What 'women's health' really means

Reuters

An anti-abortion demonstrator passes the U.S. Capitol as he takes part in the "March for Life" in Washington January 23, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • When your grandma gets bad news, do you tell her: “Well, at least you have your abortion rights”?

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  • It is bizarre to suggest that women’s health and abortion rights are interchangeable.

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  • It’s abortion-rights extremists who boil down “women’s health” to a single issue.

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When your grandmother gets some bad news, do you tell her: “Well, at least you have your abortion rights”?

Why not? Maybe it’s because whatever you think of abortion, the right to have one is not synonymous with a woman’s health.

But don’t tell that to the liberal group Think Progress. On Twitter, it recently teased some shocking news: “Why 2013 is shaping up to be the worst year for woman’s [sic] health in modern history.”

When I followed to the linked story, there was nothing about a spike in cervical- or breast-cancer rates. Nothing about occupational safety for female workers and no mention of female life expectancy either. Instead, the story was about how the ACLU says anti-abortion laws are on the rise across the country.

Of course, this sort of thing is all over the place. Under the headline “Losing the Global Fight for Women’s Health,” Luisita Lopez Torregrosa, the “Female Factor” columnist for the international edition of the New York Times, writes of the allegedly horrific threat to women’s health posed by restrictive abortion laws in places like Africa, Asia, and Latin America. She makes no mention of the estimated 160 million women “missing” in Asia alone who were killed in gender-selective abortions.

Even the most ardent pro-life activist readily concedes that there are instances when an abortion is in the interest of the mother’s health. But it is bizarre to suggest that women’s health and abortion rights are interchangeable. The biggest killer of women is heart disease, followed by cancer, then stroke. I couldn’t find “lack of a timely abortion” on the CDC list.

And yet, President Obama — and nearly every other abortion-rights supporter — blithely accuses Republicans of wanting to make women’s “health-care choices” for them.

“You’ve got a state legislature up here that sometimes acts like it knows better than women when it comes to women’s own health-care decisions,” the president said at a typical rally in New Hampshire during the last campaign. “You know, my opponent’s got the same approach.”

How odd from the eponymous father of Obamacare, which will mandate that women (and men) pay for insurance coverage they don’t need. It will cause many women (and men) to lose their existing health-care plans. It will empower bureaucrats to decide what treatments for women (and men) the government will reimburse and which it won’t. Under Obamacare, women who smoke or are overweight can be charged 30 percent to 50 percent more for their health insurance.

These features are defensible from a liberal or statist point of view, but not if you actually believe that women have a special and unique right to make “health-care decisions” for themselves wholly unfettered by the government.

Which raises one irony to all this. By any objective measure, liberals are far more eager to use the government to make health-care decisions for women, because liberals want to make health-care decisions for all Americans — slightly more than half of whom are female. It’s Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg — not Michele Bachmann and Mitch McConnell — who want to tell women what they should eat and drink and how much they should exercise.

Conservatives want to leave it to women to make their own choices: about what to eat, whether to smoke, how fast they can drive, whether they can own a gun, etc. Many conservatives would also like to see women live long enough to have the chance to make those decisions, rather than be snuffed out in utero.

Of course, this argument will be wholly unpersuasive to the folks shouting the loudest about “women’s health decisions.” Which raises an even greater irony. The basic conservative or pro-life view is that abortion is different from other health-care decisions because there’s a harmed party other than the mother. This fact, not sexism or traditionalism or theology, is what trumps the general conservative preference for individual freedom. You don’t have an unfettered right to harm someone else.

But once you get beyond abortion, conservative public policies treat women like autonomous human beings capable of making their own choices — about health care or anything else. It’s the abortion-rights extremists who boil down the vast range of issues and choices raised by the term “women’s health” to a single issue, sexual reproduction, as if women were nothing more than breeders. And yet conservatives are the ones who are called sexists.

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