Elizabeth Rosenthal as been burning up the pages of the New York Times with her series on the high cost of health care in the United States. I mentioned her July 1 article on the high cost of childbirth in the U.S. a couple weeks ago.
Rosenthal discussed health care costs on Fresh Air Wednesday. Her response to Terry Gross's question about the cost of childbirth in Europe included one fascinating and unfamiliar phrase:
...most European countries - I mean it's almost hard to even do an economic comparison because most countries feel that childbirth is a right, it's vital for perpetuating your citizenry and your country, and so there really shouldn't be a cost disincentive for having a child. So even though you could - you can come up with a cost for childbirth in other countries, patients almost always aren't actually paying it. It's the cost to the system. So the cost to the system - or the cost if you were coming from outside and for some reason were to have your baby in France or Great Britain, so anyway, the cost in other countries tends to be in the $5,000 range, often much lower - as opposed to, here, 20,000 [emphasis mine; Elisabeth Rosenthal, interviewed by Terry Gross, "'Paying Till it Hurts': Why American Health Care Is So Pricey," NPR: Fresh Air, 2013.08.07].
Childbirth is a right—I don't think we hear that phrase much in our discussions of women, reproduction, and health care in South Dakota or the U.S. We raise great legislation and fuss about the right to life. We pay rhetorical attention to the product of reproduction, but not so much to the reproducer. We seem more inclined to view childbirth as an obligation; when places like Texas and South Dakota restrict abortion to practical impossibility while rejecting plans to make health care affordable, we seem more bent on enforcing an obligation than in facilitating the exercise of a right.
Does our lingering puritanism about sex prevent us from understanding moral aspects of childbirth that Europeans get more easily? Do we South Dakotans believe women have a right to bear children? If we do, why do we allow the cost disincentives to childbirth that Rosenthal reports to persist?