Refocusing the RU-486 debate at Yale

On Monday, the Yale community was shocked or delighted to learn Yale will be offering the morning-after pill RU-486 to students and staff under its standard health plan. The vitally important abortion debate is now back where it belongs, in the hands of those who will undoubtedly be world leaders a few short years from now.

Unfortunately, the debate is far from focused on the important issues. The administration is clashing over technical issues. The pro-life group is complaining their tuition dollars are funding something evil. The administration’s talking points, obviously anticipating this objection, point out that patrons of insurance plans never specify the treatments covered.

I think that both camps are being utterly absurd.

I might agree it is unsettling that some of my tuition dollars could go toward buying RU-486. But then again, my tuition dollars have always funded things I find objectionable or ridiculous. Like surgical abortions.

I can live with the knowledge I may be indirectly supporting these things because I do not have any agency in doing so. It’s the same as if I bought a pair of Prada boots, and the shopkeeper used the money to pay for an abortion.

But the University is also being silly. Yes, it’s true people don’t choose which treatments their insurance companies provide. However, all treatments are not as morally problematic as this one. The University errs when it reduces the decision to provide the abortion pill to the equivalent of the decision to offer flu shots. We need not debate the latter.

I suggest the true discussion should be centered on the philosophical statement Yale is making by providing RU-486. First, let’s discuss our common ground. In general, I would contend, pro-life and pro-choice people can agree abortions are bad things. Even properly administered, abortions can result in adverse health affects for women, including death.

Furthermore, women who have abortions often suffer psychological ramifications later in life because of pent-up guilt. And, of course, the life terminated can never be recovered. Practical consequences such as these suggest to me abortion is something, even if legal, that should be rare.

I don’t think I’m alone here. How many pro-choice students do you know who say they support a woman’s right to choose but would never have an abortion themselves? The problem is the pro-choice rhetoric caricatures the movement. When Yale spokespeople say the decision to offer RU-486 is to provide the best care possible, you start to think they really believe undergoing an abortion could be good for your health. This is just plain false.

Second, with this basic observation on the table, let me suggest a parallel case that guides my opposition to this new policy. Consider euthanasia. Pretend this practice was legal, and the Yale Health Plan offered it to employees and students.

Now, let me predict there would be a hell of a lot more outcry if we woke up and read the YHP would be euthanizing people than there is over the decision before us. Why? The main reason many would oppose euthanasia being part of their insurance plan is simple. They recognize euthanasia, another bad thing, results in harm. And even if you believe it should be legal, having insurance companies offer it is problematic.

There is an incredible incentive for insurance companies to abuse euthanasia, right? It’s very expensive to keep someone in the hospital. The doctor’s fees and prescription drugs cost a fortune. Insurance companies, many have worried, would overemploy euthanasia to cut costs if it were legal. In fact, this is largely why efforts to legalize it have failed.

Now the same applies in the discussion of an insurance plan offering RU-486. Bringing a child to term, pre-natal checkups and post-natal care are expensive. Insurance companies cover the costs of hospitalization and so forth. Well, we already see insurance companies refusing to pay for more than one or two nights in the hospital after labor. Gee, I wonder if we should be afraid those same people would encourage a solution that would replace those large costs with the cost of a pill.

And hence, we arrive at my problem with this policy. We have to realize as a society the abortion debate is one that neither side will win, but we have to look for common ground. We don’t have to agree on whether a practice should be legal to agree it is something we should not promote.

My ex-girlfriend visited me in the hospital last semester, and while there, she fainted. Per YHP policy, she was immediately helped off the floor onto a stretcher and given a pregnancy test. That’s what they do when you faint or show any other symptoms of illness.

If her test came back positive, I am repulsed the first words she might have heard, before she even digested the news, could have been, “You know, we have a pill for that.”



Phil Fortino is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns appear weekly on Fridays.

Comments

  • dwightalum

    River dear– your attempts at metaphor are over the top and misguided.

    Neither of these young women’s experiences can be likened to combating cancer or a murderer, because they clearly worked in situations in which men were mentoring and teaching them, and they depended on these men for a substantial part, perhaps the most important part, of their educational experience. In light of that, I can understand how they could have convinced themselves that the good–completing the work that they set out to do at Yale–outweighed the drawbacks of inappropriate behavior on the part of their instructors. Especially since the second woman at first wasn’t sure if her advisor WAS being inappropriate, or if SHE had misunderstood his actions. I’m glad that your mother taught you to notice such red flags. Ultimately, though, she didn’t, nor was it her responsibility to, as a student.

    Not least, it seems that the harassment started off at least more mildly (student 1 “did not take him seriously,” student 2 “apologized” for her misunderstanding). Sexual comments, and potential “misunderstandings,” are on a different level entirely from actual assaults and attempts to book king sized beds. Faculty and students at Yale still enjoy a certain level of trust in their relationships, and I’d wager that neither of these young women imagined that their professors would make the jump to physical attempts.