Sunday, November 21, 2004

What's good for the goose

During my constitutional law class, I discussed Rust v. Sullivan with Charles Fried after class and he was quite dismissive of the argument that the refusal of the federal government to fund family planning organizations that discuss abortion as an option could be framed as coercive. I was grudgingly persuaded.

Perhaps Fried's gentle powers of persuasion should be directed toward the National Right to Life Committee, which is currently gloating over the last minute introduction of an abortion rider to the omnibus spending bill:
The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection'' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.

"It's something we've had a longstanding interest in," said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee. He added, "This is in response to an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions."

(Emphasis added by yours truly)

UPDATE: Dylan claims that foregoing government subsidy will effectively cripple any health care providers that don't offer abortions because of the comparative disadvantage this puts them in with respect to other providers. But couldn't you say the same thing about women's health clinics? If the government has the choice to fund a Catholic women's clinic or Planned Parenthood and it chooses the former, PP will remain tiny while its competitor will expand.

Dylan also seems to think that health care providers who lack these protections are at risk of going under and not being able to provide any services at all. This is only the case if health care providers require government money to exist and if the state and local governments pass these laws. This isn't the repeal of some federal directive that blocks access to Medicare dollars by Catholic hospitals. It's a provision that prevents state and local agencies from using the provision of abortion services as a condition of dealing with the state. If a state wants to deal only with hospitals that provide a full menu of services, they are prevented from doing so and are forced to consider service providers who offer a smaller basket of goods on equal footing with those who provide abortion. It is restriction and regulation - of state and local agencies. That's anti-Federalist, and bad policy.

No doctor is being forced to perform abortions or quit his job. He may not have liked the choices he had under the pre-rider scheme, but he had a choice. Now the state and local governments have no choice. The policymakers there may base their support of abortion on a moral conviction. A doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath and feels morally bound to provide his patients with what he believes are the best health care options for them will be balked in fulfilling his moral obligation by the new rider. Pooh-poohing the convictions of pro-choicers is no way to debate the issue productively. I think Will has effectively dealt with the problems with tying government subsidies to foregoing rights.
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