How Not To Talk About Maternity Care

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If anything's becoming apparent, it's that Republican members of Congress are having trouble navigating the highly-motivated climate of activism on the left. Whether it's facing angry, boisterous, contentious town halls, or smaller, more intimate settings with opponents of the GOP's health care plan, there are any number of ways representatives and senators are sticking their collective feet in their mouths. Case in point: one GOP representative doesn't want to pay for maternity care because he's not planning on having anymore kids.

The man in question is Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, currently serving his third term representing the Keystone State's fourth district. As Amanda Terkel detailed for the Huffington Post, Perry, who has two daughters with his wife Christy, gave a not-so-satisfying answer to a pair of activists with the progressive group Indivisible on May 5.

Specifically, when challenged on his opposition to mandating maternity care as an "essential health benefit" ― types of health care that must be covered in any minimum insurance plan, as laid out in the Affordable Care Act ― Perry cited the fact that he's not going to have any more children to help explain his position. It was more than a little tone-deaf, to put it mildly.

"I have two children, we're not having any more, I don't want to pay for maternity care," Perry told the activists. When one of them challenged him, saying it was a "societal" issue, and that women who have children need to be able to do so safely, Perry insisted he agreed completely, but circled back to his own individual circumstance.

"I agree completely," Perry said. "But I'm not having anymore, you're asking me to pay for things that I'm never going to use."

When another of the activists pointed out that there's such a thing as a "social contract," built on the need for "public goods," Perry once again agreed, but not to the extent that he was willing to accept that anyone who didn't want to have kids should have to pay for it. Which, of course, is not how social contracts work.

Without a doubt. But there's also personal responsibility. Some people never want to start a family. Some people don't want to own a Cadillac, but should we make everyone pay for a Cadillac?
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Needless to say, perhaps, but the thing about social contracts in service of a vital public good is that they apply to vital public goods. For instance, enabling pregnant women to receive crucial maternity care, as opposed to crowdfunding somebody's preferred automobile.

Ultimately, the struggle for many Republicans talking about these issues is that their health care proposals are firmly opposed to the notion of mandating collective sacrifice for the public good, even under circumstances where it looks really bad. This is a prime example. Even though there's an intellectual case to be made that one person shouldn't have to pay for another's health services, it's a cold and detached one that doesn't stack up well against an impassioned moral argument about the kind of society America could and should become.

Basically, the GOP's messaging on these kinds of issues is often awkward at best, and callous at worst. But when the underlying argument is "nobody should be forced to chip in for something they don't personally need," that's a problem that's hard, if not impossible, to avoid.