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Meg Rosenfeld was inspired to run for the Pennsylvania General Assembly in part because she saw what a lack of quality healthcare and emergency medical services meant for rural communities like hers. As an openly humanist candidate, she knew government officials, not some other higher power, could change that. She’s now on the ballot for state legislature for the first time to help flip the PA House with a focus on healthcare access, education, and the environment.

Rosenfeld spoke with OnlySky about her religious journey, why she’s running for public office, and why being pro-choice is personal for her. (These statements have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

How her religious views changed over time

I grew up as a Unitarian Universalist. So the majority of my childhood and teenage years was studying world religions and different ideologies, and really trying to figure out what my belief system was. I think over the years, I decided that I didn’t need answers to unanswerable questions and that the best way to live my life would be to create the world that I want to live in. That meant being compassionate towards other people and helping other people.

So without the idea of there being some sort of external reward or final reward after I die, my philosophy has always been tried to make this the best thing in your experience, whether there is something after we die or not, is sort of irrelevant to how we should be living our lives right now.

The tragedy that inspired her run for office

Moving out here to a rural area in Pennsylvania 12 years ago, I had no idea that there was not going to be a hospital in our county, and that we weren’t going to have access to even an urgent care. Two years into moving here, my eldest son was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. We didn’t know if he had days or years to live. It turned out that he had 30 days.

Our family found out firsthand what it was like not to have a local hospital for cancer care. He spent the last 30 days of his life in a hospital in New Jersey, away from family and friends. And I slept sometimes in my car, and sometimes in the hospital bed with him. It just wasn’t the end-of-life care that we would have hoped for him. That was a really difficult experience for us.

But what really motivated me to run was knowing that it’s been 10 years since that happened, and absolutely nothing has changed. I believe the reason why we are still living in a healthcare desert here is the fact that rural communities don’t have the population density—and the wealth—that always grabs the attention of lobbyists and government officials. To me, that’s unacceptable. Health care is a human right. The people that live here deserve to have access to world-class health care, close to home, and they deserve to have their basic needs met.

Why she opposes private school vouchers

I’ve never understood how a religion who is that is meant to be compassion-based could ever turn someone in need away. To me, that is the opposite of, I would say, 99% of the religious teachings that I’ve read. So I don’t understand that mentality, personally. But just like with nonprofits and health care, we’re also seeing religious ideology seeping into the public school system. There’s a big push right now, on the Republican side, for school choice.

At first glance, I thought, Wow, wouldn’t that be nice if kids had more options of different schools that they could attend? And then I looked into it further and realized, Oh, no, that’s not what this is. In our area, there really aren’t private schools. There may be one or two religious, private schools that are around, but the voucher system doesn’t pay fully for private education. The voucher system is a discount. It’s paid for with taxpayer dollars. So really, the only folks that this voucher system would be helping would be the wealthy that can already afford private school tuition. No one that’s sending their children from a middle class or low income household is going to be able to afford to make up the difference for private school tuition. And then you’re pouring tax dollars into a religious school. To me, that’s a complete violation of separation of church and state. Taxpayer dollars should be for public education, period.

Why abortion is personal for her

I had my first child when I was 20 years old. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I was 19 when I got pregnant. I was away at college. And my choices were to terminate the pregnancy and finish receiving the college education that my parents were willing to pay for, or stop my college education, get a job, and support my baby, and marry the man that got me pregnant and support him.

That was the choice I made. It was a really difficult path for me. We lived in poverty for many years. The woman across the hall from us set her apartment on fire in the middle of the night so that she could collect renter’s insurance. More times than not, I was doing laundry in my bathtub because I couldn’t afford the coin-operated laundry. There were days when I skipped a meal so our child could eat. To top that off, my husband was very abusive. And three children later, I was unable to leave him because the job that I had didn’t subsidize my childcare costs. I was still paying part of the insurance premium out of my paycheck.

It wasn’t until I got a job teaching at another school where they paid for my health insurance, they subsidized my child care, and they paid me a living wage, that I was finally able to get out of a situation that was really bad for me and for my children.

That, personally, is why being pro-choice is so important to me. While I made the decision to have my babies, I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone, I wouldn’t force them into a situation where they no longer had agency over their own lives. It’s not just about health care. It really is about freedom, bodily autonomy, and choosing your own future.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.