Monday, May 17, 2010

Does Better Health Care Coverage Reduce Abortion?

In his most recent column, T.R. Reid posits a connection between the absence of national health coverage in the United States and the unusually high number of abortions. Comparing the U.S. to other industrialized nations, Reid points out that the U.S. has a substantially higher rate of abortion than countries that have adopted national health care systems. The author uses this as evidence to suggest that opponents of abortion should be more willing to accept national health care as a way to advance their cause.

However, Reid’s argument ignores at least two other important points.

First, Reid fails to acknowledge the wide range of abortion rates among countries that have adopted national health care systems. The variation among states with universal health care is far greater than the variation between the United States and the United Kingdom. In Germany, for example, the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44 is 7.8 per 1000 women, compared to 17 per 1000 women in the United Kingdom. (The rate in the United States is 20.8 per 1000 women.) This suggests that, when it comes to abortion rates, the health care system may not be as important as more subtle forces like culture.

Second, Reid does not take into account national teen pregnancy rates, which are far higher in the United States than in other industrialized countries. Because higher rates of teen pregnancy are likely connected to higher abortion rates, it seems plausible that there is a third variable – perhaps some measure of social responsibility – contributing to both the absence of a national health care system in the United States and the higher rates of teen pregnancy and abortion. Isn't it possible that American couples are less responsible about pregnancy because they have less of a sense of responsibility to society? Wouldn't this lack of social responsibility also make Americans less concerned about the uninsured?

Unfortunately, Reid chooses not to even consider this possibility. He simply asserts that there are “various reasons” why universal health care reduces the rate of abortion, acting as though correlation automatically implies causation.

As a supporter of national health care and abortion rights, I wish Reid’s contention were true. But wishing does not make it so. In his eagerness to connect national health care with lower rates of abortion, Reid overlooks essential details and relies far too extensively on testimonial evidence.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is Kagan a Closed Book?

I don't know much about Elena Kagan yet, but I intend to read as much as I can in the coming weeks. So far, the general consensus seems to be that she's suspiciously uncontroversial.

In his column today, David Brooks argues that Kagan has never taken any real 'intellectual risks' in the course of her legal career. She has cautiously -- strategically -- hidden her feelings from the public. (Andrew Sullivan follows up and makes similar comments here.)

While it's certainly fair to wonder about Kagan's stance on important issues and to speculate about these kinds of things, it strikes me as a little cynical to assume that she's been deliberately concealing her views all this time.

Isn't it possible that Kagan is just one of those rare individuals who is able to see many sides of an issue? Because, if that's the case, she's exactly the kind of person that I would want on the Supreme Court.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Trim the Beard, Andrew!

Poor Andrew Sullivan. His readers have finally rebelled against his awful, unkempt beard.

My favorite dissent:

Was that a beard, or did a beaver die on your face? What am I saying? You'd never let a beaver anywhere near your face.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of beards. But come on, Andrew. This is just out of control . . .

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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Arizona Law: Why Rachel Maddow's Approach is Wrong

Discussing the new Arizona immigration law in his NYT column today, Ross Douthat writes:

Critics of Arizona’s new immigration law have not been shy about impugning the motives of its supporters. The measure, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they question or detain, has been denounced as a “Nazi” or “near-fascist” law, a “police state” intervention, an imitation of “apartheid,” a “Juan Crow” regime that only a bigot could possibly support.

Faced with this kind of hyperbole, the supposed bigots have understandably returned the favor, dismissing opponents of the Arizona measure as limousine liberals who don’t understand the grim realities of life along an often-lawless border. And so the debate has become a storm of insults rather than an argument.
I think this is absolutely correct. Instead of an honest discussion over whether this legislation could lead to unequal treatment, we've seen a barrage of ad hominem attacks against those who supported it.

The other night on MSNBC, for example, Rachel Maddow spend an awful lot of time accusing members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) organization -- a group that lobbied in favor of the Arizona law -- of racism:

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I'm sure that Maddow is right on the specifics here. It certainly seems that Dan Stein, the president of FAIR, distorted the facts. And I have no doubt that some members of FAIR have made racist comments in the past.

But FAIR is a large organization, with members from many different backgrounds. Maddow's attempts to portray FAIR as some kind of hate group strike me quite a stretch. Though some left-wing groups have leveled similar charges against FAIR in the past, the organization has really been able to maintain its tax-exempt status because it's not all that radical, and it adheres to the strict legal guidelines that are imposed on all tax-exempt groups.

In 2005, it was FAIR that explicitly condemned a leading member of the Protect Arizona Now (PAN) committee for her unabashedly racist remarks. (That member, Virginia Abernethy, was ultimately expelled from PAN.)

FAIR has worked hard to reject the use of discriminatory language, but the sad truth is that FAIR is an anti-immigration organization, and it's not difficult to find some members in any anti-immigration organization who have racist views. There is clearly some ideological overlap between those who oppose immigration and those who support white nationalism.

But even if FAIR is a racist organization, what does this really tell us about the legitimacy of the Arizona law?

Today, you can find dozens of explicitly racist groups that support gun rights. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which has identified FAIR as a "hate group" -- has often pointed to the strong political ties between pro-gun organizations and white supremacist groups.

Does this mean that any bill designed to protect gun rights that is strongly endorsed by white supremacist organizations should be dismissed as racist? Maybe. But lots of other people -- myself included -- strongly support gun rights for completely legitimate reasons. Proving that some supporters of a piece of legislation are racist does not prove that all supporters of the legislation are racist, or that the legislation itself is racist.

Instead of trying to show that the Arizona law is racist because some groups that supported it may have racist motives, why not just look at what the law does? These other debates quickly distract us from the point. It's not difficult to see why the Arizona law may lead to unequal treatment under the law. For those of us who oppose the legislation, that should really be our primary focus.

Calling people racists doesn't usually make them rethink their position. When you begin with these kinds of ad hominem attacks, the argument quickly becomes about the character of those who support or oppose the law, rather than the lives of those who are actually affected by it.