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.

31 thoughts on “TWO LETTERS OFF”

  • Second, from a straight cynical perspective,... Sigh. You don't get it. That's not how it works with these lunatics. Fixing this country's most acute problems may only cost about 100 billion a year, but they won;t agree to it, because it goes to the 'undeserving' and to 'those people.' The national budget for saving fetuses, however, should have no upper limit. Likewise, you can never put a price on 'freedom.' The lives of brown people, in contrast, must be secondary to strict considerations of deficit reduction.

    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. But I thought that was their 'secret plan' all along — use the Christian white trash to outbreed the darker populaces. It's OK to allow abortion for affluent white women; they're all liberal sluts, ergo traitors to their race. Poor white women, in contrast — now that's a strategic resource.

  • Paying for something is 100% more expensive than not paying for it, and the Cons would probably like to see single women denied the Pill, too, since we shouldn't be having premarital sex. There are plans that cover Viagra, but not birth control (by employer design, not carrier design.) And any restriction on abortion requiring proof of incest, for example, is a nominal ban. "Hey, Dad, would you sign this?"

    That said, most individual health plans don't cover any elective surgery, nor do they pay for maternity, and for good reason: the premiums can't absorb the exposure.

    Many group plans don't cover abortion, although they do often cover tubal ligation (but not vasectomy, and since it's cheaper and safer to perform a vasectomy, I leave why it's not covered as an exercise for the student.)

    Raise your hand if you still live in a state where women have to grow older than men to qualify for annual colonoscopy as a routine benefit, despite parity in illness and mortality at the earliest age. And are people aware that most individual plans don't cover mental health treatment, including prescription drugs? Group plans are affected by Domenici's rule, not individual plans. Why is no one talking about any of this?

    Last, I am vehemently pro-choice, but consider: most of the plans available in my state have an outpatient surgery copay of $500. You say abortion costs $400. I think it should be covered, and one day it will be, but until that time, why pay more?

    And sorry, but did you actually say something about scraping together the cash for an abortion? I know I'm not supposed to laugh. Just sayin'.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    The Constitutional question is interesting, and I'm sure that somebody will pursue it at some point, if this bill makes it into law. But, on your other points, let me offer the counterargument here; lots of people think abortion is morally wrong (I am one of them). There are lots of instances in which values cost a lot of money. It would be cheaper to summarily shoot all criminals in the head and dump their bodies in a landfill instead of giving them a trial and housing them in a prison. But, we generally consider that to be contrary to our values.

    Obviously, if you don't think abortion is wrong, then the economic arguments here would be persuasive. If you do think it's wrong, they probably won't be. The same goes for your very valid class-based critique of this. Yes, it sucks that poor people will be disproportionately denied choice, and that might be very persuasive to somebody who thinks choice is a good thing, but if you don't think anybody should have choice, then the argument isn't that persuasive.

    I'm just glad they passed the damn thing, as anemic as it might be. I don't blame the pro-choice crowd for being pissed about it, but for us rare pro-life dems (or, more precisely, those of us who don't really give a shit either way on this issue), it was an easy deal to make. But, now the pro-choicers are threatening to oppose the conference bill, so, who knows…

  • Grumpygradstudent, here's the thing: women with money will have choice no matter what. Women have always gotten abortions, will always get abortions, their personal morality or that of their government be damned. It is a part of women's health care as old and as necessary to most of us when the time comes as birth control. The question is just whether the government/ our outstandingly moral society as a whole allows poor women the same access to doctors who have been trained to safely perform abortions in clean facilities as women with money will have whether abortion is legal or not.

  • "I am continually baffled by our collective insistence on having … a special, esoteric set of rules for abortion."

    Well, that's because you're a commie, liberal, fascist atheist, of course. No offense meant.

    Hey, why is it, do you think, that the loudest shouters of pious self-righteousness are the ones seemingly most likely to pick out one single facet of their professed religion to bludgeon everyone over the heads with, while ignoring the remaining 98%?
    Abortion and Homosexuality seem to be the big issues there. I'm always amused by the people who insist that government has no right to force them to follow the tenets of their religion, but it's mandatory for government to force everybody else to do so.

