Friday, August 28, 2009

Health Care: Should Pro-Lifers Overlook the Bad for the Good? [SK]

A Facebook message:

If you don't like aspects of the [House health-care] plan, offer some comprehensive alternatives. All you are doing is promoting the status quo. If your plan is to reject the whole plan because it has something you don't like, then no plan will ever get implemented. We will continue until the current plan collapses. There are far more indirect ways to kill people within the current situation than abortion. The unborn may be your priority, but the practical results of a stalemate will be a choice for others to die. And even if the state doesn't pay for abortion, abortion will continue. I don't think abortion is a good idea, but I also don't believe legislation against it is the best way to prevent it. I think your energies would be far more effective elsewhere. To me the anti-abortion issue and the gay rights issue is simply two ways to raise outrage among Christians to raise money.
It's true that despite President Obama's protestations to the contrary, the House health care bill (HR 3200) allows coverage for abortion. (See here and here.) Nevertheless, my critic says I should set aside my objections in favor of the overall good state-run healthcare brings.

I can't do it. Too much is wrong here.

First, notice my critic confuses moral claims with preference ones. He writes: "If your plan is to reject the whole plan because it has something you don't like, then no plan will ever get implemented." Problem is, pro-life advocates like me oppose this plan not because we dislike abortion (indeed, one could like abortion and still argue it's immoral), but because we think abortion is morally wrong. Now, if he wants to argue that we're mistaken about that, so be it. Let him make that case. But notice he does no such thing. He simply changes the kind of claim the pro-lifer makes.

Second, my critic's objection to pro-life concerns over the health care legislation is question-begging. More than once, he simply assumes the unborn are not human. For example, suppose the legislation in question was near perfect, but funded the destruction of two year olds to provide comprehensive health care for the rest of us. Can you imagine, even for a moment, him saying, "Well, let's not reject the whole just because of something we don't like." Never in a million years. The only reason he argues this way about a health plan that funds the destruction of the unborn is because he's assuming, without argument, they are not human like the rest of us. But that's precisely the point he must argue for his case to logically succeed.

Third, we get this odd claim: "And even if the state doesn't pay for abortion, abortion will continue." Of course it will, just like alcoholism continues even though the state doesn't provide free beers. The more precise question is will abortion rates remain unchanged when the state pays instead of the individual? For his claim to have any real force, he needs to advance some kind of argument suggesting that abortion rates do not change substantially when the public foots the bill. But I'm unaware of any analyst who makes that claim while some make just the opposite one.

My critic also says that he "doesn't think abortion is a good idea" but thinks legislation is not the best way to prevent it and that pro-lifers would be far more effective if they spent their energies elsewhere. Oh? Where might that be? Again, we're not told. But there are bigger problems. For starters, he never says why he thinks abortion is not a good idea. That is, if abortion doesn't take the life of a defenseless human, why be opposed at all? But if it does take the life a human without justification, why is legislating against it a bad idea? Again, we're given no answer. Moreover, pro-lifers are not out to merely "prevent" elective abortion. We want to make it unthinkable the way that killing toddlers is unthinkable to anyone with a functioning conscience. In other words, a society that has few abortions, but leaves it legal to kill unborn humans, would still be deeply immoral. In short, reducing abortion isn't necessarily pro-life. (See Frank Beckwith's piece on that point here.) Imagine a 19th century lawmaker who said that slavery was not a good idea and he hoped to prevent it, but nevertheless owning slaves should remain legal. If those in power adopt his thinking, would this be a good society?

Again, I think my critic can only argue that abortion is bad, but should remain legal, because he assumes the unborn are not human, like slaves are. But that's the question that must be resolved before trumpeting the virtues of this particular health-care bill.

Finally, there is this parting shot: "To me the anti-abortion issue and the gay rights issue is simply two ways to raise outrage among Christians to raise money." Forget for the moment that he offers no evidence for his claim. I can reply to his charge with one word: So? Maybe we do and maybe we don't use these issues to raise money. Either way, how does this refute pro-life claims that 1) the unborn are human, and 2) it's wrong to kill them with state cash? What we have here is a classic case of the genetic fallacy--that is, faulting an idea for its origins rather than its substance. Instead of telling us why pro-lifers are wrong about the humanity of the unborn, my critic jumps right to my alleged motivation for doing pro-life work. As Greg Koukl points out, this just won't work. "Psychological motivations give you information about the one who believes, but they tell you nothing about the truth of his beliefs."


  1. This is one of the best pieces I've seen yet on the health care issue. Great job, Scott!

  2. I'm with you on this one Scott. Your other commenters here dissuaded me from my previous position on this bill regarding the abortion aspect.

    While I personally wouldn't vote against this bill because of the abortion aspect, it taints it very severely in my mind. I really wish it weren't part of the bill.


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