I. What Does it Mean That Health-Care is a Right?
Catholics believe that health care is a right. Many other Christians probably feel the same way, whether they define it precisely like that or not. Where there is a lot of legitimate disagreement is on the appropriate level of care to provide, how much money to spend in a cash-strapped economy to achieve the legitimate ends of health care, how large of a role the government should play, and so forth. Sincere Catholics can take both sides on every one of these issues – there’s simply not a “right answer” on these in the same way that there are on other moral issues.
Think about it this way: food is as much a fundamental right as medical care. But that doesn’t mean that we require the government to take over the entire dining industry. Sure, money buys you better quality. Fast food is greasier, less tasty, and much worse for you, health-wise. You can also afford less food if you’re poor, a point which almost goes without saying. So the fundamental right to food (and its pair, the mandate to feed the hungry) establishes a base-line. We’re to ensure that the poor are fed, that they have sustenance, but we’re not required to serve up filet mignons.
So I think that virtually all Christians agree that if someone is an urgent need of care, and care can be made available, it should be. I’ve yet to hear a non-nominal Christian dispute the requirement that emergency rooms treat everyone, regardless of insurance: and for good reason. It’s almost impossible to both hold to a Christian charity for the needy, and a refusal to aid those needing emergency treatment. That’s one extreme. The other extreme would be something like personal doctors or nurses. It’d be great to be back in the old days of medical professionals making house calls, but no one really thinks there’s enough money (or professionals) to achieve such an unrealistic goals. So regardless of our positions on health-care, we’re all tempered on one hand by charity, and on the other by pragmatism.
II. Illegal Immigration and Abortion
John Armstrong has written an excellent post on the role of abortion in the proposed health care bill. The crux of the argument is this: President Obama and the Congressional Democrats have repeatedly made two arguments: (1) that it won’t extend coverage to illegal immigrants, and (2) that abortion won’t be covered in the final version. On both of these issues, Congressional Dems have refused to include any sort of enforcement mechanism. For immigration, they refuse to require ID checks (the only realistic way you could hope to distinguish between citizens, legal and non-legal immigrants). For abortion, for example, they struck down the Pence Amendment (in the House) and the Hatch Amendment (in the Senate); the latter on straight party lines in the Senate Finance Committee.
I’m pleased with the idea that illegal immigrants will be able to access health care, because I think that any standard of care which we feel we should (morally) provide every US citizen, regardless of their ability to afford, we should also provide non-cititzens, regardless of their legal status. I don’t think denial of health care is an appropriate penalty for illegal immigration. I certainly understand both sides on the issue, and I’m not against some level of immigration enforcement, but knowing the sort of red tape surrounding the immigration issue, it’s hard to blame people who overstay their legal welcome (while waiting on forms from US or home country government bureaucrats), etc. And again, even if they warrant some form of punishment, surely there’s something more humane than denial of healthcare?
The reason that I even include the immigration issue is simply because on both of these issues the Democrats are saying one thing publicly, and doing quite another. When the Congressional Republicans have tried to ensure (through legislation) that they lived up to their promises, they shot down the measures… every time. The system just becomes: “Trust us!”
I get it, politicians lie. But lying to people about whether they will or won’t be paying for abortions seems particularly evil. Even if you’re pro-choice, it seems like the only moral option would be to let someone know that they’re violating their own principles. I’m reminded here of an incident where a woman I know brought mincemeat cookies to work, and didn’t know what to do when her Hindu coworkers started eating them: even though she wasn’t Hindu (and didn’t think eating beef was wrong), she recognized that she shouldn’t purposely get people to violate their moral systems. In this case, it was sort of too late, but she certainly wouldn’t have advertised the cookies as beef-less to get more people to eat them. One might think that Obama and the Congressional Dems are just factually wrong, not lying; I’d like to think the same. But the fact that they won’t just agree to some specific legislative language to prevent any new abortion funding suggests that they’re not being honest or serious about this.
III. So What Should a Christian Do?
If a health-care proposal had a provision re-legalizing slavery, would we wait and see how good the quality of care was before rejecting it outright? Of course not. This would be a legitimate time to be “single-issue” minded. There’s simply no question on the health care topic. If a bill has provisions which seem to fund abortion (as this one does), and lawmakers refuse to ensure that the bill won’t fund new abortions, we can’t vote for it. And every single time we compromise these basic principles, because we think that the benefit (be it health-care or whatever), we do a terrible disservice to the least of these, in this case, the unborn.
I know that there is a growing chorus on the Christian Left saying, “sure, the abortion provision isn’t ideal, but we really need health-care!” Ignore that voice. First, the only reason we’ve come to the position where we’re being asked to choose between health-care and protecting unborn life is because we’ve constantly compromised our morals for political gain. Second, it’s pretty unclear that this magically-funded bill will be able to even deliver on its promises, so we may submit to evil and get nothing out of it (as is often the case). And third, as a nation, we need to break away from a “good ends justify evil means” mentality. This is the mentality that permitted torture on the Right and permits abortion on the Left. It’s long past time that authentic Christian men and women, regardless of denomination, realize that this sort of consequentialism is completely incompatible with what we believe as Christians and as moral Americans.