By Friedrike Merck

Sarah Palin and I have a lot in common. We were athletes and both became hockey Moms, we have held public office in small towns, we like to fish, (I am proud of my marksmanship skills but just can't seem to rustle up what it takes to shoot for sport one of God's creatures), we both have a can-do attitude and serious spiritual lives but we disagree when it comes to matters of privacy and family planning.

Maybe it's my independent New England roots or the tolerant Quaker in me that planted the simple belief that personal choices across a range of important life decisions, like when to have children, are absolutely a private family matter. The choices other people make about the size and timing of their family is never anyone else's business to talk about. Where I come from that’s called gossip. Neither is it anyone else's business how a family chooses to cope with the issues of dignity in dying, that's morbid prying. It is no one's right, in this country at least, to insist that there is only one way to believe in or to name a Higher Power, that there is only one way to honor the sanctity of life, that's the kind of holier than thou attitude that drove our ancestors from distant lands to this place of hope for individual liberty.

Lately we've heard the phrase "it's a private family matter" being used to protect the innocent children of candidates, which I am all for, but it has sounded more like a shield to prevent the media from talking about politicians' parading families than it does a sincere belief that we should all be protected from the uninvited bright lights, the opinions and will of others, including the government. I must have missed something along the way but, since when did women's medical decisions, and we women know that pregnancy is both a spiritual and medical condition, stop being a "private family matter?"

Instead of honoring the private discussions between women and their families, between families and their doctors, between people and their God, self appointed groups want to dictate the final say in matters they have no business being in. This dangerous meddling is happening in many areas of people's lives, from government intrusion into the private discussion of when a member of one's family should die to leaders who profess to know the mysteries of life itself. From birth control and emergency contraception availability to deciding whether an unplanned pregnancy should be continued our privacy is being taken from us because someone else claims to know better about how we should conduct our lives. At every step there are individuals, strangers, trying to gain control over our "private family matters" and I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Republicans and Democrats polled by the Women Donors Network show overwhelming support for allowing people to control their own fates in hospitals and at the doctor's office. Just as no one tells us which church to attend, which car to buy or how many guns we can own, we don't want to be limited in our medical choices. Voters across the country strongly believe that they should be able to make their own important life decisions for themselves and their families. A majority of Americans believe that government's role is to provide information, access and services to ensure that we can make these choices responsibly. If politicians can rightly demand a safe space for their "private family matters" then they ought to afford us the same courtesy and keep their noses out of other people's business and bedrooms.

It's important to know where candidates stand, not just about "choice", the now polarizing code word for abortion, but more about candidates positions' on a range of common but important life decisions. We must hear the thinking of those hoping to lead this country on critical topics like affordable and readily available birth control, accurate sexuality education and how they define and defend the lines of decency and privacy not only for themselves but for all of us. Yes, the mother from Alaska and I share many similarities but regarding important life decisions, personal family matters, I only claim to know what's best for me and my family.
Merck is a portrait artist, a member of the Women Donors Network and a grateful mother
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 9/08