Abortion “Neutrality” in Health Care Reform: Unfair and Unjust


This post first appeared on the Sexuality and Religion blog.

I have found the reports of the town halls about health care reform
appalling. I simply do not understand how so many people believe the
lies and distortions — but even more, I don’t understand how people
don’t believe that everyone deserves health care.

And that health care should cover all medical services.

Once
again, abortion is taking center stage as a key area of public debate.
I was called yesterday by a DC colleague and told that the faith
community was getting behind "abortion neutrality" in health care
reform.

What would that mean? It would mean the public option
would not include abortion services and that private options need not
include reproductive health care. Translation: poor and low income
women would have no coverage for abortion services. Other women, who
opt for the public option because they work for a small business, are
self employed, or unemployed, would have no coverage.

This doesn’t seem like "neutrality" to me. It sounds like selling out women again for political expediency.

That’s why I added my name to this letter signed by diverse religious leaders, raising our voices to the inclusion of reproductive health care services in health care reform. I’ve reprinted it below.

I
desperately believe we need health care for everyone. But, I implore
the White House and the Democrats in Congress not to abandon their
commitments to choice to do it.

Letter from National Religious Leaders to Members of Congress Urging Access to Abortion in Health Care Reform August 13, 2009

Dear Members of Congress,

As
religious leaders, we support public policies that are just and
compassionate and prioritize the needs of those who are poor and
marginalized in our society. Therefore we are opposed to attempts –
many made in the name of religion and morality – to exclude abortion
services from health care reform.

While
our reasons for supporting the inclusion of abortion services in health
care are diverse, they are grounded in the teachings of our faith
traditions and our commitment to social justice. The majority of faith
groups in America have affirmed that abortion is a decision of
conscience that should be safeguarded by government. Further, these
faith traditions affirm that health care services, including abortion,
must be available to all, regardless of income.

If
coverage for abortion is eliminated from health care reform, the poor
and communities of color will bear the consequences. Already, a
low-income woman is four times as likely to have an unintended
pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her
higher income counterpart. Lack of access to abortion services
perpetuates inequality and compromises the future of women, their
families and their communities. In this religiously pluralistic nation,
our health care system should be inclusive and respectful of diverse
religious beliefs and decisions regarding childbearing. One in three
American women has an abortion by age 45, making it one of the most
common medical procedures in the nation. Ignoring this truth belies the
rhetoric of comprehensive, accessible health care.

A
health care system that serves all persons with dignity and equality
will include comprehensive reproductive health services. We call on
Congress to preserve the current standard of reproductive health care
and ensure that millions of uninsured and underinsured women will have access to these services. Thank you for your consideration.

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  • invalid-0

    Thank you Debra for speaking out for choice, and for your efforts to protect our reproductive health in the health care reform debate!!!

  • noworsethanusual

    Debra,
    First of all, you are absolutely right about those commitments — I mean, I have seen the video — Barack Obama stood before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, and he promised to support a public plan and that abortion services would be covered under the public plan. He said, "It’ll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services." And also, he promised that private insurance plans would have to cover abortions — "We also will subsidize those who prefer to stay in the private insurance market – except the insurers are going to have to abide by the same rules in terms of providing comprehensive care, including reproductive care."
    But be of good cheer. I’ve looked into this, and the bills that the White House is behind, that have already come out of committees in the Senate and the House, contain provisions that would fulfill those commitments by Obama. Senator Kennedy’s Affordable Health Choice Act contains language that effectively requires coverage of abortions as part of an "essential benefits" package, which both the public plan and most private plans would have to cover. And in the House Energy and Commerce Committee Congressman Henry Waxman and Congresswoman Lois Capps, both pro-choice stalwarts, beat back the antis and won adoption of the Capps amendment. Your source is mistaken in thinking that this amendment would eliminate abortion from the public option. Far from it! Actually, the Capps amendment grants the secretary of health and human services complete authority to cover all abortions. Which, of course, she will do.
    The amendment even requires that every single person who enrolls in the public option will be required to pay an additional fee to cover the abortions. The beauty of it is that, even though the federal agency will collect these fees and will pay the abortion providers, technically it can be argued that these are not "taxes," so now lots of journalists are willing to write stories saying that the bill does not require "taxpayer funding" of abortions, which probably is what got your source confused in the first place. So relax. If Obama, Pelosi, Waxman, and the others can pull this off, they will be delivering exactly what you want — full coverage of abortion under the public option. You just have to be willing to play along with the doubletalk about "abortion neutrality" for awhile in order to achieve it.

