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The Sanctity of Life

American conservatives preach about the sanctity of life, yet do not promote programs that would help millions of low income citizens get health care. Cutting through the hypocrisy to get to the hope, the author calls for more accountability among the "pro-life".

Tamara Watkins

On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Gonzales v. Carhart, which upholds the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Not surprisingly, Bush-appointed Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito—along with stalwart conservatives Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and wildcard Anthony Kennedy—voted to uphold the ban, framing their decision in terms of "respect" for fetal life. Writing for the majority, Kennedy stated, "The government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman."

Yet again, conservative rhetoric preaches about the sanctity of life. Unfortunately, and vexingly, this "profound respect for the life within the woman" is code for fetal life, not necessarily the mother's. Voices shout out for the well being of fetuses, begging women to overlook their own inalienable rights to self-determination, health, and life in favor of preserving those of their fetuses, but these same voices are eerily silent when the lives of individuals who live outside the womb are in danger. The message sent by the Gonzales v. Carhart ruling and anti-choice rhetoric is that fetuses are valuable Americans—the welfare of women and ex utero children are rarely, if at all discussed.

The sad case of Deamonte Driver illustrates American conservative' hypocrisy. Driver's February 25, 2007, death was preventable. Any untimely death is a tragedy, but the Driver family's story is especially heart wrenching. Like many working poor parents, Alyce Driver held down multiple jobs, but none provided health insurance for her or her children. They relied on Medicaid, but eventually the family lost its coverage. Unable to get adequate dental services for her children, her sons' teeth rotten in their mouths. Her youngest son, Deamonte, died as a result. A simple $80 extraction of an abscessed tooth would have saved a twelve-year-old's life.

The question any rational, compassionate person asks how this could possibly happen. Isn’t the government full of compassionate conservatives who believe in the sanctity of life and family values? Ironically, those same conservatives rail against life saving insurance programs and services despite the obvious help it gives struggling families. The conservative philosophy regarding the sanctity of life seems to be that it ends at birth—once one is out of the womb, it is every human for her or himself.

The blame for Demonte's death rests not with his mother, but with America's nonsensical and broken health insurance system. Health insurance is difficult to get, and not all jobs provide it. Getting health care is not as simple as "getting a better job," a comment often heard from conservatives. The most effective solution to this problem is for the government provide health care (although the Walter Reed debacle makes one a bit reticent to entrust the current incarnation of the American government with such a task). Conservative would-be Cassandras warn socialized health care will be nothing but a socialist quagmire. Conservative blow-hards like Sean Hannity brag that America is a country with second-to-none medical facilities and providers. Warnings abound that socialized health care will destroy the American medical system. However, if a young boy like Deamonte can be killed by a tooth abscess, the system's already broken.

Deamonte Driver will not get to grow up, but he can be a hero. His story can serve as a reminder of the necessity of government-provided, easy to access health care. The lesson America needs to learn from Deamonte's death can bring hope to countless children who lack resources—there is hope, even when times look dark. If conservatives believe in the sanctity of life, let’s hold their feet to the fire until they preach all life—regardless of age, race, or socio-economic status—is worth saving.

Tamara Watkins lives in the Washington, DC area.