Government & Politics
 

More anti-abortion Catholics back healthcare bill

U.S. Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao, who represents most of New Orleans, still has not decided whether he will vote for or against President Obama’s historic healthcare reform bill. As, I wrote yesterday, his objections to the bill pivot on his belief that the Senate version of the healthcare reform bill has loopholes that permit the federal funding of abortion. Cao has been following the interpretation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which reiterated its opposition to the healthcare reform bill earlier this week, hardening divisions between it and other Catholic organizations that believe the bishops are distorting the bills’ anti-abortion provisions.

Just today, for instance, leaders of religious orders representing some 59,000 Catholic nuns sent out a letter in support of healthcare reform, asserting that “despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.”

Many Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives have been similarly reluctant to support the Senate bill because its language is not as explicit as that in an earlier version of the bill.

That is, until now.

Over the past 24 hours, two anti-abortion Catholic Democrats in the House have concluded that the bill, which could be voted on as early as Saturday, includes sufficiently restrictive language.

Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Virginia, released a statement yesterday that detailed his research into the abortion provisions contained in the healthcare reform bill and his finding that the bill indeed “prevents federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions.”

Like Cao, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., was part of a group of about a dozen Congress members holding out on voting for the bill behind the leadership of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Since talks between Stupak and the White House broke down last week, the Stupak coalition is beginning to independently evaluate the bill’s provisions.  Yesterday, Oberstar told reporters from Roll Call, who called him “one of the staunchest anti-abortion-rights Democrats in the House,” that he believed that the language of the bill to be consistent with the Hyde amendment, which has prohibited federal funding of abortion through appropriations bills since 1976.

Today, the Catholic magazine Commonweal published a lengthy and persuasive editorial urging the passage of the President’s healthcare reform bill from an anti-abortion perspective. (h/t: Andrew Sullivan, himself an independent small-c conservative Catholic)

One needs a good reason to oppose a bill that would cover 30 million uninsured Americans and greatly improve insurance for those who already have it. If the Senate bill did clearly authorize the federal government to pay for elective abortions, prolife Americans might have such a reason. To conclude the bill does this, however, requires one to believe that every ambiguity—every possible complication the bill doesn’t explicitly address—is a ploy by prochoice politicians to sneak abortion funding into the system. President Barack Obama and his party’s leadership have promised the bill won’t be used in this way. Their critics instruct us to presume that they’re lying.

[C]ritics point out that the bill departs from the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal support for any health plan that covers elective abortion. They insist this is the only conceivable way for the government to subsidize insurance without paying for abortion. This is false, as the Senate bill itself clearly demonstrates. Under the bill, anyone who buys a plan that covers elective abortion would have to pay a separate, unsubsidized premium for that coverage. Such premiums would be segregated from premiums for all other services in a special account, which would have to cover the full cost of elective abortions and couldn’t receive a penny from the government. In other words, the bill would preserve the Hyde Amendment’s principle without applying its method.

If one wants to claim that no politician who’s really opposed to abortion can support the Senate bill, it’s not enough to show that the bill’s provisions are inferior to the House’s Stupak Amendment; one must also argue that the Senate bill is inferior to the status quo. The government is already subsidizing group plans that cover elective abortion by means of tax breaks for businesses that offer them. Millions of Americans must now choose between accepting such a plan and going without good health insurance; the only other option, a decent individual plan, is now just too expensive for them. The Senate bill would give such people the wherewithal to buy insurance that doesn’t cover elective abortion, which means that, in addition to its many other benefits, it would save millions of Americans from having to choose between their conscience and their health.

LATE UPDATE:

Now, Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., a huge opponent of abortion and a loyal ally of Stupak, has come out with a statement on the abortion issue.

For those who know me, I have always respected and cherished the sanctity of human life. I spent six years studying to be a priest and was willing to devote my life to God. I came to Congress two years after the Hyde amendment became law. And I have spent the last 34 years casting votes to protect the lives of the unborn. I have stood up to many in my party to defend the right to life and have made no apologies for doing so. I now find myself disagreeing with some of the people and groups I have spent a lifetime working with. I have listened carefully to both sides, sought counsel from my priest, advice from family, friends and constituents, and I have read the Senate abortion language more than a dozen times.

I am convinced that the Senate language maintains the Hyde amendment, which states that no federal money can be used for abortion.

There is nothing more pro-life than protecting the lives of 31 million Americans. Voting for this bill in no way diminishes my pro-life voting record or undermines my beliefs. I am a staunch pro-life member of Congress — both for the born and the unborn.

If it remains true that Cao is leaning against the healthcare reform bill, it would appear as though he is becoming increasingly isolated from like-minded Catholics, who are now, in significant numbers, breaking in support of healthcare reform.

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