Night of the Living Gotcha

There is a persistent abortion meme that regularly makes the rounds on the Left, particularly the Internet Left, which subsists primarily on memes at the expense of rigorous thinking and logical arguments. That meme is this: “Pro-lifers are really only pro-birth. Once the baby is born, they don’t want it to have access to health care, welfare and high-quality public education. They don’t care if the baby dies so long as the mother is forced to give birth to it. Pro-lifers are not actually pro-life!”

I addressed this objection earlier this year at the Federalist, though admittedly I’m not sure how many liberals actually read it. I guess maybe not that many, given that this meme is still quite popular, most recently in the wake of the American Health Care Act’s slow passage through Congress. At the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Baker writes: “If You Support The AHCA, Then You Are Not Pro-Life:”

If you clutch your pearls at the mention of comprehensive sex education or get riled up about “paying for someone else’s birth control” because your moral code is abstinence, you are part of the abortion problem. It has been shown over and over again that abstinence-only programs do not work in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Contraception works. You are not pro-life.

If you support the latest version of the AHCA, you are literally incentivizing abortion. There are women who will now abort for fear of themselves or their child being considered a “preexisting condition” and unable to get insurance. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call yourself pro-life and stand by idly while millions of people are stripped of their health care benefits. If you think the right to be born is a basic human right, but access to health care is not, you are not pro-life.

As an aside, there is plenty of reason to believe that an abstinence-only approach to sexual intercourse education works just fine, at least insofar as we acknowledge that human beings are not simply sexualized robots who are pre-programmed to bang with no agency whatsoever. “Abstinence doesn’t work” is a rallying cry you encounter most often in people who believe extramarital sex is a dazzling virtue and something to be encouraged more or less from adolescence onward. Go figure.

In any event, Elizabeth Baker—who has a son with Leigh Syndrome and who thus deserves a great deal of our sympathy and prayers—gets the pro-life position wrong in a way that suggests she has never seriously studied it before. Yes, pro-lifers believe that “the right to be born” is “a basic human right,” but only insofar as we believe that not being killed is “a basic human right.” Birth being an eventual and necessary function of preborn human beings, any coherent pro-life ethic must acknowledge that, if you’re not allowed to kill an unborn human, you’re eventually going to have to give birth to it (try getting it to stay up in there otherwise). “The right to be born” is simply another way of classifying the right to breath, to eat, drink, to sleep, to wake—to live. “Pro-life” is exactly that: pro-life, pro-the-right-to-life, and anti-a-legal-system-that-denies-anyone-that-right.

That’s not to say that people don’t have other needs aside from the fundamentals to which they have a right, and indeed health care is frequently one of those needs. But “access to health care” is itself not actually a right, and simply declaring it so does not make it so, nor does it mean that the “access” will magically materialize. Health care, like any consumer good, is a scarce good, and even the nominally “universal” systems spread across the British Commonwealth and Western Europe cannot successfully satisfy everyone’s demands (talk to the Swedes, a great many of whom have fled to private insurance to avoid crippling wait times, or the Canadians, many of whom flee to the United States to seek faster, higher-quality care).

Heath care policy is thus best understood not a question of rights but of practical outcomes: how to satisfy the most people to the greatest degree and with the most efficiency? People like myself believe that it’s a bad idea to hand our health care economy over to the idiot children who have already screwed it up so badly. People like Elizabeth Baker, on the other hand, believe it’s perfectly reasonable to surrender our most intimate and critical health care decisions over to the same people who run the DMV. One of these is right and the other is wrong—but neither option implicates the pro-life position, which is a separate concern altogether, and it would be helpful if Internet commentators stopped advancing this dumb argument.

One comment

  1. David

    I believe you make a valid point in criticizing this meme. The fact that you advocate support for the needy outside of government channels does not mean you do not support help for the needy. The argument for the best means of supporting those in need is a different policy issue.

    However, your statement that “an abstinence-only approach to sexual intercourse education works just fine” is more readily proven fallacious. When I reviewed the article you referenced it was clear that my colander at home would hold more water (& I do keep my utensils clean!). The presentation that Utah’s birth & marriage data are a validation of your position neglects virtually all other data from states regarding an abstinence emphasis or exclusivity approach. [see Kohler PK1, Manhart LE, Lafferty WE]. The states with the highest teen pregnancy rates appear to be the states with the weakest programs on sex ed. Additionally, UT, in general, emphasizes abstinence but teaches about contraception. UT is also one of the most homogeneous states in the country, such that what works in UT may not apply well in other parts of the country. I could go on at greater length but in the past you have asked me to keep my comments brief. I will only add that I am not in total disagreement with several of your positions. I agree that responsible parents are the best source for “sex ed” for children. The emphasis is on “responsible” & the question is how do we as a society deal with irresponsible parents? I also agree that sexual activity should not be engaged in casually & abstinence is the only sure protection from the various hazards associated with sexual activity. That being said, it seems to me that in many cases you are offering positions & then looking for evidence to support them rather than taking positions based on evidence. Sometimes your evidence has validity, sometimes it is laughable.