  • invalid-0

    I’m sick of you people constantly trying to reduce the abortion debate into a religious issue. It is not. Atheists such as myself oppose abortion on human rights grounds-the basic right to life being denied to developing humans.

  • invalid-0

    I’m willing to grant a fetus the right to life. I am not willing to give it the right to my body, though. A woman carrying a child to term is essentially committing an act of charity. If you can figure out how to give a fetus the right to life without stripping me of my rights to bodily automony, let me know.

  • julie-watkins

    I won’t pretend to deny that, arguably, there’s an ethical problem. My point is that there’s another ethical problem that’s much worse that a women choosing not to accept pregnancies but procuring abortions (some without guilt). I think the "without guilt" is a large part of your disgust. Fertile women are biologically forced to expend resources for the next generation, where as the biological fathers are not similarly forced. Multiply the effect of that by millennia of expected gender roles. This is why "we people" keep replying "sexism" when prolifers offer "reasonable" objections about "developing humans" that are inside a woman’s womb. Since Nature is sexist, the way for society not to be sexist rather than amplify the sexism is to not interfere with the woman’s private decision. From my point of view, that’s a human rights issue.

    Abortion a conditional "problem" — so long as the greater ethical problem of women’s oppression and classist oppression of the poor exist, the problem of an unwanted fetus ethically must be decided by the woman and her chosen advisors. It’s magnifying Nature’s sexism when outsiders to try to interfere. If you think otherwise you’re supporting Nature’s sexism more than you’re supporting human rights.

    Julie

  • cmarie

    I think true neutrality would mean being pretty careful about how taxpayer’s dollars (ie your dollars) are spent. There are alot of people who are morally opposed to abortion just as you and I are morally opposed to fgm. We don’t want it happening and are replused to imagine our tax dollars paying for it. In the same way, they don’t want their tax dollars paying for abortion. I KNOW to you its not the same, but certainly you understand there are people who disagree with you on any number of subjects. Maybe they’re wrong and you are right about everything. But, even if you are, certainly you understand why they do not want their tax dollars financing what they find to be murder.

  • grayduck

    Why do you not expect the men who are getting the sex to pay for the abortions and contraception?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • grayduck

    "A woman carrying a child to term is essentially committing an act of charity."

     

    That is like saying a kidnapper is committing an act of charity if he does not kill his victim. The pregnant woman nearly always brings the pregnancy on herself by choosing to engage in sexual intercourse. The baby never has a choice to enter into the pregnancy.

     

    "If you can figure out how to give a fetus the right to life without stripping me of my rights to bodily automony, let me know."

     

    Simple- imprison the women obtaining the abortions, the men who are making them pregnant, and the abortionists. That would stop the abortions while retaining your right to choose not to engage in sexual intercourse any time you want.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • grayduck

    "Fertile women are biologically forced to expend resources for the next
    generation, where as the biological fathers are not similarly forced."

     

    It seems to me that the ability to become pregnant is as much a blessing as a curse. While pregnancy does cause women to expend resources, it also gives them the power to decide which men get to impregnate them. They can use that power to induce men to help finance the pregnancy and to help protect them and the children during the pregnancy and afterward.


    "Multiply the effect of that by millennia of expected gender roles."

     

    But the gender roles help to alleviate the disparity between men and women. While women are expected to bear and nuture children, men are expected to bear the brunt of providing resources for the family and protecting the family.

     

    "This is why ‘we people’ keep replying ‘sexism’ when prolifers offer ‘reasonable’ objections about ‘developing humans’ that are inside a
    woman’s womb."

     

    In my view, you are confusing biological differences with societal choices. Society is choosing to shift the burden of male sexual activity from the men who are getting the sex to men who are not by using taxpayer money to fund welfare, contraception, abortion, and per-child tax credits. As a result, men have an incentive to engage in irresponsible sexual behavior. Consequently, women are left with an incentive to obtain abortions to cope with the male irresponsibility.

     

    "Since Nature is sexist, the way for society not to be sexist rather than amplify the sexism is to not interfere with the woman’s private decision."

     

    Again, I disagree. We should be preventing irresponsible men from taking advantage of the generosity of society by making child support more generous and better enforced, eliminating per-child tax credits and government funding of abortion and contraception, and better enforcing laws against rape, incest,  prostitution, adultery, and fornication. Those actions would force men to choose between sexlessness and being good fathers and husbands. Either way, abortions would become much less common and the welfare of women and children would be improved. I think we should also penalize women for obtaining abortions. Those women are helping to perpetuate the problem.

