feminism, abortion and universal health care

So, I’ve been warming up on this blog for a while now, so I figure it’s time to start linking to other blogs that I read. Today’s subject is a post over at Feministe, “one of the oldest feminist blogs designed by and run by women from the ground up.”

Just as background, let me say that I am both pro-choice and a feminist (in some sense, but that is a topic for another time). But, I am against universal health care, for complicated reasons including, but not limited to, that health care is a need and not a right, that it would stifle medical innovation, that it would violate doctors’ right to contract freely, that it would not be able to control costs, and that it is morally worse for the government to engage in care rationing than for a private insurance company one has voluntarily hired to do so (but, this too is a topic for another time).

On to the Feministe article. It’s on the topic of some other work by Chris Korzen about abortion and health care reform. To be honest, I haven’t been following the news on health care reform in the legislature too well, because my gag reflex is a little weak. Even so, it is apparent that the position taken in the Feministe article is philosophically shallow. It is a great example of why I can’t get on board with many mainstream feminists regarding reproductive issues, even though I am pro-choice. Here are the highlights:

“That last part [of the Capps Amendment] strikes me as particularly stupid — what’s the point of requiring that one plan in each region not cover a specific procedure?”

Here, the author fails to take seriously the fact that many of those with serious moral objections to most or all abortions have a very strong desire not to be associated with any abortion-promoting or permitting group in any way, shape, or form. It is not true that under universal health care no one will be forced away from their current plan. In fact, many employers would have a financial incentive to dump their employees into the so-called public option. If you are one of these employees, and your current plan doesn’t cover abortion but the public option will, this may be very upsetting to you. Hence the need for one plan in each region that will not cover abortion, which is not just a “procedure” to pro-lifers, but a moral abomination. Furthermore, even if your current employer-based plan does cover abortion and you are ok with accepting the coverage, you might think that there is something especially bad about the government footing the bill for abortions, as opposed to your private employer. At least you are working for your employer voluntarily, and could quit at any time. But you can’t quit the government, if they start to encourage abortions or whatever.

At the end of the day, many pro-life people simply don’t want their tax dollars to pay for coverage for themselves or anyone else to have an abortion. If you think that abortion violates human rights, it will not be satisfactory for a pro-choice person to note that Obama/democrats/the general population is pro-choice and they make the rules, because human rights are not the sort of thing that a majority can vote away. And since being pro-life is about not having abortions, the best you can do within your own private life to be actively pro-life is to not have abortions, organize to combat abortion, and clean your hands, so to speak, of affiliation with or support of pro-choice people and groups. That will obviously include your health care. Pointing out that lots of people object to things that their tax dollars fund (biological weapons research, public school, etc) is not fruitful, because a person can just agree that the whole class of expenditures is indeed unjust. So, I basically can’t believe that any reasonably well-informed person interested in abortion debate could fail to realize why there might be a push for public option health care plans that do not fund what many consider to be murder.

“I happen to think that the common ground message is a good one, but that’s mostly because it sheds light on the fact that anti-choice groups are doing absolutely nothing to try to decrease the abortion rate. “Common ground” on abortion, to most people, means making abortion less necessary, or finding ways for pro-choice and “pro-life” groups to work together to make abortions less common.”

The alleged “common ground” of making abortion less necessary or common is a common ground only to pro-choice people and those pro-lifers who do not also believe that contraceptives are morally on a par with abortion. Since I personally don’t think there is anything independently morally unacceptable about contraceptives, I share many feminists’ frustration that some or even many pro-lifers oppose contraceptives as well as abortion. That kind of pro-life position usually amounts to abstinence only until marriage, at which point women should begin turning out babies as the lord sees fit. But if feminists are really interested in finding common ground on the abortion debate, and some of the parties at the bargaining table have moral qualms with contraceptives, then they’ll have to keep looking for that common ground in places other than pushing the Pill. I should mention here that I do not think any common ground exists between these groups, as their members often have diametrically opposed worldviews, and that the divisiveness and hopelessness for moral compromise when it comes to state-provided goods and services such as health care or education is a strong reason against their provision in the first place.

“I understand that some Americans — even many Americans — don’t want their tax dollars subsidizing abortion. But at the end of the day, abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the country. It’s a procedure that one in three women will have in their lives. The fact that such a common surgical procedure is already not covered by Medicaid in most states is abhorrent. The fact that we’re arguing about whether a universal health care program should cover basic reproductive care is embarassing [sic].”

