Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stupak and the NYT

In criticizing the Stupak Amendment this past Monday, the NYT Editorial Board wrote:

The bill brought to the floor already included a careful compromise that should have satisfied reasonable legislators on both sides of the abortion issue. The vast majority of people expected to buy policies on the new exchanges would pay part of the premium and receive government tax credits to pay for the rest. The compromise would have prohibited the use of the tax subsidies to pay for almost all abortions, but it would have allowed the segregation and use of premium contributions and co-payments to pay for such coverage.

I'm opposed to the Stupak Amendment and broadly in favor of abortion rights, but I don’t see how this original compromise could be considered “reasonable.” Money is fungible. There is no way to 'segregate' the tax subsidies from the abortion coverage. Either the federal government funds abortion or it doesn't.

This seems a rather obvious point. In fact, read what the NYT Editorial Board wrote just over a year ago in its commentary ('Money Really is Fungible') on executive pay caps:

Just weeks after the Treasury Department gave nine of the nation’s top banks $125 billion in taxpayer dollars to save them from unprecedented calamity, bank executives are salting money away in billionaire bonus pools to reward themselves for their performance.

Outraged? The bankers (who didn’t anticipate the subprime crisis) were ready for that. So they are assuring everyone that this self-directed largess won’t be paid with the same dollars they got from taxpayers. They’ll use other ones.

What we want to know is will they be marking the bills so they can be sure which is which?

Is there any real difference between these two situations, other than the fact that the former involves abortion and the latter involves greedy bank executives? How can you recognize the absurdity of one scenario, and consider the other “reasonable”?

If the NYT Editorial Board was honest, it would make the case that abortions should be publically funded. Instead, it has decided to chastise abortion opponents who refused to accept an illogical compromise.

Update: Conor Friedersdorf responds to Ann Friedman's post on the Stupak Amendment:

There are many women in the United States who oppose abortion, and if asked would agree that federal money shouldn’t fund it, so the assertion that the amendment throws 50 percent of the population under the bus isn’t accurate, unless one takes the position that these anti-abortion women are suffering from false consciousness.

Friedman's reply:

Actually, no matter what their beliefs about abortion, every woman in this country is indeed screwed over by this amendment. Many, many women who are opposed abortion rights have exercised those rights themselves -- whether for health reasons or because, when it came right down to it, they simply found themselves making a different choice than they thought they would in that situation.

Megan McArdle is concerned with Friedman's argument:

[A]s a response, this seems to trivialize the preferences of pro-life women in a way that I find pretty disturbing from feminists. In what other area of life is it okay to pat the little lady on the head and tell her that she doesn't really want what she says she wants, because she might regret it later?

. . .

Obviously, since I'm pro-choice, I think you can argue against abortion control in many effective ways. But this is not one of them--at least not if you hew to the feminist notion that women are entitled to their own choices and preferences as individuals, not lumped in with some vast undifferentiated mass of women who all want the same thing.


Emily said...

You're right about the money being fungible. I don't think it should matter what a person would use their tax credit/subsidy/government money for, as long as it is for a legal, medical procedure, which abortion is. The NYT probably should have just backed public funding for abortion, and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is something the Guttmacher Institute has recommended.

But anyway. A reader wrote into Andrew Sullivan the other day about the separation of church and government money for parochial schools- it seems that they are able to do it (public money for books and pencils, church money for religious stuff) why can't we do it for abortions?

Here's the link the the Sully post:

mikhailbakunin said...

As an undergraduate, I took a course that focused on the Supreme Court's shifting interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

The Court has waffled on this issue of school funding ever since it incorporated the Establishment Clause against the states in Everson v. Board of Education.

I think that progressives have rightly criticized the Court for adopting an incoherent standard. You cannot 'segregate' public funding of secular textbooks in parochial schools from public funding of religious instruction.

To me, all of this feigned concern over process is masking the fact that Americans simply have different value-orientations. People should really be asking themselves whether they support or oppose public funding for abortion, religious instruction, or whatever else.

These funding "compromises" just don't make any sense.

(BTW, of course Guttmacher recommended the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Part of their mission is to "expand [access to services] that will enable women and men to . . . exercise the right to choose abortion.")

mikhailbakunin said...

Like I said, I'm in favor of using public money to fund abortion coverage. But I think it's important to point out that abortion is only legal because the Supreme Court made it legal.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court also upheld the Hyde Amdendment, and ruled that a women does not have a "constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices."