Thursday, January 11, 2007

Right-wing morality

PZ Myers tells about a particularly nasty instance of the clash between reality and Fundamentalist so-called "morality", involving a class of very common birth defects.

About one in a thousand births in the USA involve a failure of the neural tube to close up during development. Mild cases lead to spina bifida; serious cases lead to anencephaly, where the fetus does not grow a brain [Warning: link contains graphic medical images that some people may find disturbing].

PZ writes:

Failure of the anterior neuropore to close is even more serious. The brain fails to form. This condition is called anencephaly, and it is untreatable and lethal. If they aren't dead at birth, they might last a few days before succumbing. They have no brain. At best, they have a mass of dying, relatively undifferentiated neural tissue smeared across the floor of their incompletely formed skulls. They can't think, they can't feel, they can't respond. The real tragedy is that development can proceed surprisingly far without a brain, and these fetuses are recognizably human (here is a photo for the strong of stomach), and they can be carried fully to term.

That's the reality: anencephaleptic babies can't think or feel pain and won't survive more than a few days. But the right-wing fundamentalists in the US government have decided that the life of a literally brain-less creature, one that cannot possibly survive after birth, is more important than the health and emotional state of the mother. PZ quotes the Reality Based Community:

But the Congress had decided -- that no federal funds should be used to pay for abortions except where the life of the mother was at stake. As a result, Tricare (formerly CHAMPUS) the agency that covers military families, refused to pay the $3000 the abortion would cost.

The family sued, and a federal court ordered Tricare to pay, and the abortion went forward.

Then the Justice Department (with John Ashcroft as Attorney General) sued the family to recover the $3000, out of the sailor's pay of less than $20,000 a year.

The Justice Department just won.

and argues that:

Our guardians of purity have magnified the pain of this family and willfully and vindictively punished them for the 'crime' of a biological imperfection. I call that evil, pure and simple. There should have been no question in this case that an abortion was necessary.

I can't blame Tricare for refusing to fund the abortion in the first case -- it isn't their place to choose which laws they obey and which they don't. Nor can I fault the appeal judge's decision: it seems that the initial order for Tricare to pay for the abortion was morally right but legally wrong. But it is a horrible, bean-counting, cruel and heartless act for John Ashcroft's Justice Department to have appealed that decision, and for them to pursue the sailor to collect would be even more mean-spirited and nasty.

No comments: