Julie Burkhart: Why I want to talk about abortion in Kansas on Mother’s Day (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Julie A. Burkhart is founder and CEO of Trust Women, a health and reproductive rights organization that opens clinics in underserved areas to provide access to reproductive health care for all women.

On this Mother’s Day, I want to talk about abortion.

Abortion is a serious, personal and private decision. This year, in legislatures around the country, we are seeing aggressive political agendas getting between pregnant people and their doctors. The bad news is the anti-choice advocates picked up wins, for now.

They are succeeding in getting confusing language on the ballot in Kansas, which will be voted on during next year’s August primary. In Oklahoma last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a docket of anti-abortion measures that are so extreme that doctors providing care could be charged with homicide. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of bills making their way to governors’ desks around the country that could effectively ban most abortions.

Dr. George Tiller, my former boss and mentor, always said, “Abortion is not a cerebral matter. Abortion is not a medical matter. Abortion is a matter of the heart, and until you understand the heart of a woman, nothing about abortion makes sense at all.”

These are words that guide me each day, as we work with people who are pregnant and who may want to access an abortion or who may decide to carry to term. These were certainly words that I was unknowingly guided by when I was expecting.

When I became pregnant with Olivia, my partner at the time was not ready to become a parent and we separated. In my heart, I knew I was ready for parenthood and I proceeded with my pregnancy. However, not everyone is ready for the love and commitment that is required to raise children. We know a decision to carry a pregnancy to delivery is significantly impacted by economic access and educational attainment as well as general health and well-being.

At the end of the day, how we make families is an extremely personal decision. For myself, my lovely daughter Olivia is now 20 years old. I’m immensely proud of her and grateful for her being in my life every day — I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. That said, motherhood and parenting are not always easy. I’m sure I’m not alone. I know I’ve questioned my parenting decisions that I’ve made a million times, just trying to do the best for my child’s development and her life.

I put Olivia’s well-being at the top of my list. I teach her the hard lessons and ask her to treat others the way she wants to be treated. Even though all of my discussions with my daughter have not been easy, sorting through the various disappointments and heartaches of life, those are the teaching moments that I cherish. When I witness her independence, thoughtfulness and generosity, I know that all of those challenging moments of motherhood and the tug at my heart when I was pregnant were worth it all. But, this is my story, not each individual story. Each person’s pregnancy is unique, with its own set of circumstances to be honored.

People who are pregnant must be able to consult with their doctors, family and faith, if they so choose, in order to make a decision. Policymakers have no business in this equation.

Leaving it to politicians to decide is a violation of an individual’s privacy and personal freedom. The myriad of proposals we’re now seeing are extreme restrictions on safe abortion procedures, which are constitutionally protected. There is no doubt: They will put peoples’ health and safety at risk.

Those interested in curbing abortions would be wise to focus their policy priorities on more equitable efforts around health care, economic development and access to education rather than overly broad extreme legislation that is ripe for abuse and will cause untold consequences.

On this Mother’s Day, I call on our lawmakers to respect the decisions made by people who are pregnant and to honor this sacred choice and journey.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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