The Common Good

Universal Health Care Can Reduce Abortion

reid-healing-of-america150T.R. Reid, a longtime correspondent for The Washington Post and regular commentator for NPR, published a great Op Ed in Sunday's Post (Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate) on why people who want to lower abortion rates in the United States should be 100% in support of universal health care.

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Writes Reid: The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we're No. 1.

Reid, who is also a Catholic, has been researching health-care systems in industrialized countries for several years in preparation for his book The Healing of America. Reid includes has a very lovely story in his commentary about Cardinal Basil Hume, who was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when Reid lived in London.

Writes Reid: In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain's universal health-care system. "If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it's needed," Hume explained, "she's more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn't it obvious?"

Now, I take a little issue with Reid when he argues "The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that's on offer now: expanding health-care coverage." From my location, American churches have been extremely involved in our national health-care debate, especially the Catholic church. But I appreciate his summary of why universal health-care is an issue rooted in basic moral values that nearly everyone can support for the common good.

Writes Reid: When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it's what Christ commanded) and moral (it's the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.

It's a great piece, read the whole thing here.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).

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