Saturday, March 13, 2010

Would universal health care lower the abortion rate?

According to the Washington Post, the answer should be obvious. 

"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?"

Imagine two scenarios:

1) Universal health care is passed, but Roe is not reversed.

2) Roe is reversed, but universal health care is defeated.

Which scenario would reduce the abortion rate more? My money is on 1.

OK, OK, I know that is not all there is to the abortion issue. Prolifers might say that it is just as much about engendering the right attitudes toward fetal life as it is about reducing the number of abortions.


Clayton said...

It's not obvious that Hume is right because there are many factors that determine the rates at which women seek abortions.

Some considerations. I don't know how many women now cannot afford to have an abortion. (I think abortions can be had for about $225 right now.) On its face, it's much, much cheaper than carrying the fetus to term.

Increased access to family planning services and contraceptives would seem to be just the sort of thing that decrease unwanted pregnancy.

Increased access to a physician might be the sort of thing that can head off problems that lead women to chose to terminate a pregnancy because of health complications.

There are complicated issues having to do with abortion and employment. One theory I've seen kicked about is that with higher unemployment, the rate of abortions increase. So, we'd have to factor in the economic impact of health care.

Victor Reppert said...

How do you explain the lower abortion numbers in Britain.

Anonymous said...

But the economic effect of healthcare is already factored in in the cross country comparison. The US has higher "income" than pretty much all the other comparable countries and still has a higher abortion rate.

If the US had a lower rate then it would be relevant because the US might still be doing worse than it should be in relation to its income levels.


SteveK said...

Prolifers might say that it is just as much about engendering the right attitudes toward fetal life as it is about reducing the number of abortions.

Christian's too, Victor. Consequentialism is not the ultimate concern here. The end can justify the means, but only if those means are also virtuous.

Reducing the number of abortions under government health care, while continuing to perpetuate the immoral and false belief (via Roe) that abortion doesn't end the life of an innocent human being isn't something to be proud of.

Victor Reppert said...

Roe doesn't assert that abortion doesn't end the life of an innocent human being. What it says is that we can't figure out whether it ends the life of an innocent human person or not. So we have to rule in favor of a right that we can be sure of, the right to privacy, over the right of a fetus to life, which is arguably in doubt.

As RM explained in quite some detail on a couple of prior posts, if Roe were to be reversed in accordance with the jurisprudence accepted by the SCOTUS conservatives, it would not do so by asserting the fetus's right to life. It would rather deny that the right of privacy is guaranteed in the constitution. It would instead undo the court's contention in Griswold that the "penumbra" of the first amendment guarantees a right to privacy. The court therefore would not be asked to rule in favor of life, but rather be asked to rule against the right of privacy.

The moral right to do something is not guaranteed by its legality. There are plenty of things that I consider to be perfectly immoral that I do not want the government to pass laws against.

I see the force of the intuition that says that anytime life is at stake, it becomes a legal matter. There's something counterintuitive about saying "Sure, that's murder, but we shouldn't legislate against it." I think that intuition, though, has to be mitigated on the grounds that fetal personhood is not beyond reasonable doubt and where the enforcement of abortion laws would involve severe government intrusiveness into very private and personal areas of life. If it weren't for the latter factor, I might be more enthusiastic about legal prohibitions against abortion based on the deer hunter argument, which I have discussed earlier.

I think if we did pass abortion prohibitions, we as a society would have a moral obligation to commit ourselves to helping women with hardship pregnancies who would now be deprived of their choice to abort. If this could all be done privately, that would be just fabulous, but I suspect the government would end up picking up the tab. This is where the coathanger argument comes into play.

I don't think it's humane or reasonable to point to the supposed sexual irresponsibility of these women to justify not assisting them.

SteveK said...

What it says is that we can't figure out whether it ends the life of an innocent human person or not.

We do know that it ends the life of an innocent human being. No debate there. From that point, see the deer hunter argument.

If you don't like the deer hunter argument because "we can't figure it out", then why should we as a country seek to reduce the number of abortions anyway? It seems to me that more abortions would help stimulate the economy, right?

SteveK said...

Obviously we don't want more abortions. Even Roe supports want fewer abortions. That should tell us something - that there is something wrong about how we currently view the unborn.

William said...

In Spain before last year, medically necessary abortions were paid for by Spain's national health programs, but abortions were not allowed unless medically necessary.

That would work here, but first Roe/Wade would have to go :-(

Victor Reppert said...

I am less than persuaded by the arguments that, at every stage, from fertilization to birth, the member of the human species has the same right that a born infant has. Now I do recognize a kind of arbitrariness in birth as a line-drawing point (although here the violinist arguments have to be dealt with), and if it were up to me late-term abortions for anything less than the endangerment of the mothers life would be ruled out.

Two competing conceptions of the career of a person exist: one views the life of the person as a series of events in the existence of a continuing biological object, and the other sees the life of a person as a series of mental events. (Somewhat paradoxically, it's the "physicalist" model that better supports the pro-life position). Neither of these models is provably true or provably false, so far as I can see.

It is perfectly coherent to place a moral value on something without placing the same level of moral value on it that we place on the life of a human person. That which, through natural processes, becomes a person, has value on that account.

People who are pro-choice, I think, are split between those who really believe that the life of the unborn has no value, and those who think it does have value, but not sufficient value to justify protection by criminal law.

I take the deer hunter argument seriously here, and the problem is more acute for me than it would be for atheists, because I think I will eventually have to look into the eyes of Jesus and will then see which conception was right.

However, the Roe justices couldn't figure the question of fetal personhood out, and I don't have any arguments sufficiently strong on that matter that ought to have persauded them.

They also said that they did know that a woman had a right to privacy, and on that they had the precedent of the Griswold case. Conservative jurisprudence says Griswold went wrong in affirming a right to privacy, since it doesn't say p-r-i-v-a-c-y in the constitution. I'm skeptical of the anti-privacy argument, so even if I were thoroughly pro-life, I would have a problem with voting for politicians who would nominate justices who were going to overturn Roe via the anti-privacy arguments, since that would be to use a bad argument to reach a good end. There's nothing inconsistent about a pro-lifer rejecting the anti-privacy argument.

So, what should Roe have said? Even if you accept the deer hunter argument for the sake of moral contexts, you are asking a court to set aside a right that it believes to clearly exist (a woman's right to privacy in reproductive matters), on the basis of a right (the right of the fetus to life), which is in doubt. The argument then, I suppose, would have to be that the right to life has a "trump card" status amongst our rights, such that we ought to protect it in cases of reasonable doubt even if it means denying a right that we can be sure of. But I don't know if there is anything in the constitution that would justify this kind of a move from a legal standpoint.

The other part of it is, I think we as a society have a resposibility to enhance the choice of life, whether or not we use the coercive powers of law to prevent abortion, but especially if we do outlaw abortion. That is one reason why I support health care reform. But I think there are a lot of things we could be doing which could make the choice of life the more appealing choice to more women, which are things that people who think abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, and people who think that abortion should be illegal and not occur at all, should be able to agree on.

Anonymous said...

Re: consequentialism and such. I'm just happy to have been given a chance to live. And I don't care much if I have this chance to live because our society fully understands and sanctions the right to life or if it was because my mother didn't have to worry about the cost of having me.

If you have the chance to save millions of lives, you do it. Saving millions of lives is its own justification. I'm not as smart as most of you folks, but the notion that it might not be moral to save a million lives "because they weren't saved for the right reason" makes no sense to me. It is perhaps one of those really stupid things that only philosophers are smart enough to say.

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