Sometimes the odds are against you. Sometimes, the roll of the dice really doesn’t come up your way. That’s the story of my nephew’s birth. Born to a mother who was schizophrenic and suffering from multiple personality disorder, who was self-medicating with crack and alcohol and a further concoction of whatever else, my nephew was born addicted, to someone who simply couldn’t take care of him. His initial Apgar score was two. He was born with significant deficits, the kind of baby who frequently doesn’t get the chance to be born because someone makes a calculation of cost and benefit, and gives up.
He ended up in Child Protective Services in a Midwestern state. My sister and brother-in-law found him and fell in love with him. They went through the laborious process of proving themselves good enough to adopt a child no one else would take, and then the tortures of the damned trying to get a meaningful consent signed from someone who might any day believe that she was someone different from yesterday. But they succeeded, and if you’d ever met my sister, you wouldn’t be too surprised.
They brought him home, loved him and learned the ins and outs of his conditions that changed as he matured. They advocated for him with schools, teachers, music instructors, doctors and social workers. They nursed him back to health when one psychiatrist didn’t pay enough attention to what another doctor was prescribing to realize that the drug interaction would probably be fatal. They saw him through high school, through some college, and managed to secure him a place in a half-way house (and now onto Medicaid and SSI) so can get the support he needs to live for the rest of his life.
Some people might have chosen abortion. And yet…sometimes, he looks over his shoulder at you and his eyes are just electric. You can’t help but smile. Sometimes, he just creams you at a game of chess and you wonder how he did it. Sometimes he plays the trumpet so sweetly in church that you don’t really know where the tone is coming from; you just sit and feel the presence of the divine. Sometimes, when he’s happy, his joy makes the walls of the house ring.
Now, the Republican House of Representatives and the Republican Senate have crafted bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. I say the Republican House, because not a single Democrat voted for it. I say the Republican Senate, because no Democrat was even allowed to see the first version until it was taken to the floor. At the heart of all versions is a huge rollback in Medicaid. The House version of the legislation takes $800 billion out of Medicaid over 10 years. The Senate version, not to be outdone, halts Medicaid’s guaranteed entitlement status, while taking more money out of the program over a longer period of time. President Trump’s budget asks for another $600 billion on top of the House version, for $1.4 trillion removed in 10 years. The spending rollbacks were engineered to provide a significant tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. The signature effort of this Congress will be to take money from the weakest members of our society to give it to the strongest.
Republicans have been running on a pro-life platform for at least the last 36 years. It was central to Reagan’s 1980 campaign, and has been in the platform every election year since. But being pro-life comes with costs. People of conscience cannot say they are pro-life while they strip away support for children, the disabled, maternity care and parental supports. But that’s exactly what the latest bill did. Mandated maternity coverage stripped away. Medicaid reduced to a block grant that will have states racing to the bottom.
These attacks on the care of mothers and poor children are accomplished against the backdrop of defunding Planned Parenthood where more than five million people, especially women, get medical care. Further, Republicans are reducing efforts at birth control, the very thing that shrinks the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Somehow, in their blind loathing of anything having to do with President Obama, Republicans seem to have missed that the abortion rate came down to its lowest point since the passage of Roe v. Wade during his presidency How can it make sense that a pro-life party wants to play Russian roulette with the lives of the most vulnerable, both before and after they are born?
The real reason is that a lot of Republican politicians don’t actually want to abolish abortion. First, they know it would lose some votes – there are some voters for whom this is a true third rail. Second, this issue is red meat to their base. Losing it as an issue doesn’t help Republicans. Consider for a moment what has happened to assault rifle sales since the election of Donald Trump. They’ve fallen precipitously. People no longer believe that Barack Obama is going to sneak into their homes at night and steal their assault rifles, so they aren’t buying them. If Republicans actually did get harsh restrictions passed on abortion, they might lose some of the fervor of their base.
Second, and more importantly, at least some Republicans know that if there isn’t abortion, more people like my nephew are going to be born, and will need services. We can say that it’s the family’s responsibility, but he’ll outlive his parents who work at relatively low paying nonprofit jobs anyway. Republicans don’t really want to pay for the reality of an unbridled number of births that can statistically be predicted to include a significant number of children born who will need serious, lifelong services.
For Christians, life is a gift from God, something God breathed into us and that we don’t fully understand. But we do know that each human being is made in the image of God, crafted and created in a manner utterly beyond our grasp with the purpose of reflecting the image of God to all others. My nephew can do that, and does – when he laughs, when he watches silly movies, and when his eyes sparkle as his giggle rolls across the room. If Republicans are serious about reducing abortions, more children like my nephew will be born, not fewer. Faithful Christians must necessarily petition their representatives and senators to replace the money taken from Medicaid that takes care of the least of these, the neighbors whom we must love as ourselves.
Critics of this socially and morally conscious position will note that the Republican caucus in the Senate could not bring the bill to the floor, failing to find the 50 Republican votes necessary to proceed through reconciliation. So, why worry? But such analysts need to remember who refused to support the second Republican Senate proposal. Of the four senators who stated that they would not support the legislation, three did so because it did not cut far enough. The Republican Congress is demonstrating, time and again, what their values are.
The epistle of James, almost 2,000 years ago, recognized the hypocrisy of empty well-wishing. James wrote, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him,” Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?” (James 2.15-16). The gift of life has been given to us to nourish and cherish, not just at the beginning of life, but throughout its richness and mysterious grace-filled years. For Christians, this is a divine command. It is a command that simply cannot be squared with these health bills. Republicans should make up their minds. Are they a pro-life party or not?
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