The day after the election, former Gov. Paul LePage was quoted in the press saying, “If abortion is more important than heating oil, I should have never gotten into politics.”

His remark sparked a couple of thoughts in me: First, why should it have to be a choice? Both affordable heat and safe, equitable access to health care are important, and Maine’s citizens deserve both. There’s no reason to have to choose between them.

But second, and perhaps more to the point, “abortion” is more important than heating oil. I put abortion in quotes because “abortion” is not just abortion, the medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy. It has become a symbol — of women’s bodily integrity and autonomy, of the right to personal privacy, of the liberty to make choices for one’s life without the interference of the state or of segments of society that want to make everyone conform to their desired norms. So, yes, “abortion,” carrying the weight of all that symbolism, is, indeed, more important even than being able to heat your home in the winter.

Gay people, transgender people, people of color, women, poor people and others on society’s margins have the right to make choices for their own lives and live consistent with their own values, just as much as those whose privilege is unquestioned.

No benefit would accrue to society from outlawing my legal marriage to my partner of 22 years, but we would be materially harmed by such an action. There is no societal benefit to preventing adolescents from accessing books about sexuality and gender identity in their school libraries, but those youngsters may be seriously harmed by the withholding of such access.

No benefit comes from making it difficult or impossible for women to obtain and use safe, effective birth control, but many women and children are likely to suffer as a result of such obstacles.

Or perhaps I should say the only benefit that results from these restrictions is the privileging of some people’s preferences over those of others, to the extent of constraining their right to personal liberty. If we still claim to be a country where “all (people) are created equal,” it is wrong to privilege some people’s preferences over those of others unless society has a compelling interest that can only be served by such an action. Making some people feel more comfortable is not a compelling reason.

If we are not concerned today about the possibility of retrenchment on gay rights, on women’s rights, we may find ourselves dismayed a few years from now when those in power decide to restrict our right of free association (that’s choosing who we want to hang out with, where and when), our right to read controversial material, our right to be free from government surveillance in our homes. Authoritarianism starts by scapegoating the marginalized, but it doesn’t stop there; it keeps on finding more and more people who must be controlled, more and more activities that must be restricted.

I am glad that, by and large, voters across the nation rejected authoritarian appeals and misinformation Nov. 8. I hope that will continue, and, moreover, that more candidates will appeal to the center of the electorate and be rewarded with voters’ support.

I was proud of our governor when I read her remarks the night she won reelection. She said, in part, “We will continue to fight problems, not each other … There are decent people of goodwill who are worried and who disagree about how to best solve the problems we are facing. We should not dismiss these concerns or the people who hold them. We must embrace them and work to find common ground.”

That’s the kind of attitude I admire and hope to see more of in America’s politicians.

Sarah E. Reynolds is a former editor of The Republican Journal.