While Baptist Press promoted Kelly Bloggs’ shrill, CounterFactual, anti-abortion attack on health care reform, Eduardo Peñalver of Cornell Law School struggled with the daily human-life cost of U.S. health policies. Writing for the Catholic site dotCommonweal, Peñalver cited a new Harvard Medical School study which says:
Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday. “We’re losing more Americans every day because of inaction … than drunk driving and homicide combined,” Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters
Those were not concerns for Florida Baptist Witness editor James Smith, who was consumed with a conjectural cost in unborn lives, with fantasies of rationed health care and with attempting to prove Obama dishonest in his abortion reduction policies. On that last point, Smith’s arguments finally relied so heavily on arguments made by the National Right to Life Committee that they become almost identical to them. And he closes with a risible reference to “the danger inherent to the elderly” of rationed health care, as if health care were not already rationed. FactCheck.org tells us, and PolitiFact.com agrees, that no version of the health reform legislation proposes new health care rationing.
Peñalvers focused instead on the overarching life issue posed by the deaths of the uninsured and by abortion deaths. Both. He acknowledged the argument that those newly insured via health reform might use resources thus freed up to help pay for an abortion.
What he further considers, but Boggs and Smith do not, is the larger issue:
… wouldn’t this abortion-facilitating argument be equally true for any government subsidy of the poor? How, for example, is it different from saying that we should not give the poor food stamps because (for some undetermined number of people) that will free up money from their personal budgets that they will then use to go out and procure an abortion that they otherwise would not have been able to afford? Should we require food-stamp recipients to sign some pledge that they won’t use their private money to procure abortions? Given the various positions that Obama has taken to try to defuse the abortion issue in the health care context, that it may nonetheless indirectly subsidize abortions strikes me as a very odd argument against Catholics supporting health care reform.
It is similarly odd for Southern Baptists to lose themselves in sweeping claims that the president “and his base supporters in Congress” have an unacknowledged abortion agenda.
If the issue is indeed preservation of life, the Harvard study tells us there is a death every few minutes which suggests that it is not enough to seek fewer abortions.
When I first joined the Court, I needed to spend a lot of time researching what the original understanding was, since the lawyers would just quote the last Supreme Court case. There are now two for sure, thoroughgoing originalists on the Court, Clarence Thomas and myself. And I think the Court as a whole has become more receptive to originalism. I think – or perhaps I just hope – that American jurisprudence is moving away from an evolving Constitution to an enduring Constitution.
His concept of “originalism” is historically selective. His explanation elevates the transcient instructions of majorities of Congress to George Washington above the works of the framers, in particular James Madison. Through that slight of historic hand, Scalia rationalizes an essentially theocratic view of the Establishment Clause:
Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.
Scalia has abandoned the long abiding principle that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of citizens to pursue their own beliefs, mocking it with the assertion that such ideas are European in origin. In the course of his rationalization, he drifts off into a barely coherent story about how “‘G-d protects little children, drunkards and the United States of America.’ I think it may be true. And the reason may be because we honor Him as a nation. We invoke Him in our country, our Presidents invoke Him, my court open its sessions with “G-d save the United States.” Those things are not insignificant.”
Dr. Bruce Prescott looks directly at the narrow, restrictive nature of Scalia’s view:
Note how Protestants, Jews and Catholics are named and personalized in Scalia’s comments while the existence of non-religious persons can only be inferred from impersonal language. His comments appear to presume that non-religious persons have no rights of conscience.
Scalia’s historically selective approach tailors itself to the needs of the Religious Right only by carefully ignoring Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance.
Madison was, as Prescott observes, a framer of both the Constition and the Bill of Rights. Ignoring his Memorial and Remonstrance is a betrayal of legal scholarship and history to present-day partisanship.
In it Madison wrote [and Prescott quotes]:
If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,” all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience.” Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.
We knew the nation was in uncertain hands when the Supreme Court made an unelected George W. Bush president. Scalia makes it clear that under his leadership, basic freedoms are imperiled.
Twitter reminds us that Justice Scalia once famously cited Agent Jack Bauer — yes, the fictitious 24 character — to explain his belief that torture is necessary in time of crisis. Thanks also to John Hummel.
The President offered no evidence to support his claim that dollar-drunk docs are performing all manner of unnecessary medical procedures. There were no statistics supporting his claim that patients are mere prey for money-grubbing physicians; not even an anecdote was offered.
Thus Boggs implied that no such statistics and anecdotes were readily available.
Before implying that the president was misleading us, Boggs had a journalistic obligation to look for statistics and anecdotes. Failure to do so is, among professional journalists, a form of disregard for the truth.
Looking just a little would have showed Boggs that his argument was not exactly right.
The Congressional Budget office estimates 16% of the Gross Domestic Product — about $700 billion a year — “goes to healthcare spending that can’t be shown to improve health outcomes.”
