A Bishop's Perspective Bishop Burns

Defining ‘medically necessary’ is necessary

‘A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE’ in the March 16, 2014 Juneau Empire

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Bishop Edward J. Burns

The title of Alaska House Bill 173 is: “An Act defining ‘medical necessary abortion’ for purposes of making payments under the state Medicaid Program.” Opponents of the bill see it as an underhanded attempt to limit choice. Any limiting of choice by proponents of abortion on demand (at will) is seen as a violation of women’s rights.The Sponsor Statement explains that the bill is meant to bring clarity to what the term “medically necessary abortion” means. Opponents see this move toward clarity and definition as a threat. Why? Because it challenges the presumption that any sort of examination of abortion and its funding is an assault against women.

What strikes me immediately about the opponents of HB173 is the inconsistent ethic that the criticism depends upon — an ethic that advocates for an unquestioning and radically libertarian definition of freedom in respect to abortion, while saying the state and taxpayers should have a diminished freedom to define what “medically necessary” actually means. This is coupled with a lack of concern about limiting the choices of those who question the morality of abortion and the problem of funding them with tax payer dollars. Who is limiting choice?

It is as if abortion advocates have bought into a deeply disturbing notion that freedom is and ought to be arbitrary and absolute. Therefore any attempt at bringing clarity or defining terms, which in any other discipline or practice is essential, is characterized as limiting choice and an assault on the freedom of women.

The unsuspecting reader is immediately sensitive to such accusations as “limiting choice” or “restricting freedoms” and such a choice of words is bound to gain immediate sympathy and solidarity. Isn’t limiting choice and restricting freedoms always un-American? Isn’t it always a bad thing to limit choice?

No, it isn’t.

Human freedom is always an exercise that takes place contextually and operates within limits — natural, moral, legal and social. If limiting choice was always terrible there would be no need for law, no need for policy, no need for public debate. Indeed those who create a caricature of pro-life people as being mindless, misogynistic and fundamentalist fail to admit that they actually advocate on many different levels for restrictions of freedom based in ideas about the common good. Consider, for instance, good and necessary laws and policies that restrict and limit the access an abuser has to the abused, or laws of a different sort that restrict a potential freedom to run red lights, or to take food from the store without paying.

I don’t buy the argument of “abortion-at-will-and-paid-by-the-taxpayer” advocates and that they are merely trying to protect women by preserving their freedom. It is not helpful to teach anyone that freedom is unrestricted, especially our young people. That is, unless our goal is to create the most selfish society that ever existed. The ethic of opponents to HB173 is inconsistent. Such people, often laudably, work against other forms of harmful individualism (domestic violence, human trafficking, etc.), but when it comes to abortion they seem to demand an approach that is completely void of moral and social responsibility. And any attempt to question this is considered an attack on women’s freedom. It begs the question: Would such advocates publicly recognize any limit to this particular freedom? Unfortunately, abortion advocates are often, perhaps unknowingly, working to preserve an ideology that actually puts women more at risk of objectification, abuse and poor health. The powerless, rather than gaining protection, become disposable.

Unrestrained individualism, illustrated by such statements as “it’s my body, it’s my choice,” is dangerous because it is not rooted in reality or in how persons actually exist — in relationships, families and communities. It causes great harm in families, communities, our state and our nation and it is rooted in an abandonment of human social responsibility. It harms us because it distorts who we actually are and who we are called to be for one another, especially the most powerless among us.
To preserve this unexamined ideology, we are told that we must not seek to define what “medically necessary abortion” actually means or looks like in practice. We’re told it’s taboo to look closely, to seek clarity, to ask questions. Yet there is truly a move here taking place by abortion advocates to “limit choice” on the part of the state and the public — the taxpayers — who are called upon to ever-increasingly fund and fuel this expansion of arbitrary and destructive power against the most vulnerable and innocent.

For the sake of doing what is best for women, for the unborn and for society — defining ‘medically necessary’ is necessary.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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