  • Since when does being a conservative have anything to do with rationality? You're talking about people who think Leave It To Beaver was a documentary of the 1950s.

  • I'm surprised that no one has figured out why the big todo about abortion.

    These folks are waiting for jesus to return and fear he might be aborted!

    One can't know the will of god so ANY fetus is possibly the jesus man resur-erected! Can't risk the wrath of god now can we?

  • lots of people think abortion is morally wrong (I am one of them). So is lying to your friends or cheating on your spouse. Yet we do not, at this stage of civilization, think it's a good idea to try and pass laws to criminalize that sort of behavior. Even if successful, arguing that something is morally wrong is incomplete. It doesn't yet follow that it should be banned by law. Ethics and legislation overlap only partially. The overlap is even smaller in the case of moral tenets held by intellectual minorities.

    On a different note: if abortion is wrong on religious grounds, why not pass laws that forbid worshiping any other gods? Surely idolatry is a graver sin than aborting a fetus:

    "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

    This is the kind of stuff the 'Moral' Majority believes in. I think we should make psychotropic drugs free to everybody. Looks like there's millions of them in America.

  • Many anti-choice Protestants base their "God says" argument on the verse in Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." Given that abortion was legal in the time of Christ as well as much or most of the earlier period, the topic was well known and yet never addressed in the Bible.

    But the law was clear, so even for Christians, perhaps this should default toward "to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and God's that which is God's." (And please try to understand why it's not ethical to require another citizen to be an incubator because of your religious beliefs.)

    Incidentally, it was illegal for a married woman or a slave to abort without the permission of her husband / owner, and the punishment was a fine.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Just because someone says they think abortion is morally wrong doesn't mean that:
    a. Their belief is based on religion; or
    b. that the solution is to criminalize it.

    I think that abortion is morally wrong for pacifist reasons (no living thing should have to die for someone's convenience) and I think the solution is to promote sex education and contraceptive use (as opposed to murdering doctors). Therefore I consider myself neither pro-life nor pro-choice–I detest the extremists who inhabit both those groups.

    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.

    1. Cost of a box of condoms: roughly $5
    2. Cost of an abortion: roughly $400 (based on Ed's guess, above)
    3. Cost of pregnancy and child rearing: at least $500,000 for 18 years.

    So the conclusion here is that if we're trying to save money the government should focus more legislation on sex ed. Gee, I wonder why neither pro-life nor pro-choice groups ever discuss that? Oh right, because they're blinded by their ideology. Now I know why Ed usually tries to stay off this topic.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    Displaced Capitalist: yeah, I'm more or less an atheist. I'm somewhere between mid-left and far-left (for an American, anyway) on just about every issue, except for this one. It's not something I tend to bring up at parties.

  • Aslan Maskhadov says:


    Every pro-choice person I've heard from supports full sex education in public schools. It's the anti-abortion types that are against it.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    @aslan: really? that's odd because usually all I hear from the pro-choice camp is garbage about making abortions easier to get. Sex ed and contraceptive use seldom gets mentioned. It's almost as if those groups prefer abortion to contraceptive use. "Boo hoo, why can't an abortion cost the same as a box of condoms?"

  • Thanks Ed for putting almost my exact thoughts into eloquent words. I would call you a proponent of eugenics in this case, but I would do so without any negativity: in fact I think we better start guiding our species' evolution if we intent to avoid significant repercussions. The issue of morality with regards to abortion stems from the human conceit that life is better than death. For some people, this is quite possibly true, although it seems it's always a bit of a mixed bag. For others, this is most definitely not true. It becomes a very simple moral issue only for people uncumbered by an understanding of the harsh realities of sentient life. Those that can unequivocally state that life is good and death is bad will find the ethical implications of abortion simple – it's just that, well… they'll be wrong.
    BTW, I can't say I'm entirely for government subsidization of anything. It may be unconstitutional to do otherwise, but it strikes me as profoundly backwards for the government to be subsidizing elective procedures and medications that are not in any way necessary. Imagine our average senior citizen rushing into the ER with a painful, 4-hour, government subsidized boner. How noble.

