Can the Bishops Fix the Health Care Bill?

Deal W. Hudson
May 24, 2010

When the health-care bill passed, the bishops’ reaction was twofold: disappointment at federal funding for abortion, while universal care was applauded.

For some, including myself, the sound of the bishops’ clapping was far too loud given the immense tragedy of our federal tax dollars being committed to supporting abortion under the guise of “women’s health services.”

Those who cheered the loudest, however, were not the bishops but the Catholic leadership – from Congress, health care, journalists, and activist groups – who denied the very presence of the abortion funding about which the bishops expressed their disappointment.

Now the bishops are getting behind another bill intended to “fix” the current version by stripping out its abortion funding – an effort considered unnecessary by those like Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, who stand by the claim that no funding for abortion exists in the bill.

The Protect Life Act (H.R. 5111), co-sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), prevents federal funding for abortion or abortion coverage through government exchanges, community health centers, or any other program by amending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The bill also adds conscience protection for health-care professionals missing from the current health-care bill and ensures that private insurance companies are not forced to cover abortion.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, released a letter to Congress on May 20 asking them to pass H.R. 5111, which would extend the “longstanding policy of the Hyde amendment” to the current health-care legislation.

Unlike Sister Keehan and others, Cardinal DiNardo recognizes, “The Act currently appropriates billions of dollars in new funds for health services without limiting the use of these funds for elective abortions.”

Cardinal DiNardo also addresses the issue of Obama’s March 21 executive order supposedly prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion. His eminence rightly points out that an executive order cannot override the legal authority of either the federal courts or congressional statute. In other words, as Cardinal DiNardo puts it, “This serious problem requires a statutory solution.”

What are the chances of H.R. 5111 passing the House? Almost none, tragically. The only Democrats co-sponsoring Pitts’ bill is Reps. Travis Childers (MS), Lincoln Davis (TN), Tim Holden (PA), Daniel Lipinski (IL), James Marshall (GA), Mike McIntyre (NC), and Gene Taylor (MS). All of them voted against the health-care bill Obama eventually signed.

Most importantly, none of the “pro-life” Democrats who voted for the health-care bill, including Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), have indicated support for H.R. 5111. Like Sister Keehan, some of these House members don’t believe the new health-care bill needs to be amended.

The Protect Life Act stands no chance of passing the House unless it picks up support from members who voted for the original bill, and that possibility looks very unlikely, in spite of the pressure being brought by the Catholic bishops.

On the face of it, the bishops should have more influence on Congress than they presently do. The Democrats control Congress, and there are over twice as many Catholic Democrats (108) in Congress than Catholic Republicans (46). Yet in spite of its large contingent of self-identified Catholic members, the Democratic Party is using its control of Congress to keep abortion funding in the health-care legislation.

Perhaps it’s time for individual bishops to “call out” the Catholic members of Congress who live within their dioceses. What circumstance could be more compelling than the prospect described by Cardinal DiNardo in his May 20 letter to Congress:

The health care bill signed by Obama, he writes, “currently appropriates billions of dollars in new funds for health services without limiting the use of these funds for elective abortions.”

Many Catholics in the pews are horrified that so many prominent Catholic leaders and members of Congress have supported this legislation and even denied its funding for abortion. The scandal of the moment can only be met by bishops who do what they are understandably hesitant to do: warn Catholic politicians that they are jeopardizing their communion with the Church by allowing abortion funding to remain the law of our land.

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