Sunday, November 15, 2009

Abortion and Health Reform

The current clash about abortion and health reform is a tragedy. It reflects the breakdown of civil national discourse.

Although I'm a strong supporter of accessible abortion services, I see abortion as a a sad human event, to be avoided as much as possible.

And I respect the views of the majority of the "pro-life" community who oppose abortion in a thoughtful, conscience-driven manner and who respect those who hold the "pro-choice" position in an equally thoughtful, conscience-driven manner. Unfortunately the hate-laden screamers and the madness of committing murder on behalf of purported "reverence for life" has tainted the anti-abortion position, just as suicide bomber-murderers have tainted the noble traditions of Islam.

If Representatives Stupak and Pitt, their supporters, and the Conference of Bishops, were simply trying to ensure that health reform would continue the 33 year history of the Hyde amendment in prohibiting direct federal funding of abortion, I would be with them. (See here for the wording of the Stupak-Pitt amendment.) Abortion is currently an unresolvable moral conflict in the U.S. about which people of conscience cannot agree. Protecting access to abortion when states wish to fund the services or private insurance contracts include them while not allowing federal tax money to pay for abortion is a fair resolution. It won't leave anyone fully happy. That's something a mature democracy must be able to accept.

But Stupak-Pitt appears to have a much wider scope than the Hyde amendment, including prohibiting abortion in private insurance sold through any "exchange" created by the legislation. If the amendment is trying to extend constraints on abortion by hijacking health reform to achieve that aim the supporters ought to put their cards on the table and acknowledge that blackmail is their aim: "We think further restraint of abortion is more important than reforming our health system, so unless we get our way we'll block any legislation." If that's not their intent they should work with leadership to achieve a fair resolution.

Threatening to kill health reform unless abortion constraints are extended would be a misguided way of witnessing one's conscience. If abortion opponents take this path "pro-choicers" will take an equally hard line. The U.S. would miss a rare opportunity to tip toe towards greater social justice in health care.

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