  • Displaced Captialist Concern Troll:

    What? Never heard of "Safe, Rare, and Legal"? It is the MANTRA of the pro-choice movement. Pro-Choice is about a WOMAN HAVING THE RIGHT TO DECIDE what happens in her reproductive ladyparts. Whether that means CHOOSING to have a baby or CHOOSING to terminate the pregnancy. It also includes her CHOICE about how she wants to PREVENT pregnancy – or not. Seriously, I have never met a woman….even a second wave Andrea Dworkin type of feminist who was into abortion as a means of birth control. Jesus man, it is a wrenching and unpleasant procedure that ANYONE would choose to avoid if at all possible.

    What wild fantasy world of abortion-porn craziness have you been living in, strange dude?

  • I don’t understand why fiscal conservatives aren’t on board with the economics of this.

    Basically it's because fiscal conservatives are mythical creatures, no more real than unicorns.

    That is one of the primary lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.


  • First, how can this be constitutional?

    If it is, I'd guess it is under the reasoning of Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush where, according to Wikipedia:

    The decision was written by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that the policy did not constitute a violation of equal protection, as "the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds".

    However, that policy did not directly affect the availability of the constitutionally guaranteed right of choice of Americans, so there are other constitutional questions. Yet the Hyde Amendment is still standing.

    God only knows what this Supreme Court might do if asked to address the question.

  • If we're going to be entirely consistent about this, we should ALSO include a proviso that insurance should not pay for boner pills unless the man buying them can prove that he is married and will be using them with his lawfully wedded wife. He should have to come in with an affadavit from her that she realizes he is purchasing them, and that she knows how many he's getting so he doesn't cheat on her banging women immorally on the side.

    Because you can't use FEDERAL MONEY from TAX PAYERS to PAY FOR IMMORAL BEHAVIOR!!!!11!!one!!!

    If they had improved the Stupid amendment by including this, I wonder if it would still have passed. I have my money on hypocrisy over integrity on this one.

  • Abortion is wrong because only God can decide if someone lives or dies. No woman owns her own child; it is on loan from God. Of course, that includes the egg as well. And the sperm, since it is sacred in God's eyes. Men are not allowed to spill their sperm wastefully, so masturbation is just as wrong as abortion, since the man is releasing his sacred baby-making stuff and if you spill your baby-making stuff it can only be done morally while making or trying to make a baby.

    Speaking of making babies, if your husband dies you have to marry his brother. It's the only moral thing to do because God said so. If he's younger and better looking than your husband so much the better, but you can't kill your husband to get to the good stuff because only God can take a life. You can let him die if he gets sick, however, because taking him to a doctor would interfere with God's Will, letting him die of God's Appointed Illness.

    We'll have to set up some kind of system to tell if a man is masturbating, however. Perhaps some type of dye on the hands, or cops can do random checks for sperm. On CSI I saw them use some kind of light to show up sperm–maybe they can use that. Or a sperm count; if it's low the man must go to jail, perhaps. At any rate, if a man has sex and doesn't intend to knock up the woman he must be jailed. And if he knocks up the woman and she's not his wife, he must be stoned. Or maybe pay a fine; I forget which one.

    And don't forget the shrimp. God said those are against the law as well.

  • Wearing nylon and cotton at the same time is also a show of wicked, insolent disregard for God's law. Leviticus says so; therefore, it must be true. It also teaches us that refractory children can be killed for their disobedience.

  • And don’t forget the shrimp. God said those are against the law as well.

    Actually Jesus let us off the hook for that one in some other obscure part. Sadly I forget the details.

    But I'm pretty sure you're right on the sperm spilling business. We need to go around with a UV light, charging people with mass murder as we go (at least an abortion only kills ONE person. Each ejaculation kills hundreds of thousands to millions. And frankly they're all of the same race, so whacking off is pretty much genocide (for the boys, no harm done ladies!). I say it's time we start getting all these war criminals off our streets!

  • I think boner pills are dangerous in that they often mask the true causes of impotence, which include smoking, heart disease, diabetes, and other concerns that are a result of poor diets, a lack of exercise, and other signs of low moral character. It is important that these medications only be available for men who are able to prove that they eat healthily, avoid smoking and alcohol, have healthy diets, and avoid dangerous lifestyle choices.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Displaced Captialist Concern Troll:

    A concern troll is one who pretends they're on your side, only to attack your position, right? Well, as I mentioned above, I don't really like either Pro-whatever groups because they're so blinded by their ideology that there is no reasoning with them–they become the anti-choice and anti-life movements. Since you appear to be one of them, I don't want to pretend like I'm on your side.