Ok, this is just silly. Pro-lifers do not accept the prevalence of abortions as evidence that it a legitimate medical procedure. On the contrary, they think it’s evidence of moral decay/that judgment is coming/that people have become desensitized to the sanctity of life/that women who have abortions are coerced into doing so/etc. By the same token, they also do not accept that abortions are “basic reproductive care.” Indeed, when pro-life groups provide their version of reproductive care, it is often in the form of clinics (“crisis pregnancy centers”) which provide counseling or prenatal care but no abortions. They think that it is the provision, and not the denial, of abortions that is abhorrent. So the author’s point here is unconvincing to those who stand in need of convincing, the pro-lifers.

Altogether, it was just another dissatisfying feminist article on reproductive issues. Sometime in the future, I’ll try to find a similar example with which to illustrate my problems with the party line on health care conscience clauses.

5 Comments

  • I hate to be difficult, but really, the position of forced-birth proponents is irrelevant. I tend to lean libertarian, I believe in free choice and free markets, but the how and why of the forced birth position has no place in how a law is crafted for one reason and one reason only: they are fundamentally asserting an unconstitutional position. Until that changes they have no standing to demand concessions. If they want to avoid being involved in a plan which offers a legally protected service then they can go out into the market. I’ve got a strong moral objection to the way in which public schools are run in this country, but I can’t ear-mark my property taxes to go only to Waldorf-style charter schools. The absolute best I can do is agitate for change.

    I’d definitely like the system to be more open to choice, but the argument rings hollow when it only comes from people who spend much of their political capitol on actively reducing the range of options available to others. If forced-birth proponents are so opposed to abortion that they don’t want their insurance funds to go towards it, well, belief isn’t free. They are free to make that decision, but they are not free to have their position subsidized. They, like everyone else, have to balance the cost of a given position against the rewards of moderating it. Just because their position happens to be balanced in an interpretation of a book about a stolen deity doesn’t somehow insulate them from the same difficulties the rest of us face.

  • First, let me say that, even if everything you say is correct, those in search of “common ground” on abortion still need to clarify with whom they have allegedly found common ground, and that it’s definitely not with everyone, because of the “forced birthers.” So the situation isn’t exactly kumbaya.

    But your point about the constitutionality of the forced birth position is a really important one. However, focusing on that really just pushes the whole universal health care debate back a level: is *universal health care itself* constitutional? If not, then there’s no use quibbling over details of what it would hypothetically cover. And it’s no secret that lots of people think the taxes imposed on Americans today are indeed unconstitutional, and they or worse would be required to fund universal health care. Also, apparently there is stuff circulating about the constitutionality of universal health care in particular. Here’s a recent example from the Wall Street Journal:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124562948992235831.html

    I wish I were more familiar with this perspective on universal health care. I will have to read up.

    And just by the way, I share your disdain for the forced birthers, and all people who spend their political capital on actively reducing the range of options available to others. Thanks for reading.

  • The question of whether universal (or even government funded) health care is constitutional is a separate question from ceding ground to the forced birth lobby. There is no real connection between the two. I’m not saying we need to focus on a response to the people who want abortion out of health care, I’m saying that their voices ought to be disregarded in the same way that we would disregard a Klansman who wanted their point of view somehow represented in a bill.

    The fundamental issue here is actually completely separate from socialized medicine. The issue is why we, as a society, continue to offer a seat at the political table to a group whose position is admittedly, intrinsically, patently unconstitutional. The issue is why we don’t see breaking bread with these people as a violation of the oath every elected official takes to uphold and defend the Constitution. Completely aside from how we might feel about socialized health care, why do we even entertain the concerns of a group that at best represents theocrats intent on destroying the fundamental tenets of our system of government through subversion and at worst engages in active terrorism?

  • (Sorry for the delay)

    I guess the main question I have about this position is, if people who hold unconstitutional views can all be disregarded as “intent on destroying the fundamental tenets of our system of government through subversion,” then how can the constitution ever be changed in the even that such change would be just? We agree that the forced birthers are not working to effect just change, but surely it is possible that some other group could try to do so. If they were always dismissed out of hand, political progress via constitutional amendments would not be possible (e.g., suffrage for women)

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