Rebirth of Reason


Bush Backs a SCHIP of Fools
by Anthony Teets

In the fifteenth century, Sebastian Brant wrote a well-known story titled Narrenschiff ("Ship of Fools", 1494). The tale was an allegory of life in which fools of various types who made outrageously disconnected statements about life manned a ship sailing out with no direction. It served as a satire for the follies and vices of the time. Those aboard the ship of fools represented many professions and classes of people, but all alike were vain and certain that they were completely right in all of their follies. Today we have our own SCHIP of fools, and it is peopled by politicians and lawyers determined to subvert the meanings of words that underlie our concepts. I refer to the Bush administration's newly proposed "State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)." SCHIP, formally enacted by Congress in 1997 under the Clinton administration, was originally designed to close the gap in insurance coverage between those unable to receive Medicaid but who also could not afford private insurance. The program has recently been seized upon by the Bush Administration to further its long-term goal to have the federal government make abortion illegal. 

The Bush Administration has been proud of its stance as protector of our American way of life and our right to be free. Unfortunately, the Administration holds a very contradictory position regarding the rights of women to choose an abortion, and thus perforce invalidates its definitions of the concepts freedom and rights. It has now found a perfect way to circumvent a woman's right to choose. The right to choose has often been associated with the well-known abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. For Bush, however, this association will no longer be necessary, since the state insurance covering fetuses would change the very definitions of embryo, fetus, child, and right, freedom, liberty. The problem is philosophical, not medical or legal, for the primary issue is how to indicate where freedom begins and what establishes personhood. Instead of promoting a forum for discussion or debate, Bush has elected to act, and to act for the protection of the "rights" of the unborn. The action he has taken establishes a program that insures the health and life of fetuses, regardless of the health of the mother or of any other child she may have. 

The philosophical understanding of the issues of rights and individualism become increasingly important when such decisions are made and passed into law. All around us today, our rights and our freedoms are being curtailed and undermined almost on a daily basis. Federal agencies currently hold the right to video survey individuals up to three thousand times per day. Privacies we used to hold so dear are today merely a fiction of the past, yet the enemies of freedom are dreaming new regulations and restrictions up daily. That is why the proper definitions of philosophical concepts such as freedom and individuality, rights, and liberty must be constantly upheld. 

One of the central problems with the Bush Administration's proposal is that it does away with the accepted definitions. The term embryo has commonly been described as the stage of development between the second and eighth week of pregnancy, after which the term fetus is used. The SCHIP proposal defines all stages, including pre-embryonic and fertilization, as "children." Not only is this extremely confusing, but it bypasses all of the current laws which are upheld by virtue of clearly defined terms designating each developmental stage. In a poll of August 1997, results showed that 61% of Americans believed that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances, while 22% defended abortion categorically. By far the greatest area of controversy has been over intact D&X (dilation and extraction), which generally occurs between 20 and 24 weeks. The controversy in this case is over the potential viability of the fetus and rarely is the fetus described as a child. The argument against D&X has nevertheless been couched in terms of infanticide, which is merely a synonym for "child slaying." Taking advantage of this weakness in our language usage, the Bush administration has opted to cover all developmental stages under the single term "child." If this seems unimportant or trivial, think again. It is a blatant contradiction. 

Under the SCHIP policy, fetuses of immigrant pregnant women may be insured, but as most people know, legal immigrants cannot receive Medicaid or SCHIP benefits until they have been in the US for five years (That leaves illegal immigrants with no qualifications at all). According to the new SCHIP proposal, an immigrant's three year old child could not receive any health benefit, and the mother may be denied care as well, but her fetus is absolutely insured under the program. Playing with the words that describe the stages of prenatal development, and substituting them with the word child, the Bush administration has successfully accomplished this fiasco. Therefore a child who is already born and living, and can rightfully claim to be called a child, is less of a child than Bush's "superior fetus/child" developing in the immigrant or citizen mother. How can this be accomplished? It may be accomplished through the subversion of words by new legal terminology. To this challenge, the HHS (Health and Human Services) spokesperson Bill Pierce responded, that making unborn "children" of immigrants eligible for the benefit under the new regulation was only logical, because children born in the United States automatically become citizens even if their parents are illegal immigrants.  

In a September article appearing in The Washington Times , it was announced that the Bush administration "would classify fetuses as unborn children as a way of providing more low income women with prenatal care." Clearly, this message bears a hidden agenda and it has caused much grievance for pro-choice groups. President of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Kate Michelman has declared what it really means is that "an evolving legal trend recognizes fetuses as persons." Similarly Elizabeth Cavendish, legal Director of NARAL, said, "What they are trying to do with this is not so much promote comprehensive health care for uninsured people, but to make a political statement about embryonic personhood."  

The Sacred Congregation of the Faith issued the "Declaration on Procured Abortion" in 1974, and established the "Right to Life" argument that made an absolute ban on abortion identified with the Catholic faith. It opposed abortion because "one can never claim freedom of opinion as a pretext for attacking the rights of others, most especially the right to life." In this statement, the fetus is human life from the moment of conception. Consequently the Catholic Church, in full contradiction of its historical stance, does not permit abortion today under any circumstance. This prohibition includes cases of rape as well as those cases where abortion may be a direct way of saving a mother's life. Instead of considering abortion as a sin of concealment of sexual inadvertence, the current position embraces the thorny consideration of human life. Ignoring the philosophical arguments presented by previous theories of "hominization" or staged growth, the leaders of the Church elected a frozen abstraction to explain their ethical conclusions. They continue to use the concept of sin to explain their condemnation of actions that are in the rational self-interest of adults able to claim personhood and invoke their rights. Under the new terms of the Bush Administration, an abortion may soon be considered a crime against children, specifically the crime of infanticide.  

Ayn Rand's position on this issue provided a clear course for philosophical discussion of personhood over two decades ago. She said "A proper, philosophically valid definition of man as "a rational animal" would not permit anyone to describe the status of a "person" to a few human cells ("The Age of Mediocrity," The Objectivist Forum, June, 1981)." To enforce by laws the protection of arbitrarily designated entities as persons, we are voluntarily submitting the rights of those able to claim personhood, to the unborn.  

How far off into the deep blue yonder does the ship of fools have to float before the fools realize that they have aborted all hopes of a rational connection with the interests of civilized societies? By paying lip service only to the technical vocabulary established in legal precedents, future generations might even go so far as to ignore such institutions entirely and replace the rule of law with an arbitrarily selected code of mandatory compliance. In the end it is not the unborn fetus that will be suffering, but the life of the parent will be stillborn in the recognition that they have no meaning, no definition, and that the life of the not-yet-born will take precedence over their own.  

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