Commentary: Would Jesus mandate sonograms but cut pre-K?

Let's acknowledge that government has a role in protecting life. That's the essence of police power: the reason for law-and-order rules, health care standards and a safety net for society's most vulnerable.

And let's acknowledge that government has a role in making sure people make informed decisions about medical procedures. When individuals undertake risks at the hands of professionals with more training and knowledge than the average person, someone should have their back.

If you believe requiring women to undergo sonograms before abortions will accomplish those goals, you could justify to yourself overriding other important principles, like enhancing personal autonomy, getting government out of doctor-patient relationships, reducing medical expenses and cutting down on lawsuits.

But let's go on to imagine that you're a Texas legislator who believes that mandating a pre-abortion sonogram is divinely inspired, as state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston apparently does: "This is God's time to pass this bill," he said before the Senate vote.

Your constituents might disagree with you about who exactly put you in office, but if you see your job as doing the Lord's own work, how can you in good conscience contemplate the kind of stinginess being proposed in the early budgets floating around the Capitol?

After all, Jesus was all about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted and visiting the imprisoned.

It's right there in the Gospel of Matthew: "For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me; ill and you cared for me; in prison and you visited me. ... Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

And he also said, "Let the children come to me, ... for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

But when it comes to children, Texas' state leaders have on the table taking $9.3 billion from public education and eliminating a $99 million-a-year pre-kindergarten grant program to help accommodate a mammoth shortfall in projected revenue without generating more revenue.

The sick? Cut reimbursements to physicians who treat the poorest Texans and to facilities that care for most of the state's elderly needing nursing home services.

The imprisoned? Spend less on inmate health care.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio got carried away during debate on the sonogram bill, saying (according to Texas Tribune live blogging), "It is our responsibility to protect that child once that child's born, too. When we start debating a budget, let's make sure we don't cut 100,000 vaccines. Let's make sure we've got health insurance. We seem to worship what we cannot see, but as soon as that baby's born, oh no, we don't want to be intrusive. Texas is going to shrink government until it fits in a woman's uterus."

Crude imagery, yes, but it makes the point about inconsistency.

Of course, taxpayers can't afford for government to be all things to all people.

But Texas hardly does too much for too many. Texas, with the second-largest public school enrollment in the nation, ranks 38th in state spending per student, according to a report by the Legislative Study Group.

Texas has the most uninsured children and the fourth-highest number living in poverty. The state provides among the lowest amounts of assistance to women, children and families who have no income. Texas ranks 49th in per-capita spending on Medicaid for low-income patients; last in the percentage of women receiving prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy; and ninth in inequality between rich and poor.

In tough economic times, there certainly are government expenditures that become unnecessary luxuries (like $20 million to lure film- and video-game makers). Some popular niceties can be done without (money to restore old courthouses, say). And some items must move from essential to expendable.

It's worth remembering that Jesus was prescribing a path to salvation, not a menu of public policy options.

But lawmakers who claim to be working for God will look more sanctimonious than sanctified if they only walk that talk when it suits one obsession.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman