April 8, 2006

The Other Abortion Question

For those who live and breathe the abortion debate, it may be worthwhile to personalize the issue and see if anything changes. Certainly, Rick Santorum has done this.

If you do not already know the story, Senator Santorum told it himself on Fresh Air in September 2004. Briefly, at approximately 20 weeks gestation, he and his wife learned the fetus had a terrible disorder that would likely result in the fetus’ demise. They had three choices: carry the fetus to term, when it would inevitably die; abort the fetus; or try a risky surgery on the fetus (which was still inside the womb) which had a low probability of success. The Santorums, true to their faith and their principles, reasoned thusly: if this was a five year old child, there would be no debate. They went with the surgery.

As tragedies go, this was a big one, as the surgery failed, the fetus died, and the mother suffered complications. However, the story clearly indicates how one should reason if one believes life begins at conception. This is the point for the Senator; it is illogical to argue any differently. If we are debating the abortion issue, this is a hard argument to rebut.

But I am not, here on this blog, interested in the abortion issue specifically; I am interested in another question. It is this:

Who pays for this surgery?

It is not an academic question. Senator Santorum has the benefit of almost infinite medical resources. If we are going to force Medicaid patients to make a similar choice, we have to ask this practical question.

Many are not going to like having, depending on your perspective, a moral or privacy question reduced to money; but that is precisely the problem. Accountability. In the end, someone has to pay.

Only the schizoid will argue that abortion should not be an option even when the mother’s life is in mortal danger; and only the amorally unrealistic will fail to realize that there is something psychologically wrong with a woman who has had three, four, five abortions. (This is not so unusual: it is 18% of all abortions.) You may think it is your right to have as many abortions as you need, and you may be right; but there is still something wrong with you.

Not permitting abortions requires an explanation of how we're going to pay for surgeries like the Santorums's. And if you want to keep abortions legal, you have to tell me how we're going to pay for them; or for any complications that result from them.

Either healthcare is a right, like due process; or it isn’t, like driving. Either one you pick, you must be accountable for the consequences of your selection, for example, its effect on the abortion question; similarly, your stance on abortion must include an discussion of cost. Even if this is,a fter all, a moral question, someone still has to pay for it. I recognize this tarnishes the purity of the academic dialogue. It’s not pretty, it’s not clean, but it’s reality. And if you think that money is not a relevant factor here, then it almost certainly means you are not going to be the one who will have to pay.

This applies to other questions beyond abortion, of course. If someone discovers a cure for AIDS, but it costs ten million dollars, does everyone get to have it?

When the universal healthcare nuts draft a plan that includes how they are going to pay for the unintended consequences of an insufficiently reasoned abortion provision (or restriction), give me a call. Until then, wovon man nicht sprechen kann....

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