By Paul Song, M.D.
The Hill, July 3, 2019
As a physician and a person of faith, I believe it’s time to rethink how we value life in America. If we are truly interested in being a “pro-life” society, we should have as much concern, if not more, for life after birth and especially for the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
Recently several states have passed legislation designed to greatly restrict the ability of women to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, even in cases of rape or incest.
Many legislators and their supporters point to their personal faith as the basis of their “pro-life” beliefs in their effort to end access to safe, medically supervised abortions.
But legally requiring a woman to carry an unintended pregnancy is not really “pro-life” if nothing is done to address our country’s alarming infant and maternal mortality rates.
The leading causes of U.S. infant deaths include preterm birth complications, childbirth-related events and sepsis, an extreme response to infection. Meanwhile, the leading causes of death of young children (age 1 to 59 months) are pneumonia, diarrhea and injury.
Medicare for all would ensure every U.S. resident had comprehensive health coverage for life, which would go a long way in combating these largely treatable or preventable conditions.
The U.S. infant and maternal mortality rates are substantially higher than those of many other developed nations, making the United States among the most dangerous wealthy nations in which to give birth; and the situation is worsening. Though the overall global maternal death rate decreased by 44 percent from 1990 to 2015, it increased by about 27 percent from 2000 to 2014 in 48 U.S. states and Washington D.C.
The greatest harm is to women of color. They tend to have far less access to high-quality reproductive services while facing greater discrimination in our health-care system. African American women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
Independent of race, women living in poverty and women living in states that have failed to expand Medicaid also experience significantly higher maternal mortality rates than the U.S. average. And uninsured women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than those who are insured.
Louisiana, which recently passed new “heartbeat” legislation, had the worst maternal mortality rate of 46 states, which is more than double our national average, according to a recent USA Today investigation.
If we are genuinely interested in “pro-life” issues, we should focus on fixing our current broken and immoral health-care system in which:
- Nearly 29 million people remain uninsured and tens of thousands of people die each year as a result.
- Some 530,000 families go bankrupt each year because of medical issues and two-thirds of all U.S. bankruptcies are medically related.
- Forty-percent of Americans recently surveyed said they skipped a recommended medical test or treatment in the past 12 months due to cost.
Meanwhile, people of faith need to revisit how we view and treat our society’s most marginalized as reflected in the New Testament’s Matthew 25:39-40. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
If we are truly committed to “pro-life” legislation, we should support Medicare for all. It is the only solution to our current dysfunctional and dangerous system.
While the question of when life actually begins has been debated for centuries, most people can agree that we all want as few unintended pregnancies and abortions as possible.
Two Medicare for all bills in the House and Senate would help protect a woman’s right to choose by overriding the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal dollars from funding most abortions. Contraceptive and reproductive care would also be covered.
We should also be able to agree that if a woman decides to carry her pregnancy to term, that we as a society need to do all we can to provide her and her future child with the very best health care possible.
In reality, our failing health-care system is not pro-life. As Americans of faith, we are called upon to care for one another as a moral imperative.
As Matthew 10:8 states: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy…Freely you have received; freely give.”
And truly caring for one another means redefining what “pro-life” is.
Dr. Paul Song is the president of Physicians for a National Health Program-California. He is also a board-certified radiation oncologist.