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Is President Obama a “pro-life hero”?

Is President Obama a “pro-life hero”?

An intriguing argument from Eric C. Miller at Religion Dispatches: Barack Obama Pro-life hero.


The deck beneath that headline reads: “Yes, really”, so you know the author is not expecting to be taken at his word. But here is the argument:

On October 3rd researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine published a study with profound implications for policymaking in the United States. According to Dr. Jeffery Peipert, the study’s lead author, abortion rates can be expected to decline significantly—perhaps up to 75 percent—when contraceptives are made available to women free of charge. Declaring himself “very surprised” at the results, Peipert requested expedient publication of the study, noting its relevance to the upcoming election.

As most observers surely know, the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) requires insurance coverage for birth control, a provision staunchly opposed by most of the same religious conservatives who oppose legalized abortion. If Peipert is correct, however, the ACA may prove the single most effective piece of “pro-life” legislation in the past forty years.

Read the whole thing, then give us your take in the comments.

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Benedict Varnum

To Chris H.'s point, contraceptive coverage shouldn't make anyone's insurance "jump."

One of the (less understood) aspects of the ACA is that it shifts policy priority to preventative medicine and away from treating symptoms. (This leads to all sorts of ethical questions that deserve their own treatment, such as whether doctors, facing the possibility of fines if their patients are re-admitted for preventable symptoms, will refuse to accept as many medicare patients -- medicare being the federal government's primary "stick" to wield).

We could also raise a number of ethical questions of whether "prevention is less expensive than care" should be applied to pregnancy. Some of these get us back to VERY long-standing theological debates about the potential of human reason to oppose divine will in creation (and, specifically, procreation), or even arguments between the scholastics and nominalists in the late medieval period (is the purpose of each instance of sex to attain so nearly as it may to "ideal" sex, including, by this theology, procreation? or can an individual instance of sex be considered without reference to a "universal" form, and have good/bad/neutral characteristics?).

All of that said, on an economic level, preventing pregnancy through contraception is less expensive than caring for it (this is why insurance companies were largely -- and so far as I know universally -- without serious complaint around the exemptions for religious employers, under which the insurer must provide contraceptive care without charge; it saves them money to do so . . . although in the past they could certainly be happy to make extra money by charging for it on top of the money it saved).

There's plenty that Christians of conscience might raise an eyebrow (or a theological voice) about in the Affordable Care Act, but the arguments that it will bankrupt the government or raise costs on individuals seem, so far as any health care analyst I've heard describe them, to be non-starters.

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Chris H.

John, I think you're right that the effect is overstated. Studies I have seen show that about 50% of the women surveyed weren't sure whether they wanted to get pregnant or not. "If it happens, it happens" or "I want kids and if I wait 'till I'm ready I might never have 'em, so maybe it might be a good thing" type of ideas. Free contraception won't help in those cases when reality hits and they change their minds. Working at a pharmacy I know that a large number of women who have access don't take them correctly or worry until it's too late.

Also, be ready for your insurance to jump again. There doesn't seem to be limits in the legislation regarding free contraception, name brand vs. generic, etc. and some of them cost $100+ per month. My own pharmacy insurance will cost 40% more next year, and a big part of that is because of this.

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Gary Paul Gilbert

It makes sense that the incidence of abortions would decline if contraception were more readily available.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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John B. Chilton

People respond to incentives so I wouldn't be surprised if you stopped someone on the street and choose any scotch for free they'd chose one more expensive than they're drinking now. But some won't be scotch drinkers at all.

The study actually went farther. The women were not randomly selected. In my analogy with scotch it's as if you set up a free scotch booth. These were women who wanted contraceptives and had the forethought to arrange for it -- though it was free. So the effect is overstated. This article is more clear about the design: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_130240.html

This also reminds me of the Tuskegee experiments. Yes, the women are making choices. But the effect of these choices collectively on a large scale will have a profound on racial demographics down the road. That may be an unintended effect of free contraceptives. And if we recognize the effect is it just an easy way out of solving the failure of society to leveling the playing field for those born without a privileged background.

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Ann Fontaine

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