Abortion and Health Care

2010 March for Life at the United States Supreme Cout
I usually try not to go too much into politics on this blog, but I think it's time to bring something to the spotlight, and hopefully get some of my fellow Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) to think.  So bear with me.
  1. Abortion is an intrinsic moral evil.  It is always wrong to take the life of an innocent child.  Evangelicals and the Catholic Church fully agree on this point.  
  2. The United States of America not only permits abortion on demand, but by diktat of the Supreme Court, abortion is guaranteed to all women as a constitutional right.
  3. Since this Roe v. Wade decision some 40 years ago, about 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States.
For over 40 years now, the Pro-Life Movement in America has been trying, unsuccessfully, to bring an end to this Holocaust of the unborn.  The standard procedure has been to elect Pro-Life politicians to the federal government in the hope that they might somehow overturn this Supreme Court decision, either through laws, constitutional amendment, or appointing new judges that will counter the previous decisions of the old judges. The strategy has been employed for a generation now, and the results have been unimpressive.  For every one step forward that is made, one to two steps are taken backward.  There has been some progress on the state level, but this is often overridden by court decisions on the federal level.  The prospect of another 40 years of this is intolerable.  When will it end?  After 100 million abortions?  200 million?  Is there any end in sight?

Albert Einstein once said the definition of INSANITY is: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  That is pretty much what we have been doing in the Pro-Life Movement here in the United States.  I think it's time to change the strategy.  We lobby, we march, we protest, we elect Pro-Life politicians, and what do we have to show for it?  55 million abortions with no end in sight! I think we American Pro-Lifers need to pause and do a little reassessment.  Perhaps if we look around the world, at countries were abortion is already illegal, we might be able to get a better idea of what we're doing wrong.

Many countries in the world ban abortion outright.  Many also place severe restrictions on abortion. However, most of these nations are what we would call "developing" or "third-world" nations. I don't want to disparage them for that. However, what we should be looking for here are developed countries that are more like the United States.  Because these nations are more like us, in economy, standard of living, and cultural values, this is where we should probably look for answers. There are three in Europe that come to mind: Ireland, Malta and Poland.  All three of these countries ban abortion in almost all circumstances; except to save the life of the mother, rape or other severe medical reasons.  These are hardly what anyone can reasonable call "poor," "backward" or "barbaric" nations.  I'm sure some here in America would like to try, but such a claim could not be taken seriously.  So what's the deal here?  Why is it that Ireland, Malta and Poland can successfully ban most abortions, but the United States cannot?

Well, the first thing we will notice is that all three countries have an overwhelming Catholic population.  That plays a Pro-Life cultural role that is essential.  However, even though the United States has a minority Catholic population, the Catholic Church is still the largest Church in America, and it is growing. Evangelicals share Catholic views on abortion, for the most part, so when you put Evangelicals and Catholics together, it's overwhelming.  There are about 90 million Evangelicals in America, and about 78 million Catholics. So we are talking about a combined force of at least 168 million people who are at the very least, nominally Pro-Life, and a core within that number who are militantly so.  That's more than enough people to get the job done. So what is the problem?

I would like to put forward a suggestion that is sure to upset a lot of people, but I think it's a suggestion that is worth serious consideration by every single Pro-Lifer in America.  There is something that Ireland, Malta and Poland have that America does not have.  They all have free (or nearly free) public healthcare.  That's right, they each use their own version of public healthcare that insures that every man, woman and child is entitled to safe, modern and affordable healthcare.  Ireland uses a tier system, that is a mixture of public and private.  Every Irish citizen is entitled to a virtually free public healthcare service that is funded through taxation.  Private healthcare is permitted for those who can afford it.  Malta has a public healthcare system that is free to all citizens, and works side-by-side with a private healthcare system for those who can afford it.  Poland likewise provides a publicly funded healthcare system that is free to all citizens.

Now I'm not saying that public healthcare is an automatic ticket to ending abortions and creating a Pro-Life nation. That would be factually untrue, for many nations that provide free healthcare also provide abortion on demand.  What I am saying is this.  Moving toward banning abortion in the United States would be a whole lot easier if we had a public healthcare system that could guarantee the free medical treatment of all pregnant women from conception until birth, and then provide free medical treatment for the baby when he or she arrives.  This would take the wind out of the sails of those who say babies cannot be afforded, thus making the Pro-Life position far more palatable to the rest of the population.

It seems to me that we Pro-Lifers are all too often a little self-contradictory.  While we do a wonderful job with Crisis Pregnancy Centres and adoption services, as well as providing free diapers and baby food for millions of poor mothers who need it, that is a far cry from guaranteeing free pregnancy care and free healthcare for the life of the child.  Many mothers do qualify for Medicaid, which provides many of these things for free anyway. However, there are many more mothers who do not qualify. It is in this "in-between gap" that the majority of abortions occur. I'm talking about working mothers who can't afford another child. I'm talking about teenage mothers who need to finish school.  The problem we have in America is that while many of us value life dearly, we are not willing to put a price on it. We want an end to all abortions, but we don't want to pay for all the babies that will inevitably result.

At the heart of this dilemma is a question about life itself.  Does the right to life include a right to affordable healthcare?

The Catholic Church says it does, and the nations of Ireland, Malta and Poland agree. What do American Evangelicals say? For that matter, what do American Catholics say?


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Tom Leith said…
Universal medical insurance needn't be national medical insurance. I think we'd have a better shot at getting traditional definitions of "medicine" in place at the state level than we will at the federal level. Of course, it'll be spotty but that's better than universally horrible. Fertility is not a disease requiring medication; pregnancy is a perfectly normal condition requiring no surgery.

But if we want a pro-life nation we need a pro-family economy. We don't have it.