New Political Tone Should Demand Honesty on Abortion, Health Care

Opinion   |   Dorinda Bordlee and Nikolas Nikas   |   Jan 25, 2011   |   4:29PM   |   Washington, DC

As pundits encourage us to engage in a national examination of conscience on the tone of our civil discourse, hundreds of thousands of students, young adults and pro-life veterans demonstrated civility in action over the past few days. 

At Marches for Life at the Capitol, on the West Coast, and at statehouses across the nation, the violence of abortion was met with a message of care and concern for both the woman and her unborn child. 

The tone that we take in the public square is a legitimate topic of discussion. Yet some pundits and politicians have long overlooked the prerequisite condition of authentic civil discourse; namely, honesty about the terms of the debate.  

President Obama recently noted that “only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.”

Civil and honest – the two are indeed related. Civility in our public discourse is undermined if citizens have reason to believe that they are being misled. The most recent “Newspeak” rose out of the various health care mega-bills in the last Congress.  While most citizens at town hall meetings were respectful in their tone, the scream-at-your-Congressperson approach taken by a few aptly expressed the hair-pulling frustration experienced by the vast majority of citizens across the political spectrum.

The indignation witnessed at town hall meetings was not only attributable to the sweeping scope of the bills that ballooned the deficit and blew past constitutional boundaries of federal power. Rather, the tone became intensified because the American people could not seem to get a straight answer on the life and death issues impacted by the massive legislation.

“Is public money going to subsidize coverage for elective abortion?”   “Will there be politically appointed panels who will make life and death coverage decisions for seniors?”  “Will I get to keep my current health plan?” (Yes, yes, probably not).

Without rehashing these issues, it is enough to say that the conflict between the bill language and the Administration’s rhetoric resulted in a level of intense emotional outbursts usually reserved for Italian-American dinner tables.  (And as proud Italian-Americans, we understand that the volume often corresponds to the level of care and concern for one another).

Now we begin again. The newly elected Congress is once again faced with a debate about tax-subsidized abortion coverage in the federal health care law. And State legislatures continue to debate “opt-out” bills that prohibit abortion coverage in any future state health insurance exchanges. 

Those who peacefully march renew their call for elected officials to debate these critical issues with honesty. If we were truly honest, everyone would know about the empirical medical studies showing that abortion is not health care. It’s the opposite of care for the physical and psychological health of the woman, and it destroys the life of a unique and unrepeatable unborn child.

Those who nonetheless support tax-subsidized abortion coverage are required by that honesty so essential to civility to clearly state their goal and to make their case.  No more outright denials of what is buried in the bill.  No more hiding behind accounting schemes drafted behind closed doors in the middle of the night. 

If a pro-life bill to prohibit abortion funding and protect health care provider rights of conscience makes its way to the President’s desk, honesty requires that he either sign it or veto it. No more empty and unenforceable executive orders.
It’s well past time for the honest terms of the abortion debate to be put on the table. Not only about who pays for it, but more importantly about the humanity of the unborn child and the coercive impact that it places on pregnant women.

The bottom line is that civil discourse does not preclude our duty to vigorously expose dishonesty in public policy. And it certainly does not require that we quietly look the other way as the culture of death marches on. Note: Dorinda Bordlee and Nikolas Nikas are attorneys and co-founders of Bioethics Defense Fund. Contact the organization to request model legislation addressing abortion coercion, ultrasound mandates, Obamacare abortion opt-out legislation, health care rights of conscience and the full range of bioethics issues.