Tuesday October 23, 2012

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare often complain that it represents a big government takeover of health care, though when pressed to explain how they come up short. For a real and truly frightening example of big government intrusion on the health of individuals look no further than the tangled web of punitive state laws restricting abortions (Eagle, Oct. 21). There is a real danger that these horrors could be afflicted on the nation as a whole in the years ahead.

In 31 states, governors and legislators -- nearly all of them Republicans and thus supposedly anti-government and pro-individual rights -- have passed laws to get around Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Constitution gave women the right to make their own decisions about their bodies. In these states, politicians have paternalistically decided that they should dictate health care decisions to women. In Mississippi, doctors are required by law to warn women about abortion risks that the medical community says don’t exist. In Texas, doctors are required by law to tell women that abortion is linked to cancer, a falsehood according to the National Cancer Institute. Many states have instituted waiting periods and needless tests to cynically discourage women from having abortions.

There is no banning of abortion, of course. Before it was legalized in the United States, women confronted with a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy would put their health at risk by going to unqualified abortion providers. Eighteen years ago, when he was running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a moderate, Mitt Romney spoke of a relative who died of complications of an illegal abortion to explain why he was pro-abortion rights. Shapeshifting to appeal to the tea party extreme right that today dominates the Republican Party, presidential nominee Romney now vilifies Roe vs. Wade.

The way to reduce abortions dramatically, as a recent Washington University study attests, is to make contraception readily available at little or no cost. Sex education also must play a key role. Making it difficult to get safe and legal abortions, or repealing Roe vs. Wade, which could happen if Supreme Court vacancies emerge and are filled by right-wing judicial activists, will again send women to the back alleys to be butchered. That’s the ultimate cost when government meddles in the rights of women.