Abortion and Morality


Published November 11, 2009, issue of November 20, 2009.
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During the recent floor debate in Congress on health care legislation, Rep. Mike Pence, chair of the House Republican Conference, employed the language of morality to frame his support of the Pitts-Stupak amendment to prevent federal subsidies from going to any insurance plans that cover abortion. Using federal dollars to fund abortions “violates the deeply held beliefs of millions of Americans who believe abortion is morally wrong,” Pence said. “As members of Congress we have a responsibility to respect the moral beliefs of a vast majority of the American people.”

We’ll put aside for the moment whether the lawmaker’s role is to follow, in lockstep, the moral views of most Americans, since there have been times in our history when “morality” was used to defend slavery, segregation and the legal subjugation of women. But it is fair for Pence to note that many Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and don’t want their tax money used to pay for it.

What is infuriatingly hypocritical of Pence and the 239 other House members who voted for the amendment — including 64 Democrats — is for them to act as if there is no moral claim on the other side.

First, there is the moral consequence of the amendment’s direct effects, which would prevent Americans who need federally subsidized insurance from buying plans that cover abortion. Legal abortion — and it is still legal — can cost anywhere between $500 and $10,000. Many of those who need to buy insurance are low-income women, part-time workers, or freelancers, who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to depend on insurance from their employers or spouses.

So where is the morality in creating a system that includes some and excludes others, especially when the excluded are financially distressed and vulnerable?

Second consequence: The indirect effects. It’s quite possible that this new restriction would have a chilling effect on insurers. If subsidized customers can’t use a plan that offers abortion, and insurers want to attract those customers — well, then, they’ll just scratch abortion from the plan.

This eventuality would only add to the number of women who, by chance or circumstance, would lose coverage for a medical procedure that, it’s worth repeating here, is still legal in America. There’s a moral claim there, too.

And finally, it must be said, over and over, there are sound moral and religious reasons to believe that the decision to abort must be up to the woman involved, and not dictated by the government. Jewish tradition has a long and complex view on the subject, but it is guided by the principle that a woman’s life and concerns are of a higher priority than those of the fetus, and that existing life is always sacred and takes precedence over potential life.

Even the most liberal interpretations don’t treat abortion lightly or frivolously, but then neither do women who feel they must undergo this fraught procedure. To deny women rights because they are poor or unaffiliated or happen to live in the wrong county or state, to put their ability to control what happens to their bodies and their lives at the mercy of insurance company bureaucrats or craven politicians, is immoral, plain and simple.

Those members of Congress who opposed this cruel amendment have morality on their side, too.

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