     

    "Abortion [is] a conditional ‘problem’ — so long as the greater ethical
    problem of women’s oppression…exist[s], the problem of an unwanted fetus ethically must be decided by the woman and her chosen advisors."

     

    I would not be so opposed to legalized abortion if women genuinely were making conscientious decisions about the procedure. The data show otherwise- they are using it as a form of birth control, not health care. Effectively, they are trading sex for money from men who are willing to provide the money because their irresponsible sexual behavior is subsidized by society. Eliminate the subsidies for irresponsible male sexual behavior and the only abortions left would be abortions that are conscientiously obtained.

     

    "It’s magnifying Nature’s sexism when outsiders to try to interfere."

     

    Instead of just complaining about pro-life activism, why not work to remove the societal sexism? Why not work to eliminate rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, fornication, child support non-compliance, and violence against women so that men cannot get away with irresponsible behavior? With today’s technology, those crimes can largely be eradicated.

     

    "If you think otherwise you’re supporting Nature’s sexism more than you’re supporting human rights."

     

    In a sense, I agree with you. Pro-life efforts that focus solely on women are unfair and do not make sense.

     

    Good post, by the way. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, candor, and clarity. 

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • frolicnaked

    Simple- imprison the women obtaining the abortions, the men who are making them pregnant, and the abortionists.

    You realize you’re looking at over 1.2 million imprisonments per year, yes?

     

    Pretending for a minute that the sheer isn’t concept morally repugnant, how do you intend to pay for that? 

     

     

  • grayduck

    "You realize you’re looking at over 1.2 million imprisonments per year, yes?"

     

    Actually, no. To begin with, I favor enforcing the laws at the state level, so the number of abortions at issue would be less than 13,000 per year in Minnesota. Second, the definition of human life that I favor enacting by statute implies that life begins at the onset of the fetus’ capacity for consciousness. (See http://www.abortiondiscussion.com for a more detailed discussion of my reasoning.) The most conservative estimate for that point is at about sixteen weeks gestation. At most, then, the annual number of Minnesota abortions that involve killing a child is about 622 using the 2008 data. Of the 622, a significant percentage are presumably done for legitimate
    health reasons. In addition, outlawing abortion after sixteen weeks
    would lead many women to simply get abortions earlier or give birth. It
    would also lead men to act more responsibly. (A study that I can cite
    showed that child support law enforcement leads to fewer unwed births,
    so irresponsible male behavior can be successfully suppressed.) Almost
    all the abortions performed in Minnesota are done by seven clinics, so
    shutting down those operations would eliminate the vast majority of
    abortions.

     

    "…how do you intend to pay for that?"

     

    For the imprisonments that would be required, I favor using
    the same revenue base that is used to fund the imprisonment of other
    murderers. Abortion law enforcement may very well increase revenues to the government by suppressing irresponsible male sexual behavior and, therefore, reducing welfare and sex crime enforcement costs.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • julie-watkins

    There is a lot I could have reacted to. I wish you would answer my point of the ethical proglem of nature’s sexism by something other than by "men do other stuff". If I miss one point you would like me to address in turn, I’ll try. Your comment is long, I have thoughts about a lot of it, but I don’t want to spend that much time answering someone who I don’t think wants to trust women. So I’ll answer a few topics that were most important to me.

    Maternal death risk prior modern medicine was closer to higher end than lower of current statistics. This was the time when many gender role expectations were developed. Father’s can’t die from childbirth, mothers can.

    The trade offs you speak of don’t really answer my point. Pregnancy isn’t biologically manditory for any individual woman — we don’t die if we don’t get pregnant. I’d rather be able to make up my own mind than be told "since you must have this burden we’ll put more burdens on men".

    Current & proposed abortion legegislation is also discrimination is also discrimination against the poor. When I’m writing on societal discrimination I must remember to always include that when I’m talking about discrimination. If there are barriers to reproductive choice, then women and poor families will be worse affected than men and families that have more resources. Nature is sexist. Society takes adavantace of that in both sexist and classist ways.

    gives them the power to decide which men get to impregnate them.

    I’m not going to go compare messages-from-the-patriarchy to women and messages-from-feminists-to-men and which does what kind of harm to whom. I’m just putting that out there as something that others have discussed as not being so simple as you presented it.

    Instead of just complaining about pro-life activism, why not work to remove the societal sexism?

    I’m think it’s more vital to protect women’s reproductive choice and working to change society’s attitude about trusting women (and trusting doctors who trust women). The more women are not granted moral agency, the more our choices are questioned and restricted, the more sexist society will become.

    Julie