T.R. Reid had a powerful editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post that hit at the heart of why pro-life advocates should support the Senate health are bill. It is, in the words of Mitt Romney, “the ultimate pro-life effort”:
Increasing health-care coverage is one of the most powerful tools for reducing the number of abortions — a fact proved by years of experience in other industrialized nations. All the other advanced, free-market democracies provide health-care coverage for everybody. And all of them have lower rates of abortion than does the United States.
This is not a coincidence. There’s a direct connection between greater health coverage and lower abortion rates. To oppose expanded coverage in the name of restricting abortion gets things exactly backward. It’s like saying you won’t fix the broken furnace in a schoolhouse because you’re against pneumonia. Nonsense! Fixing the furnace will reduce the rate of pneumonia. In the same way, expanding health-care coverage will reduce the rate of abortion.
It’s hard to find a direct correlation between universal health care and abortion rates, but my colleague Jessica Arons points to this Guttmacher Institute data which suggests that poorer women are less likely to abort their pregnancies when they know they’ll be able to provide their babies with needed care. “Overall unintended pregnancy rates have stagnated over the past decade, yet unintended pregnancy increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women,” the data shows. “Between 1996 and 2000, while abortion rates for all other groups fell, abortion rates among poor and low-income women increased. Women below the federal poverty level have abortion rates almost four times those of higher-income women.” It’s a fairly logical argument that hasn’t penetrated the abortion debate: pregnant women who don’t have access to affordable health care for their babies or for themselves may be more encouraged to abort their pregnancies than woman who can meet the medical needs of their children. Similarly, women who have access to affordable health care can purchase affordable contraceptives — be taught how to use them — and prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place.
“The key,” Arons explains, “is universal coverage, where everyone knows there is a safety net for them and any children they decide to have, combined with medically accurate sex education and a healthy attitude toward sex. Because the U.S. lacks all of these, we have the highest unintended pregnancy and abortion rates of all industrialized nations.” It’s why a group of 25 “pro-life Catholic theologians and Evangelical leaders” sent a letter to Congress urging them to look past the misinformation on abortion and pass health care reform and the Catholic Health Association calls reform “’a major first step’ toward covering all Americans and would make ‘great improvements’ for millions of people.’” Pro-life advocates in the House should take note.