What if Conservatives Really Were Pro-Life?

Corinne Segal has an important story about how marriage equality is saving lives.

State legalization of same-sex marriage appears to be linked to a decrease in adolescent suicide, based on a new analysis published today in JAMA Pediatrics. The results give more context to the potential effects of social policy on mental health.

The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second for people aged 10 to 24. But young LGB people are particularly affected, attempting suicide at four times the rate of straight youth, according to the Trevor Project, an organization that works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.

If you care about the lives of LGBT youth, the fact that they are now less likely to commit suicide would be something to celebrate.

In a similar vein, Brianna Ehley reports on how former Governor Mike Pence saved lives.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence faced the worst public health crisis to hit Indiana in decades, he turned to Obamacare — a program he vilified and voted against.

In 2015, as a rash of HIV infections spread through rural southern Indiana, state health officials parachuted into Scott County and enrolled scores of people into Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program so they could get medical care and substance abuse treatment. Many were addicted to opioids and had contracted HIV by sharing dirty needles.

Speaking of substance abuse treatment, that saves lives too.

The ACA has been particularly important for those seeking addiction treatment, says Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who advised the Obama administration on drug policy. “It was designed to be very broad, but at the same time we knew that if there was anything that this would help a lot for, it’s addiction,” he says.

Before the ACA went into effect, a third of individual market insurance policies didn’t cover substance abuse treatment, including medications like buprenorphine that have proven critical to keeping former opioid users off of drugs. The ACA deemed substance abuse and mental health treatment to be essential health benefits, and now insurance plans are required to cover them. In states that expanded Medicaid, 20 percent of hospital admissions for substance abuse and mental health disorders were uninsured in 2013, before the bulk of the expansion provisions kicked in. By the middle of 2015, the uninsured rate had fallen to five percent.

In addition, Obamacare covers Americans who are are most at risk of becoming addicted to opioids: People with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line have a 50 percent higher risk of having an opioid problem than people with higher incomes. Humphreys adds that most users start using heroin or pain-killers when they’re young. Since the ACA lets children stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26, it’s easier for young users to access treatment.

In the lead-up to the November election, I heard a lot of conservatives talk about how they weren’t very impressed with Trump — but planned to vote for him because they are pro-life and wanted him to appoint an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court. It was as if nothing else mattered.

As someone who believes that a decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be left to the woman involved, I fundamentally disagree with most conservatives on that issue. But if you truly believe that every zygote is a human being, I can understand why we see things differently.

What I can’t understand is the idea of being pro-life and not caring about the lives of gay teens, people with HIV or those who are drug addicted. Wanting to re-stigmatize LGBT people and repeal Obamacare are just two ways that their lives are threatened. Where are the pro-life conservatives on those questions?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.