Government-Run Health Care Is the Antithesis of Real Feminism

Carrie Lukas

8/17/2009 8:19:44 PM - Carrie Lukas

This op-ed was co-authored by Hadley Heath, a junior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum.

August recess allows Members to step back from Washington's political tug-of-war and hear from constituents. Many Members are finding that most Americans are concerned about the prospect of growing government's involvement in health care, and would prefer policymakers re-evaluate their positions and start deliberations anew.

Feminists might also use the opportunity to pause and reconsider their stance on the health care issue. Thus far, the role of the old guard feminist groups has been typical of a liberal advocacy group: They are lobbying for the biggest government option on the table. The National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, recently urged members to support an amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich that would enable states to create single-payer health plans. NOW explains it’s a second-best option compared to their ultimate goal—a single-payer national program—but it's the best they can hope for at this time.

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Is a single-payer system really in the best interest of women? That’s a matter of empirical debate. The vast majority of women who are satisfied with their current health care plan would likely be worse off in a government-run system that provides less choice, discourages new medical innovation, and requires longer wait times for treatments and possibly outright rationing.

Certainly some women may be better off with socialized medicine. Today millions of American women lack health insurance, face high medical costs, and many forgo needed treatment. The current employer-based health insurance system creates particular challenges for women: Women disproportionately work in part-time positions that don't include health benefits, move in and out of the workforce, and receive insurance through their spouse's employment. Facing potential disruptions due to their work and family lives, many women may prefer the stability that would come from a government-run health system, even if that means reduced quality of care.

Of course, the current system can be improved to address these problems without a government take-over. Policymakers could change tax laws to make individual health insurance policies more affordable and to help decouple health insurance from employment status. Reducing regulations so that women could buy insurance policies from any state would also drive down prices and make insurance more affordable. Government could even create tax credits to offset the cost of buying health insurance for those who truly can't afford to buy it on their own.

Feminists, however, should take a step back from this empirical policy discussion and consider a larger question: Is the push for bigger government and fully socialized medicine really consistent with women's independence and equality? And isn't that what feminism was supposed to be about in the first place?

Early feminists wrote about the importance of freeing women from dependence on others and the benefits of self-reliance. As feminist founding mother Susan B. Anthony explained in 1869: “There is not the woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; for anyone who does so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she takes it.” In addition to father, husband, and brother, Anthony could have included government on that list, because the principle is the same.

Her feminist predecessor, Mary Wollstonecraft, writing in 1792, linked self-reliance with self-actualization: “How can a rational being be ennobled by anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?” She also wrote, “If women be educated for dependence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrong, to power, where are we to stop?” Feminist icon Cady Stanton agreed: “Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility.”

Today's feminists focus on growing government to provide subsidies for women—essentially replacing the role that fathers and husbands once played in women's lives with big government. That's not really independence.

This consideration tends to be lost when debating how to change our already Leviathan government's role in health care. Yet it should be clear that moving toward near total government control of this most personal aspect of life wouldn't be a victory for feminism, but a violation of its fundamental principles.