Corporations, Women, and the Sanctity of Life


How much do you value a human life? $50,000? $1 million? $100 million? Or is it simply too precious to be monetarily defined?

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. This question has been asked and answered by people much smarter than myself. What I do know is that there’s something bizarre about how Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan value human life and individual choice.

To hear them talk about it, you’d think they would say that a human life is too precious to be monetarily defined. Both men are pro-life, Ryan exceptionally so. In fact, Ryan co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a Personhood amendment that originated in the House of Representatives. For those of you unaware, the Personhood movement is a small but vocal movement to legally define life as beginning at the moment of conception, which would effectively ban most forms of birth control and abortion in all circumstances, with no exception for rape, incest, or the health or life of the woman. It’s a movement so extreme that it was rejected on a voter referendum in Mississippi, arguably one of the most socially conservative states in the nation.

This passionate and extreme legal attack against abortion would seem to indicate that Ryan believes that all life is sacred and invaluable, yet even in an act declaring the “Sanctity of Human Life” we see him declaring that some lives are inherently more valuable than others. After all, these types of laws still ban abortions even in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. So apparently, the life of the unborn fetus is more valuable than that of the mother. This law also fails to take into account the fact that such strict anti-choice policies usually result in the death of more women while failing to reduce the abortion rate, but since the pro-life movement generally ignores this fact, I’d say this is more an indication of ignorance than a deliberate valuation of life.

In addition, these laws do not view women as competent and autonomous individuals capable of making these decisions, which seems to reflect Ryan’s general attitude towards women. In 2010, Ryan wrote:

At the core, today’s “pro-choice” liberals are deeply pessimistic. They denigrate life and offer fear of the present and the future—fear of too many choices and too many children. Rather than seeing children and human beings as a benefit, the “pro-choice” position implies that they are a burden. Despite the “pro-choice” label, liberals’ stance on this subject actually diminishes choices, lowers goals, and leads us to live with less. That includes reducing the number of human beings who can make choices.

As Amanda Marcotte so accurately put it, “This paragraph makes no sense unless you approach it with the assumption that the categories ‘women’ and ‘human beings’ are mutually exclusive.”

This valuation of life and concept of choice becomes even more bizarre when you consider Romney and Ryan’s attitudes towards businesses. It was Romney, after all, who said the now infamous line, “Corporations are people, my friend!” Both are strong proponents of removing “burdensome” regulations from businesses and allowing them to make whatever economic decisions they feel are necessary to remain profitable.

Well, one of the economic decisions businesses make, and the government regulates, is how to monetarily define the value of a human life.

Various government agencies assign a monetary value to a human life in order to require businesses to spend a certain amount of money to prevent those deaths. The Transportation Department has valued a human life at around $6 million to justify regulations previously rejected by the Bush Administration as being too costly, like requiring car manufacturers to increase roof strength to save 135 lives a year. Businesses have argued that these values are too high, requiring them to spend too much money and hampering economic growth. I wonder if Romney and Ryan would support reducing the monetary value of a human life to lessen regulations on businesses, knowing that there would likely be more deaths as a result.

The insurance industry also assigns a monetary value to human life. For example, the international standard that most private and government health insurance plans use to determine whether to cover a new medical procedure is that any treatment must guarantee one year of “quality life” for $50,000 or less.

Let me propose a scenario to you. If we accept the proposition that human life can be monetarily defined, and if we accept (as Romney and Ryan do) that companies are allowed to make economic decisions to protect their profit, is an insurance company then allowed to make an economic decision to refuse providing a lifesaving treatment to a fetus because the value of that life is not determined to be worth the cost of the treatment? The end result would be the same, ending the pregnancy as effectively as an abortion.

This is the fundamental problem with the Romney/Ryan ticket: women are given less autonomy and choice than a corporation regarding a decision which is far more intimate and personal. It says some disturbing things about how the modern Republican Party values life and who they let set the standards. Women and families, who are much more intimately connected with the lives in question, are given less power to define the value of a human life than a corporation. If a woman is dying of cancer and she and her family have to choose whether to save her life or the life of her unborn child, they would have less power to make that decision under the policies proposed by the Romney/Ryan ticket than the economic market or, ironically enough, the government. It is even more ironic that a ticket so concerned with the universal sanctity of human life does not extend this same concern to corporations.

It is a bizarre mixture of individualism and paternalism. The economic market is free to move as it will, regardless of the consequences, but the decisions a woman makes must be controlled by the government.

Corporations are people, my friend. But women certainly aren’t.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation