Monday, October 12, 2009

Health care reform shorts:
Abortion access at risk

Anti-abortion politicians look at the emerging health care reform and see a chance to further reduce women's access to abortion. As Planned Parenthood explains:

Their goal is to force all plans within the insurance exchange -- including private plans that individuals pay for on their own -- to deny coverage for abortion. If our opponents are successful, access to abortion will be practically eliminated in health care reform. And without access, there is no choice.

The gentleman on the right looks jolly doesn't he? Don't be fooled, the Rev. Jim Wallis is one of people aiming to use health care reform to further reduce women's access to legal abortions. According to Adele Stan, he's using his perch as a "liberal" evangelical Christian on the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to "chip away" at the availability of this legal medical procedure that some people, including him, don't think women should be allowed. In Wallis' world, not only should no federal funds be used to pay for abortion (too bad, poor teenager; we'll make you raise a child if you dare have sex!) but medical providers should suffer no penalty for refusing to take care of patients who don't share their scruples. The reform proposals offer the possibility of a new restriction: people who buy private insurance that currently covers abortion should be able to opt-out of part of their premium so they can't be forced to be part of a risk pool with women who choose abortion.

In an April 2008 interview with Christianity Today, Wallis was explicit:

It should be more difficult to get an abortion. It's too easy...

He does go on to say he doesn't want to try to outlaw abortion, just impede access to it. But anti-abortion extremists have already created a situation where 87 percent of U.S. counties have no doctor willing to do the procedure. What doctor wants to be threatened or picketed? Women still get abortions -- women who can afford to go where they can find the operation. Restricting access is a form of violence against the young and the poor.

I've never been able to fathom why religious liberals, of whom there are plenty, give Wallis a pass. Yes -- he speaks in his way against poverty and for economic justice. And he has stood up to U.S. war making. But he's also simply a conventional patriarch, an enforcer of Christianity's misogynist (and homophobic) dead ends.

Mainline Protestant Christians don't have a perfect record of standing against the evils of misogyny (or homophobia). But there are are millions of such Christians who don't try to chip away at women's right to choose -- they strive to enable women to navigate lovingly the difficult, personal, ethical issues that arise when they find themselves in an unchosen pregnancy. For what it is worth, I'm that kind. We can't let the Wallises crowd us out in the public arena -- we've got something to say from our own moral center about why everyone should have access to health care services that respect and affirm personal moral choices.
The effort to derail health care reform is not confined to Protestant Christians. The same sort of Roman Catholic bishops who rail against gay marriage and question inviting President Obama to speak at Notre Dame think preventing women from getting abortions is more important than making sure everyone has health care. Shame on them.

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