It seems conservatives are willing to do anything to halt healthcare reform, and that sadly includes exploiting people’s religious beliefs. After the idea of “socialized medicine” wasn’t sufficiently scary to convince people that healthcare reform is un-American, conservatives have turned to the fictional “abortion mandate” to convince people that healthcare reform is immoral.
In the three decades since Roe v. Wade was decided, the debate over abortion has changed significantly. The question has shifted from one of legal availability to that of physical access to abortion services.
This shift is most starkly evident in the fact that it is the healthcare reform debate — not the struggle to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to the bench — that is getting bogged down with the question of choice.
Conservatives have learned that they gain nothing by turning hearings about a judge’s jurisprudence into an abortion litmus test. Most Americans support Roe v. Wade and insisting on the overturning of this settled law appears antiquated.
Instead conservatives try to eliminate family planning services on the local level, while on the federal level they insist that religious doctors have a “choice” in whether or not they decide to perform abortions, also known as the “conscience rule.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) insisted in a rambling and somewhat paranoid keynote address at the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention this year that Democrats are proposing taxpayer-funded abortions to fix the problem of conscience rules and other barriers to access:
The other side has long sought to compel every taxpayer and insurance premium payer to subsidize every abortion in America while simultaneously ensuring proximity and an ample supply of abortionists everywhere. That’s why Obama is looking to trash or at least seriously undermine conscience-clause protections and has revoked the conscience regulations promulgated by President Bush.
The thing a lot of people don’t know about the new conscience rule set into place by the Bush Administration is that it was legally unnecessary. Most states have protections in place for healthcare workers who object to providing certain procedures, and federal law also protects them.
The Bush Administration admitted this fact, and said that its reasoning for the new policy was to get the word out to healthcare workers that this rule was legally available to them. By that logic, this conscience rule is something like outlawing the sale of alcohol to draw attention to the fact that drinking can be harmful to one’s health.
The problem with the Bush Administration’s policy in this regard, other than the sheer redundancy, was the fact that the definition of abortion was sufficiently vague to include birth control. The policy also allowed healthcare providers to unethically mislead patients on the grounds of their own religious beliefs.
The Obama Administration rescinded the Bush rule change in April, though the president recently affirmed his belief that healthcare providers should continue to have the protections they enjoyed all along.
Smith also suggested in his Right to Life speech that President Clinton’s healthcare reform plan failed because of abortion opposition:
Health-care “reform” got bogged down by the abortion-on-demand mandate, and the legislation never came to the floor.
Now there’re back, and with a vengeance, and they are trying once again to force taxpayer-funded abortion overtly or, if preferably, by stealth.
Smith isn’t alone with his wild-eyed assertion. Reading this press release from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), one is led to believe that your pharmacy will be handing out free abortion coupons with your blood pressure medication:
“The pro-abortion movement sees federal ‘healthcare reform’ legislation as a golden opportunity to force-feed abortion into every nook and cranny of the healthcare delivery system,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “Their goal, as they sometimes put it, is to ‘mainstream’ abortion.”
Yeah, that’s it. This whole healthcare reform thing is merely a ruse to provide abortions for all.
(As a side note, I guess the “pro-abortion movement” would want to promote abortion, but I’ve never met anyone who is “pro-abortion.” Abortions are bad. Choice and access to contraception are good. Get that through your heads, NRLC.)
The sad thing is, this tactic might work. Despite support for Roe v. Wade, “abortion on demand” and “taxpayer-funded abortion” are much more likely to get people out to a rally than would talk of judicial activism. As soon as the question moves from legality to one of funding, taxes become a political entity and the whole debate changes significantly.
In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee in May, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops directly linked the likelihood of the success of healthcare reform with the abortion issue, insisting that “no healthcare legislation that compels Americans to pay for or participate in abortion will find sufficient votes to pass.”
Wow, I didn’t realize Catholic Bishops can foretell the future.
In all seriousness, the healthcare reform situation is much more precarious than the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court bench. Further, Obama can make concessions after the fact on healthcare, while Sotomayor is clearly her own woman, not to be manipulated as legislation likely will be.
After all, Obama was willing to crowd the single-payer advocates out of the healthcare debate after conservatives called him a socialist. Why wouldn’t he cave on the choice issue if they called him a baby killer?
Then again, maybe he should. If it takes selling out pro-choice advocates in order to get a healthcare system that covers everyone adequately, is that a fair trade-off?
My guess is there are many who would agree that such an exchange would be fair, or at least a necessary evil. But to sacrifice low-income women for the sake of healthcare reform is a bastardization of the idea of healthcare reform as a whole. It perpetuates the situation the country saw before the legalization of abortion, where well-off women had access to clandestine clinics and poor women were forced into dangerous “back alley” situations.
A letter from 19 House Democrats urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strike such family planning coverage from healthcare reform notes that the lack of funding is a significant deciding factor in whether or not women decide to have an abortion:
The Guttmacher Policy Review, a leading pro-choice research organization noted “that about one third of women who would have had an abortion if support were available carried their pregnancies to term when the abortion fund was unavailable.”
The letter gleefully notes that denying coverage will “save lives by reducing the number of abortions.” But at what cost? Will family planning resources be so strapped by funding exclusions that women won’t be able to get coverage for birth control and emergency contraception, thereby increasing the number of abortions?
And to be precise, the exclusionary funding may not reduce the amount of abortions, but the amount of legal and safe abortions. Just because Congress won’t have to see it, doesn’t mean it won’t be there.
Now, it’s clear there are plenty of “true believers” in the pro-life camp. It is my guess, though, that there are legislators and others whose opposition to abortion is more of a group identity they’ve adopted as self-proclaimed conservatives.
I wouldn’t be surprised if such conservatives, who have no interest in grilling Sotomayor on her thoughts on Roe v. Wade, see the popular opposition to “the abortion mandate” as a convenient way to kill off healthcare reform. But it is sad to think that people might callously use Americans’ religious beliefs to deny the country a fair healthcare system.
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