Thursday, March 18, 2010

Healthcare Reform and the Least of These Right Now

This week, as the President and the leadership work hard, and the House of Representatives gets ever closer to passing health care, one of the noisiest sticking points continues to be abortion. We’ve all heard the name of Bart Stupak, democratic Representative from Michigan, for his opposition to the health plan passed by the Senate. He continues to state that the language will allow Federal money to pay for abortions. Whether he has the support of his constituents remains to be seen. He already has one challenger for this year’s Democratic Primary. He has, however, has the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (but, then, that’s hardly a surprise).

However, in the past week we have heard from three groups of Roman Catholics, each of which has called for passage of healthcare reform. Sister Carol Keehans of the Catholic Health Association, the organization of Catholic hospitals, has called for passage. A group of theologians who oppose abortion have called for passage. And yesterday leaders of Catholic women’s orders called for passage.

It’s important to realize that these voices aren’t some hidden resistance on abortion in the Catholic Church. All of them continue to be anti-choice. They simply disagree with the bishops and with Congressman Stupak on whether the Senate bill will allow Federal funds to be spent to fund abortions. Indeed, the letter from the theologians (all anti-choice, but both Catholic and Evangelical) sets out in detail the various points in the Senate bill that insure Federal funds can’t be spent on abortion.

NPR had an interesting report on All Things Considered, pointing to Richard Doerflinger, the individual informing the Catholic bishops. His take on not only the Senate bill, but also on how Federal regulation and legislation happen, seems to me more ideological than historical or pragmatic; or as another person said in the NPR report, “a lot of worst-case scenarioism.”

However, what strikes me about this opposition based on a very arguable premises, is that it entirely bypasses some important numbers. We have perhaps 47 million un- or underinsured Americans. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in 2005 we had 8.4 million uninsured children. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2005 there were 1.2 million abortions in the United States. Now, let’s assume for the moment that those numbers have been stable since then (and they haven’t: we know there are more uninsured children, and as of 2005 the number of abortions had been trending down). That means that opponents are willing to forsake 8.4 million existing, living children to assert concern for 1.2 million possible potential children. I say potential children, because this makes no consideration of how many abortions happen when conceptions cannot come to live birth - medical situations that represent at least a percentage of terminations each year. I say possible potential children, because none of these represent conceptions that have happened, or even been imagined (for if so many conceptions were planned and/or planned for, I think most of us believe there would be many fewer abortions). So, the numbers are stark: 8.4 million living children we can help now, vs. 1.2 million children in a year who might come to be in the future.

Now, I can appreciate that we don’t make moral arguments based on, or at least solely on, utilitarian arguments – the greatest good for the greatest number. However, when the existing bill actually goes to great length to avoid supporting abortion period, much less with Federal dollars, ignoring the utilitarian aspect of the argument seems not only short-sighted, but also sinful. That’s why we’ve had three statements from folks who oppose abortion on demand calling on passage of healthcare reform. I know the Catholic bishops won’t listen; but at the moment that’s not what’s important. I know the Catholic bishops won’t listen; but I certainly hope folks in Congress will.

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