07/05/2012 07:32 am ET | Updated Sep 04, 2012

Universal Health Care Is a Moral Imperative

The real battle over health care insurance, including the "Obamacare" version, is between civil rights and property rights. Or, to put it another way, human rights and privacy rights. It is the same basic conflict that has historically fueled battles over slavery and abortion-on-demand.

When the federal government intruded upon the privacy rights of slave owners, the former prevailed after a terrible and bloody civil war. The legal status and privacy rights of women, however, won out over federal intrusion in the case of abortion-on-demand.

(That is the legal argument in reference to abortion-on-demand; i.e., that the privacy rights of women -- or property rights over their own bodies -- trumped the human rights, or civil rights, of the unborn, which were previously upheld by the illegality of abortion.)

In the first instance, one might appeal finally to the basic human right of the slave to be a free person over the property rights of the slave-owners. In the second, the appeal of pro-lifers is to the basic human rights, or as the progressive writer Nat Hentoff argues, the civil rights of the unborn as against the privacy and ownership issues of the pregnant woman.

In the present debate, the conflict is the same: the basic human and civil rights of the uninsured against the property rights of those who do not want to pay taxes in order to establish social structures, such as federal insurance, that benefits their neighbors.

A policy that is opposed to the implementation of universal health care on the basis of the freedom to refuse to give assistance, when that assistance is readily available and would otherwise save the lives and improve the health of those who are in need, is in the final analysis a denial of human rights.

Universal health care as a basic human right is both a truly liberal position as well as a truly pro-life issue. To claim that its implementation shouldn't be "coerced" because it takes away the aspect of "charity," as many Tea Party libertarians and members of the evangelical right have maintained, is tantamount to saying that coercing slave-owners to free their slaves also impinged on their right to love their slaves and free them of their own volition. It is exactly like saying that coercing women not to have abortions would be, if it were the law (as most conservatives wish), a denial of the woman's choice to freely accept and love her child. (In other words, each side borrows the other side's argument when it suits them.)

In a word: the argument that universal insurance is coercive and subtracts from charity is nonsense when we understand the issue of one as a moral imperative. Slaves should be free whether those who claim ownership over them feel the correct way about it or not; babies should not be killed, especially in late-term abortions, whether their mothers love them or not; and the uninsured should be provided for and covered whether we care about them personally or not.

Any conservative who argues against government intrusion in the case of health care, but argues for government intrusion in the case of abortion, is logically inconsistent. Likewise, any liberal who argues against government intrusion in the case of abortion, but argues for government intrusion in the case of health care, is inconsistent.

It is within the realm of human and civil rights that the debate needs to be structured and waged -- other lines of argumentation are either red herrings, or are rooted in a presumption that denies the existence of basic rights, rights that are not beyond the purview of the Constitution, are nearly explicit in the Declaration of Independence, and are clearly spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 under prominent American influence.

The right to basic health care is limited by the structure of each individual's social responsibilities and duties. A healthy debate on what this entails, outside political grandstanding or inadequate bills, is not only necessary, but is also a debate that is long overdue.