The GOP’s morally indefensible position on maternity care shows the hollowness of the party’s claim to be “pro-life.” It also shows a way forward on abortion for Democrats.
Texas Rep. Peter Olson this week became the latest Republican to assert that it was perfectly fine for the party’s overhaul of the Affordable Care Act to allow insurers to opt-out of providing maternity care as a basic service, as many conservatives have requested, with the goal of reducing premiums.
“We have what’s called an X chromosome, which means we can’t have a baby,” he said on a Houston radio show to justify the oft-repeated claim that requiring plans to cover the health care costs associated with a pregnancy is unfair to men.
Setting aside whatever meaning we might make of the fact that the legislator confused the X and the Y chromosome, Republicans are now on record as opposing insurance coverage for contraceptives, for abortion (even for health reasons), and for pregnancy itself. Basically they don’t want to pay for anything that has to do with women’s reproductive anatomy. In part, this is a logical evolution from a decades-long effort to insist that abortion isn’t really health care to the refusal to cover anything related to icky girl parts.
Beyond the contempt for the entire process of reproduction, it takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to claim that you are “pro-life” but don’t want to pay for women to carry a pregnancy to term. Conservative Republicans are suggesting that a woman on an individual insurance plan who gets pregnant and can’t come up with the $5,000 that it took to buy a pregnancy “rider” before the ACA reforms, should either abort the baby or go old school and give birth by herself in a field somewhere without the benefit of prenatal care or a doctor.
More moderate Republicans have begun to realize the indefensibility of this position. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who is a doctor, acknowledged, albeit imperfectly, that jettisoning maternity coverage to attract men to plans would be undesirable, as it’s an issue not limited to women. “As best I can tell, women don’t get pregnant without sperm,” he said.
But there’s also an opening for Democrats here amid renewed calls for the party to get with the program and field more candidates who are “pro-life.” It’s clear to anyone except the most committed conservatives, who for cultural reasons are never going to vote for Democrats anyway, that nothing about what the Republicans are doing on health care is “pro-life.”
It’s not pro-life to expunge maternity care from health plans because it’s “expensive.” It’s not pro-life to kick disabled people, or old people, or poor people or kids with special needs off Medicaid. As Tom Edsell notes in the New York Times:
Medicaid covers 4.9 million of the 11.2 million children in the United States with special health needs, including those with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy. … There are 6.9 million working-age disabled adults … who are covered by Medicaid. …There are another 10 million elderly Medicaid recipients … who get Medicaid to cover long-term nursing home care, help with eating, bathing or dressing and care for cognitive or mental impairments like dementia.
As long as Democrats accept the Republican definition of “pro-life” they will have a disadvantage on abortion because the anti-abortion forces will keep coming up with more and more onerous ways for politicians to signal that they are reasonable on abortion, like bills circulating in several states that require women to pay for the burial or cremation of their aborted fetus.
This is an opportunity for the Democrats to stop taking the bait and work to redefine what “pro-life” means. An individual can be personally opposed to abortion but reject random and cruel restrictions like 20-week abortion cutoffs that are based on phony science, forced ultrasounds meant to humiliate women, and arbitrary waiting periods designed to inflict guilt in women who don’t necessarily have any. These measures are not pro-life. They don’t prevent abortion. They are anti-woman and anti-science and should be labeled as such and anyone who supports them should be rejected on those grounds.
But any person who calls themselves pro-life and doesn’t support comprehensive maternity care for all women regardless of income and Medicaid or other coverage for the indigent, working poor, institutionalized elderly and the disabled should be laughed out of the room. Or, they should be asked in all seriousness if they support “death panels” for the aged, indigent and disabled who otherwise can’t afford health care or assistance with the activities of daily living.
Where, exactly, do the Republicans think the 15 million people who will be thrown off Medicaid almost immediately by their proposal will go? Will the states make up the difference in their care? Will they magically become rich, young, or able-bodied? Should they wander the streets in rags and collect alms? Soylent green?
The Republican Party isn’t pro-life. It certainly isn’t Christian. And the Democrats should crucify them for it.