One readily discovered anecdote is Consumer Reports’ account of Ron Spurgeon’s unnecessary cardiac bypass surgery at Redding Medical Center in northern California. Spurgeon “and 344 others sued the hospital and eight cardiologists and surgeons for performing unnecessary procedures. The defendants ultimately paid $442 million to settle the suit.”
Neither the CBO numberss nor the availability of anecdotes should surprise anyone.
The problem to which Obama alluded is so commonplace that CBS had on June 10 ran a consumer-information feature warning that as many as 40% of all medical procedures are unnecessary and explaining how consumers can protect themselves.
But Boggs was in a hurry. The reality or lack thereof of greedy doctors wasn’t his primary concern. Abortion was. Having castigated Obama for lack of statistics and anecdotes, Boggs wrote:
But let’s assume for the sake of argument the president is correct and mercenary medicine is indeed out of control in America. The one area he needs to set his sights on cleaning up first is those physicians who perform abortions.
Boggs argues that “85 to 90 percent, and more, of all abortions are carried out as a result of convenience” and fuel “a lucrative industry.” Apparently to illustrate how lucrative, he wrote:
Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, rakes in more than a billion dollars every year. And while PP is the largest peddler of elective abortions, it is by no means the only one. Needless to say, there is a lot of money available to greedy doctors willing to perform an unnecessary medical procedure.
It is true Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit corporation with a total budget of about $1 billion a year.
Yet as Wikipedia makes clear, Planned Parenthood’s budget isn’t the result of “raking in” abortion profits:
In 2007, contraception constituted 36% of total services, STI/STD testing and treatment constituted 31%, cancer testing and screening constituted 17%; other women’s health services, including pregnancy, prenatal, midlife, and infertility were 11%, and approximately 3% of total services involved surgical and medical abortions.
. . .
Planned Parenthood receives about a third of its money in government grants and contracts ($349.6 million in FY 2008). In the 2007–08 Annual Report, clinic income totaled $374.7 million and miscellaneous operating revenues $68.9 million. Planned Parenthood is also heavily sponsored by private individuals, with over 700,000 active individual contributors [.pdf] Large donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contribute a substantial part of the organization’s budget.
Undeterred by reality, Boggs charges on to his central point:
So, if President Obama is really serious about reforming health care by reducing the number of medically unnecessary procedures he will certainly call for the end of elective abortions, right?
That’s the first in a series of rhetorical questions with which Boggs hectors his readers. It’s rhetorical because Obama’s pro-choice views are well-known.
Boggs’ questions do bring us to his concluding erroneous argument — that health reform will use government funds to pay for abortion. His proof is an Aug. 5 news story:
In fact, the Associated Press recently reported, “Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions…”
The ellipses are his, BTW, and the AP story is not exactly the final word .
On August 7 PolitiFact.com examined the same issue. It did so by way of evaluating a claim by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that “The Democrat-backed health care reform plan “will require (Americans) to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.”
After exploring the matter in detail, PolitiFact concluded that “things could change as the health reform package works its way through Congress, but for now, we don’t see anything to support Boehner’s claim that taxpayers would subsidize abortions. And so we rule his statement False.”
Also not exactly right is Boggs’ conclusion that “If the president has his way, not only will medically unnecessary, elective abortion on demand continue unabated in America, it will be underwritten by the government and will likely only increase.”
The three wrote in rebuttal to a Baptist Press article, which they argue misportrayed the recently introduced Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 3312, referred to as the Ryan-DeLauro Bill).
Gushee, Hunter and Sider aren’t counterfactual. They don’t hector their readers with rhetorical questions. They do conclude:
Common-ground efforts to reduce abortion by addressing the circumstances that lead to it are consistent with the conviction that all life — the unborn, pregnant women, infants and children — is sacred. Honest dialogue about this innovative approach is imperative for those of us who aspire to protect life in concrete ways.
Plainly misrepresenting the content of the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and asserting in defiance of logic and evidence that it will increase rather than reduce abortion, does nothing to protect life. In fact, it does the opposite.
Addendum: Another anecdote
CounterFactual Boggs was so distressed at President Obama’s failure to offer anecdotes at his July 22 news conference that we’re adding another to the one already provided.
Adam Linker writes of a “physician who visited the emergency room when he came down with shingles. The doc, who teaches at Stony Brook University, got caught in a maze of over testing and ran up an unnecessary $9,000 bill.” The physician’s tale of expensive, time and money wasting, medically unproductive woe concludes:
One thing’s for sure: I’ve lost the smugness and condescension I often felt when listening to others’ stories about being trapped by the system and manipulated into excessively complex and specialized medical situations. Unlike most of my patients, I actually knew what my diagnosis was and what to do about it, but I learned how difficult it is to remain objective when you’re feeling very sick. Maybe I should have been more assertive. Instead, I wound up as a poster boy for excessive medicine. I understand now how all those people could have been so gullible, so easily manipulated by the system. Now that I’m one of them, that is.
Boggs and others may read Linker’s entire post here.