    What? Never heard of “Safe, Rare, and Legal”?


    It is the MANTRA of the pro-choice movement.

    Well if it is the the movement has done a lousy job of getting the mantra out to the masses, I've never heard of it before. (And I'd like to think of myself as well-informed, but, perhaps I'm not?)

    Pro-Choice is about a WOMAN HAVING THE RIGHT TO DECIDE what happens in her reproductive ladyparts. Whether that means CHOOSING to have a baby or CHOOSING to terminate the pregnancy.


    It also includes her CHOICE about how she wants to PREVENT pregnancy – or not.


    Seriously, I have never met a woman….even a second wave Andrea Dworkin type of feminist who was into abortion as a means of birth control. Jesus man, it is a wrenching and unpleasant procedure that ANYONE would choose to avoid if at all possible.

    Me neither. It is a tragic decision that women should not make lightly. But statistics and news from seemingly legitimate sources seem to indicate otherwise. With one of every four pregnancies ending in abortion in the US and half of all the abortions second or even third time abortions, I am doubtful that they are all done by well-educated feminists who are painfully aware of the tragedy of their decision.

    Pro-choicers need to admit that abortion occurs way too often and that there is a real need to reduce abortion.

    Pro-lifers need to admit that the only way they can stop humans from being, well, human, is to educate them.

  • Pro-choicers need to admit that abortion occurs way too often and that there is a real need to decide who gets one and who doesn't.

    Pro-lifers need to admit that the only way they can stop women from being, well, human, is to control them.


  • The problem is not so much the ordinary abortion, but the ones that are complicated (inevitably plumbing has complications as anyone with a leaking sink can tell you) and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

    What this does is strand those most in need of help.

    Stupak is one of the reasons Eli is not contributing to the DCCC anymore. If they want my money they should not give him any of it.

  • Fiscal conservatives DO support abortion over pre-natal care. The problem is religious conservatives, who will never support abortion no matter how much money it saves them.

  • Disregarding universal ethical principles, you did make a good pragmatic argument for abortion. Though, it does seem to be inconsistent with the rest of the Humanist arguments for the supremacy of mankind over Deity.

    If it's pragmatism that we want, then why can't we extend that to how we deal with hardened criminals in the prison system?

    Here is my modest proposal. Suppose we build each prison to hold say, about 2,000 criminals. Since the prison population may exceed that number, then when prisoner 2001 arrives, we then execute another prisoner that has already been there the longest. Doing that, we won't have to build new prisons or expand the existing ones. That way, the prison never has more than 2,000.

    Also, it might be cheaper to dispense with electricity, gas, firing squad, or hanging for the executions. Maybe we should borrow from the abortionists and use some of their methods. It's for the common good.

    "“HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another –the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.”

    Ambrose Bierce (The Old Gringo)

  • Displaced Capitalist: No, you're not, but yes, you are. Historically, "safe, legal, and rare" has been the mantra for the pro-choice community, but you wouldn't know it by paying attention in recent times.

    In the past 10 years or so, it has become wildly unpopular for any pro-choice organization to promote the phrase "safe, legal, and rare." This is mostly because it implies that there is something morally wrong with abortion, a fact that the pro-choice side fights against tooth and nail over the anti-choice factions. They have tried to take morality completely out of the equation and focus simply on the legality of the right to an abortion, I think to appeal to the sense of individual liberties that conservatives often support.

    They have failed, however, because ignoring morality in legal issues really isn't possible no matter how many pundits and politicians pretend it is. Ignoring the moral issue or pretending it doesn't exist has been one of the biggest downfalls of pro-choice advocates in recent times.

    It is because the construction of "morality" surrounding abortion is constructed in many different ways leaving the ambiguity of "rights," "person-hood," "truth" and the extension of "government" to question. These are issues that no society or person has ever come to a clear conclusion on, and abortion brings all of it into the mix.

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