Health Care and the Push to "Normalize" Abortion

Helen Alvare
© Culture of Life Foundation 2009
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation

current health care reform proposals. You have likely read about what it will do: abolish state limitations on abortion, and trample conscience rights of morally or religiously opposed medical professionals and institutions. You have also likely learned how it will do it: the appointment by the executive branch of a type of health care advisory committee composed of abortion advocates who will have decision-making authority about the package of services which will be deemed "necessary" health care and "essential benefits of coverage." (See E. Christian Brugger, Urgent Action Alert,

These are legal and political facts, and have not been refuted by the Obama administration or congressional supporters of current iterations of health care legislation.

But there is another type of "information" about abortion that the President and his allies are seeking to convey via his current health care proposals. It is that abortion is no big deal. It is one medical procedure among others, and nothing more. This clearly was the message behind President Obama's admonition to Katie Couric when asked about including abortion in his proposed federal health care package. He replied: ""[I]t's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station." (

In other words, the normalization of abortion is yet another terrible potential consequence of abortion-mandating health care legislation. Many are tempted to believe that abortion can't really get any more normalized than it is now. After all, we've got more than a million every year right here in the U.S. We've got one out of four pregnancies aborted. How much more "banal" does it get?

And yet….Abortion is most definitely not banal still. Much of the credit for this goes to pro-life activists…whose relentless voice has kept the tragedy and injustice of abortion before even a fickle and easily-distracted public. There is also the role played by abortion itself, and by the sensibilities of women: while destroying a baby, abortion is also a way of destroying maternal psyches. Some women are brave enough to report this after the fact. In short, as against every thing that the news and entertainment and academic and political establishments have thrown at the American public over the last 40 or so years, abortion remains outside the mainstream, outside respectability. Mainstream doctors and medical facilities won't do it. Women generally won't talk about it. Insurance policies won't cover it. Billboards won't advertise it. And U.S. News and World Report won't celebrate "America's Top Abortion Docs."

Normalization is the Holy Grail of abortion advocates' legal efforts, as may be chronicled in summary fashion. First they tried the legal construct of "privacy," and achieved at least a semantic victory when six members of the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Constitution contained an (unwritten) guarantee of "privacy" broad enough to include the right to destroy the developing life of an unborn human being at any time throughout pregnancy and for any reason. But when (even "pro-choice") law professors balked at this invention, and pro-lifers hit the streets and the airwaves for the next 36 years (and counting), carrying with them pictures of unborn human beings, this dispelled the idea that there was anything essentially American or essentially true about abortion being a "private" thing.

There was also the trial balloon, launched years ago by now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, claiming that the Constitution's equal-protection clause contained an (unwritten) abortion mandate within it. She reiterated this position in her dissent from the 2007 Supreme Court opinion Gonzales v. Carhart (the partial-birth abortion case), claiming that without abortion on request, women would be cast backwards into pre-feminist oppression. But the very process of partial-birth abortion, its looking like a baby-delivery-followed-by-a-killing, prevented the "equal protection" argument from gaining traction in that case, or elsewhere.

Pro-life advocates have also prevented abortion's normalization in medical settings. Their presence outside abortion clinics - praying, singing, counseling, protesting - have made sure that the entire community knows that this "medical" building is not like all the others. The pro-life grass roots and their allies in Congress were also successful in preventing the American Council for Graduate Medical Education from mandating abortion training as just another essential element of med-school curricula in 1995. The Coats Amendment of that year banned health care institutions receiving state funds from treating abortion as such.

At the United Nations, abortion advocates have tried to just "add abortion to the list" of services included within programs with innocuous names like "Safe Motherhood," or "Reproductive Health." But pro-life watchdogs usually sound the alarm, and often have the last word.

A teeny-tiny part of me almost feels sorry for the folks over at the Obama White House who have not previously grappled with the full power of a stirred-up pro-life movement. The White House folks think they can put us off. They can call abortion a "distraction," and foist it off to an unelected "advisory board." But they can't make abortion other than what it is. (As William Buckley once famously intoned: "The problem with abortion rights is abortion.") And they don't even try to claim that it's anything other than the destruction of human life. Ultrasound, genetic technologies and other scientific advances have rendered that kind of talk impossible.

Just as we have defeated other attempts to normalize abortion, we can defeat this one, which might be the granddaddy of them all.