July 29, 2004

In The Platform: Choice

As a statement of party goals, emphasis mine:

Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

This is a somewhat equivocal wording, in that it doesn't specifically name policies. That would be somewhat counterproductive in a statement of goals, anyway. Moving towards a goal is something that can be marked accomplished even if you don't quite make it to the target, and that's a measurement that well suits the legislative process.

But specifically, Republicans often say that no government money should ever be used to fund any type of reproductive healthcare. Some of them include simple birth control in that equation. What does it mean that no government money should be used to fund abortion?

For one thing, it doesn't mean that abortions don't happen anymore. That wasn't even true when abortion was illegal. What such a thing means is that people who can afford their own health care, a good number in the United States and relatively small minority worldwide, can have access to an abortion should they need one.

Appropriating a certain senator's campaign theme, there were two Americas before the Roe v. Wade ruling: The wealthy few who could still manage to get reproductive healthcare when they needed it, and the rest who had to send the daughter off to live in the country for a year with an aunt, or who ended up having child after child until the body gave up.

Wealth is really what access to services represents. The difference between the weekly cost of a car and the weekly expenditure on mass transit by someone who's enabled to be without a car because of it represents tangible wealth. Having enough money for preventive care adds to your lifetime income whatever you would have otherwise ended up spending on emergency care for conditions found early or ameliorated. Reproductive health care is the difference between the unexpected costs of foregone income, sometimes illness, and disrupted lives represented in having children when you're ready as opposed to when you weren't expecting them.

It's obvious to say that money is only worth what others believe it is. Specifically, it's worth what it can be traded for, and what people most trade it for is security and quality of life. You can't eat money, wear it, make a house out of it, take it as medicine, drive it, or use it as a barrier against intruders. To the extent that it can be used to acquire these services, we are willing to sacrifice time to earn it that we might rather be doing other things with instead. How is it not wealth when an individual is able to cut out the middleman and go directly to getting the services they needed in the first place?

And that's what public funding of health and reproductive services means. It extends the wealth of people who would otherwise not be able to afford those services on their own, or to the same level. It means making available to the poorest what has always been the privilege of those wealthy in terms of resources or information.

In terms of reproductive health care, it seems we might start thinking about things in terms of the wealth acquired by saving money that would otherwise be spent on the problems prevented. Because there are things we'd like to be doing with it instead.

Now, many women faced with an unexpected pregnancy will choose to keep it. Some may feel uncomfortable with the idea of an abortion, and go ahead no matter the consequences. But even a majority of Republicans believe that this is a decision that should be left to an individual's conscience and the judgement of their physician. It seems that it isn't the public at large who need to be educated about the good sense of allowing medical decisions to be personal.

The Supreme Court once ruled that it was pointless to have a right without a remedy. That in some sense, no right existed where there was no recourse to enforcement. And the Democratic party understands that for low-income women and their families to have a meaningful choice about reproductive health care, it must first be available to them.

Posted by nat in boston at July 29, 2004 12:48 AM | Elections | Technorati links |