US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Why Roe v. Wade won’t be overturned

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The pro-life movement has made great gains legislatively in the past year, but it is doing little to win hearts and minds.

The issue of abortion in the health care debates—that abortion could be covered by plans purchased with government subsidies—made me wonder whether Catholics are culpable based on the fact that most purchase insurance through their employer that probably includes abortion coverage. Indeed, an American United for Life “model legislation and policy guide” published for this year says the debates increased awareness of this fact. It quotes Guttmacher, reporting that “87% of typical employer-based insurance policies in 2002 covered medically necessary or appropriate abortions.” When this document was published, five states had laws prohibiting abortion coverage. 

The National Women’s Law Center is defensively tracking these developments and counts 14 states that now prohibit insurance from covering abortion either completely or if they are purchased through a state exchange. Women who want abortion coverage can buy a rider package in these cases.

The most recent debate about Kansas’ prohibition, recently approved by Governor Sam Brownback, reveals why the pro-life movement might want to tread forward more gently with these proposals. At issue is not the prohibition of coverage, but the exception to the rule. Most, but not all prohibitions, include exceptions for coverage of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger. Some also include the exception of rape and incest. Kansas’ does not include the latter, leading to the following debate, in which a pro-life politician compared purchasing insurance for abortion in the case of rape or incest to having a spare tire on hand (according to this report):

During debate, Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, noted that abortions would not be covered for cases of rape and incest.

According to a report by The Associated Press, DeGraaf responded, “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?”

Bollier then asked, “And so, women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with pregnancy?”

DeGraaf then said, “I have a spare tire in my car. I also have life insurance. I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for.”

Bishops may have excommunicated those involved in the Arizona case of an abortion saving the life of the mother or even the more extreme case of a child pregnant with twins by her own father in Brazil, but moral theologians and devout pro-life Catholics struggled greatly with these extreme cases. So when a pro-life politician makes such a statement, it causes a great deal of defensiveness. Even if some were to applaud a girl for keeping her baby after being impregnated by her father, not allowing her to have access to abortion will push people from the “legal under certain circumstances” camp to “legal in all cases” camp out of fear.

The 2011 Gallup numbers show that the percent of American who would allow for abortion under some circumstances has dropped and more have gone in the direction of “pro-choice” than “pro-life.” After three years on top, the pro-life movement has lost its slim advantage of more people calling themselves pro-life than pro-choice.

A NYT Magazine piece says that pro-choice lobby is trying to be politically expedient in its moves (i.e., not fighting popular restriction on late-term abortions) but it mobilizes for extreme cases such as these. Indeed, the pro-choice movement has mobilized around the Kansas debate now, spinning abortion coverage into “rape insurance.”

For many years the bishops have strongly supported the Hyde Amendment, which includes the exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. While for some pro-life absolutists the inclusion of any exceptions is tantamount to formal collaboration with evil, the pro-life movement might actually gain ground by agreeing to compromises in the most extreme cases of rape and incest.