barrett should step aside if she can't be impartial
© Greg Nash

As a physician, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology for the last 28 years, women’s health is what I do. I feel a weight on my spirit over the fear that Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Supreme Court unanimously sides with Catholic adoption agency that turned away same-sex couples MORE could allow her religious beliefs to lead to restrictions on a woman’s right to privacy and agency. (Would she have been considered for the Supreme Court if she were a devout Muslim?) I feel, again, how I cannot discuss Roe v. Wade with those who would restrict it because it comes down to religious beliefs of when life begins that cannot be argued. Then it hit me, why is a federal policy threatened by a religious belief, one that is not shared by all religions?

Christian denominations generally teach that life begins at conception, but not all religions agree. Even not all Christian religions agree as there is a wide range of beliefs, from opposing abortion with few exceptions in the Catholic Church, to supporting abortion rights in the U.S. 

Presbyterian church. Judaism, Islam and Buddhism either support abortion rights or have no position. So how can we consider restricting a practice based on the belief of only some religions? We would never consider mandating circumcision or requiring everyone to not eat meat on Fridays during Lent or fasting during Ramadan. Roe v. Wade established a right to privacy that protects a woman’s bodily autonomy. It respects the range of beliefs in this country and the separation of church and state.

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Other countries have come to the same conclusion: Couples should have access to education and methods to prevent pregnancy, but abortion should remain safe and legal. In Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, abortion became legal in 2018 with the argument that it would show compassion to women in a time of crisis. The bulk of developed countries support a woman’s right to choose and countries with more restrictive and authoritarian governments have, as expected, increased restrictions to safe abortion.

I say “safe” intentionally because desperate women will find a way to have an abortion in countries where it is not legal, they just might die doing it. We are not going back to that time.

I respect and celebrate the varied religious traditions in this country. I also celebrate that our country was founded on the separation of church and state and that no one religion could dictate the laws of the land. Following that, abortion restrictions are applying the beliefs of one religion to the whole, instead of allowing a pregnant woman to determine what is best for her when she considers her religious beliefs and life circumstance.

My job is to show compassion in the time of crisis and in medical school, we learn it is unethical to impose our religious beliefs on our patients. We are taught that if our religion prevents us from being able to help a patient, for example during times of unplanned pregnancy or end of life care, we need to excuse ourselves and find a provider who can better discuss all options. In the same way, Barrett will need to recuse herself from cases that involve judgments that may be influenced by religious teachings that have been a central tenet in her life.

We need to continue to separate church and state and not consider imposing a religious view of some, to all — especially not in the Supreme Court and especially not for women in a time of crisis. I respect the faith of Amy Coney Barrett, but she cannot be neutral on issues of reproductive choice as her previous writings confirm.

Dr. Maura Quinlan is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Public Voices fellow of The OpEd Project.