TWO LETTERS OFF

Posted in Rants on November 11th, 2009 by Ed

Now that the House has finally passed a healthcare bill, a lot of attention is focused on the so-called Stupak Amendment barring federal dollars from being used to buy any insurance policy covering abortion with the usual exceptions for rape, incest, and so on. Let's forget about how we feel about shmushmortion for a few minutes and ask two practical questions.

First, how can this be constitutional? Right now abortion is a constitutionally protected right. Whether it's your favorite or least favorite right, or if you don't believe it's a right, I'm really unclear on if or how this is legally justified. Can Congress prohibit its money from being used on any insurance policy that covers bariatric surgery? Tonsillectomy? Prosthetic ears? Any of the dozen magic dick-hardening medications on the market? It's not a slippery slope game. There is literally no difference among abortion, these examples, or anything else we can imagine. From an insurance company's perspective any medication or procedure is reduced to a dollar amount. What's the difference? Well, abortion is ingrained in our political culture as an exceptional issue. We just accept treating it differently. We expect to make convoluted exceptions and caveats for it. Practically, however, I can't stress enough that this makes absolutely no sense. It is as legal as any of thousands of other covered procedures and there is no more logical justification for the Stupakid Amendment (see what I did there) than for an amendment banning federal dollars for policies that cover antidepressants.

Second, from a straight cynical perspective, an abortion costs three or four hundred dollars and takes an hour. Compare that to the cost of prenatal care and delivery over nine months. For people who are allegedly so concerned about the vast costs of healthcare and "rationing" scarce specialties like OB-GYN, this should be a no-brainer. Having fewer pregnancies saves money and resources. I don't understand why fiscal conservatives aren't on board with the economics of this.

Third, who is this actually hurting? Women who want an abortion and don't have $400. Notice that this isn't banning anyone from having abortions. It forbids insurance purchased through the federally-funded exchange program from paying for it. Women who are upper- or middle-class will either have an insurance policy that does not rely on federal funding or they will just pony up the $400. Mom and dad can still pay for private school Suzie's secret abortion. So, the amendment amounts to a great way to ensure that women who don't want a child but can't scrape together a few hundred dollars are having more children. That sounds awesome. Call me a eugenicist, but women who don't want children and have no money are not what comes to mind when I think of groups that should be denied access to abortion. I don't believe that we should encourage people to have abortions because they have little money, but neither do I believe that we should let economic realities take the decision away from them. I think we want women having children because they chose to do so, not because they reeeeeally wanted to abort but couldn't find $400.

My lack of interest in abortion as a political issue is well documented, but I am continually baffled by our collective insistence on having one set of logical rules for 99% of political questions and a special, esoteric set of rules for abortion.