EJ Dionne asks, “If you’re a conservative strongly opposed to abortion, shouldn’t you want to give all the help you can to women who want to bring their children into the world? In particular, wouldn’t you hope they’d get the proper medical attention during and after their pregnancy?”
One would think that the obvious answer to each is “yes” or “of course.” For Christian Democrats, the strongest conservative party in a number of countries, ensuring that pregnant women and their children have access to quality healthcare is a top priority.
For pro-life Democrats here in the US, ensuring that pregnant women receive quality maternity care has been at the center of the movement’s agenda. As a Fellow at Democrats for Life of America, I have seen that pro-life Democrats (1) believe that access to universal healthcare is a fundamental human right; (2) genuinely care about the health and well-being of pregnant women; (3) care as much about preventing miscarriages and driving down the infant mortality rate as protecting unborn children from direct abortions; and (4) are committed to ensuring that pregnant women and their children have access to quality healthcare, as this will alleviate a tremendous concern for many poor and vulnerable women, which is good in and of itself, but also crucial in helping women to choose life.
So why are so many self-identified “pro-life” Republicans in the media and Congress opposing expanded coverage of maternity care and even mocking it? The biggest reason is that a large segment of the pro-life movement is not consistently or wholly pro-life. They are strictly anti-abortion in the sense that they want to prohibit abortion. Surely many think this is the best way to save unborn lives, but this limited approach is grossly inadequate compared to pro-life Democrats’ plan to secure legal protection for unborn lives, while simultaneously working to alleviate the conditions that lead many women (even those who consider themselves pro-life) to procure abortions.
What is behind the adoption of such a limited approach? Is it their conservatism? It is in fact their particular brand of conservatism, one infected by excessive individualism and radical libertarianism. This is clear when we consider the way health insurance works and why some pro-lifers support universal healthcare and others oppose it.
The reason that men need to contribute to the costs of maternity care, even though they will not get pregnant, is because it is so expensive. It is essential to share costs. This is the only way to ensure that all women and their unborn children are covered.
As Michael Hiltzik notes, cross-subsidies are common throughout Obamacare. It is the only way to ensure access to quality, affordable healthcare for the vulnerable, such as those with preexisting conditions who would otherwise struggle to pay for the treatment they need. We help to pay for things we will never need.
Christian Democrats accept this. Authentic compassionate conservatives accept this. Why don’t these Republicans in the media and Congress who consider themselves pro-life?
It is here where the individualism and libertarianism of the movement comes into play. Now we might not expect conservatives to find contemporary liberals’ arguments about enlightened self-interest compelling. Sure, many could hypothetically be persuaded that healthy women and children are good for society and that this will in turn benefit them. Alternatively, one could argue that women should not have to pay more for health insurance, simply because of their sex. One could point out that men play a fairly critical role in the pregnancy process, as both Hiltzik and Dionne do. Yet such arguments about fairness are unlikely to be compelling, as well, as this understanding of fairness is more generally associated with contemporary liberalism.
But what about conservative ideals? Conservatives are supposed to believe in community, in duty, in the common good. Yet these notions are often wholly absent from the rhetoric of right-wing pro-lifers or twisted by their fanatical hatred of government. Some are so anti-government that center-right proposals resemble communism in the alternate reality they have constructed, where they are the heroic defenders of liberty in a nation on the precipice of a descent into tyranny.
I have met extremely thoughtful and compassionate conservative pro-lifers, who have a strong sense of duty and commitment to their understanding of the common good. Unfortunately, pro-life Republicans of this nature are underrepresented in Congress. One is far more likely to find an Ayn Rand-loving man-child with a cultish devotion to the market and an ideology that is fundamentally selfish.
Sure they might praise private charity or philanthropy. Some even spend their time or money on these for non-cynical reasons. But at a fundamental level, they lack a commitment to duty—to protecting the most vulnerable in the most effective and comprehensive way. They lack a real commitment to the common good. Individual rights trump community. Individual rights trump human dignity. Individual rights trump human life.
If the pro-life movement will succeed in its goals, it is essential that these radical individualists move from the core to the periphery of the movement. Only a bipartisan movement of pro-life Democrats and genuine compassionate conservatives can deliver real success. This means the pro-life movement must do more to support pro-life Democrats and to challenge the growing strength of individualism and libertarianism within the Republican Party and the pro-life movement itself. The question is: will the movement figure this out before it’s too late?