Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Pro-life argument for health care reform

I learned from Ezra Klein today that T.R. Reid has confirmed a belief I expressed back in September that more affordable health care might lead to fewer abortions.

Back then I wrote:
The question is, how can we most effectively decrease the number of abortions? What we could collectively do is make it less likely that women who find themselves [in difficult circumstances] choose abortion. We could do more to make sure that everyone in this country has health insurance. (In fact, if health care reform is passed and more people are insured, it might actually result in a decrease in the number of abortions!)
T.R. Reid argues for this claim in The Washington Post. Here is Klein's excerpt of Reid's column:
The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we're No. 1.

No one could argue that Germans, Japanese, Brits or Canadians have more respect for life or deeper religious convictions than Americans do. So why do they have fewer abortions?

One key reason seems to be that all those countries provide health care for everybody at a reasonable cost. That has a profound effect on women contemplating what to do about an unwanted pregnancy.

The connection was explained to me by a wise and holy man, Cardinal Basil Hume. He was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when I lived in London; as a reporter and a Catholic, I got to know him.

In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain's universal health-care system. "If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it's needed," Hume explained, "she's more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn't it obvious?"

A young woman I knew in Britain added another explanation. "If you're [sexually] active," she said, "the way to avoid abortion is to avoid pregnancy. Most of us do that with an IUD or a diaphragm. It means going to the doctor. But that's easy here, because anybody can go to the doctor free."

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson