Monday, February 21, 2011

The Unfairness Of It All

Viewed objectively, life can be just as ugly as it is beautiful. And as much as we cherish it, life is not fair. Sometimes people are punished because of that inherent disparity. Case in point, the concerted attack on abortion rights by the Republican members of the House of Representatives. For years now abortion has been a hot button issue guaranteed to arouse emotions all the while excluding the emotions of the women whose doctors have informed them that, for reasons they can't always explain, an abortion is a medically necessary procedure. It's not fair, but those women must decide.

Sympathy and empathy are pushed aside in the singular theme labeled as pro-life. They fortify their position by inferring that if you are not pro-life then you are for killing babies. It's preposterous to think anyone is for killing babies, but it is effective to portray them as such. This he-who-is-not-with-us-is-against-us position has been useful throughout the ages. George W. Bush used it to promote the Global War on Terrorism. Stalin used it to enforce his stranglehold on the Soviet Union. Matthew tells us that even Christ used it. To say that someone who doesn't agree with you is against you draws a line in the sand that says you must choose one side or the other which, in turn, inhibits discussion and civil discourse. There's no better way to put someone on the defensive than to accuse them of wanting to kill babies.

Beginning in 1976, Congress attached a piece of legislation known as the Hyde Amendment as a rider to the funding bills for the Department of Health and Human Services. It primarily affects Medicaid and it bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. House Resolution 3, entitled the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, further constrains the abilities of women to receive a necessary medical procedure whose name we are conditioned to speak with both shame and disdain. The act would deny the use of federal funds for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. It would not allow the expenses of an abortion to be counted as a tax-deductible medical expense. And if funds from a tax-preferred trust/account established for the purpose of paying medical expenses are used to pay for an abortion, the amount paid would be included in the gross income of the beneficiary. Business and non-profit organizations offering health insurance plans that include abortion coverage would lose the tax benefits they would normally receive by offering their employees health care. If enacted it's possible that a business employing single men would pay more taxes simply because their health insurance covers abortion. On the plus side, however, there are no restrictions on coverage for erectile disfunction.

Last week the Republican-dominated House also voted to approve the Pence Amendment which removes federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Speaking in support of the amendment, Texas Representative John Culberson couldn't have stated it any more plainly when he said, "Planned Parenthood could solve this public policy problem they've got by simply refusing to perform abortions." One could try to give Mr Culberson the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he is unaware that federal funds aren't used to pay for abortions or that abortion is legal. But even if he were, his intent and purpose is obvious.

During debate, New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, author of House Resolution 3, read graphic details of an abortion from a book written by a woman who went through the experience. Many years ago I sat through such a description from a man who saw it firsthand. It was heart wrenching to hear and the bile of moral condemnation rose quickly in my throat. And yet as Representative Jackie Speier of California, responding to Mr Smith's calloused portrayal of women callously seeking abortions, spoke of her own experience I'd like to think some of her House members learned something I became aware of some years ago--just how little I know and how inappropriate my condemnation can be. Speier experienced the heartbreaking loss of a child, not a cavalier termination of an inconvenient pregnancy.

Not all pregnancies are perfect. Some go horribly awry. It's not fair but that's the way life is. Is it right to add to the unfairness and punish women who may suffer a similar tragedy as Jackie Speier?

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