HHS mandate

Why Catholics Will Not Get Abortion Out of the Health Care Bill

Deal W. Hudson
Published August 3, 2009

The Congress and the White House have little to fear from the bishops’ official statements opposing the abortion provisions in the health care bill. Unlike with President Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame, there is no chorus of bishops’ voices rising in protest against the bill; most of the Catholics in Congress support it, and mainstream Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association – which some assume speak for the bishops – have also voiced their support.

The overall impression given by Church leadership thus far is that universal health care coverage is so badly needed that they are not willing to endanger the legislation by protesting too loudly against abortion coverage.

The only notable resistance against the abortion provisions has come from a Catholic, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ); an Evangelical, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN); and 20 “blue dog” Democrats, led by Catholic Bart Stupak (D-MI), who signed a letterasking explicitly that abortion coverage be removed from the bill.

Two official letters from the USCCB have been sent to members of Congress. Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Policy,wrote on July 17 asking Congress to remove abortion coverage. And on July 26, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wroteasking them to support an amendment to exclude the abortion mandate from any health care bill.

President Obama continues to talk about abortion reduction (as he did with Pope Benedict XVI on his Vatican visit) at the very moment the Senate version of the bill – which contains abortion coverage – is being considered in committee.

Obama also feigns indifference to abortion coverage as part of federally mandated universal health coverage. When asked directly about abortion and the health care bill in a July 21 interview with Katie Couric, Obama said any decision about abortion coverage would be left to experts, like pro-abortion Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Yet only a few days earlier, one of Obama’s closet advisers assured members of Planned Parenthood that the Obama administration would not buckle to pressure and remove abortion coverage from the health care reform package. Tina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, supported her promise by quoting from a January 22 statement from the president praising Roe v. Wade.

Tchen’s reference to one of Obama’s presidential statements is ironic: Obama complained to Catholic journalists about the pro-lifers who expect “the worst” from him, claiming there was nothing in his record as president that should be cause for such concern. He argued, “It’s not based on anything I’ve said or done, but is rather just a perception, somehow, that we have some hard-line agenda that we’re seeking to push.” Tchen evidently disagrees.

Many Catholics are asking why Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association are backing a health care bill that two USCCB letters have sharply criticized for its abortion coverage. A LifeSiteNews (LSN) interview with the head of another mainstream Catholic organization supporting the present health care bill may answer the question.

When told by the LSN interviewer that the health care bill included an abortion mandate, Roger Playwin, the national executive director of the venerable St. Vincent de Paul Society, replied:

The bishops’ office has advised us that that’s not accurate. So I can’t speak to it, because all I know is that the bishops’ office has said that story is going around, but it’s inaccurate. That’s all I know.

When asked for clarification about where he got that information, Playwin clarified that it did not come from the USCCB but rather from Catholic Charities USA. In other words, Playwin somehow received a message from Catholic Charities USA that abortion coverage was not contained in the House and Senate versions of the bill – which is simply not true, as the letters from Bishop Murphy and Cardinal Rigali attest.

Yet both Catholic Charities USA and the St. Vincent de Paul Society sent outlegislative alerts asking for support for health care reform and did not mention the issue of abortion services.

So why should either Congress or the White House be afraid of Catholic criticism of the health care bills as they now stand? Yes, the USCCB has made its official statements, but there’s no great roar of opposition to the prospect of federally funded abortion services as a part of universal health care.

As far as the public’s perception is concerned, the “Catholic” imprimatur on health care reform has come from Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. (God help us if L’Osservatore Romano weighs in on this!)

The good news is the two-month delay in voting on the bill. Richard Doeflinger, associate director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, told the National Catholic Register, “Right now, these bills are a moving target… But we will stay on top of it and continue to educate the public.”

Whether or not abortion services remain in the health care bill will be a definitive test of the bishops’ ability to educate and to put the “fear of God” in the Congress and the White House. It is a test, I fear, they will fail.

Abortion, Healthcare, and the President’s Priorities

Deal W. Hudson
Published November 16, 2009

Two days after the Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed, President Barack Obama made a statement that appeared to accept a ban on abortion funding in health care reform.

“I laid out a very simple principle, which is, this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill, and we’re not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions.” (Obama to ABC News, 11/10/09)

However, most people did not notice what he said next, perhaps because it was couched in language so cryptic and coded that they assumed it also affirmed the amendment.

“There needs to be some more work before we get to the point wherewe’re not changing the status quo on abortion,” Obama added. “And that’s the goal.” (Emphasis added.)

The innocent and guileless listener would assume the “status quo” was the ban of federal funding on abortion as represented by the Hyde Amendment. Not so, it turns out.

In a Sunday CNN interview, David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political advisor, argued the Stupak-Pitts amendment goes beyond the “status quo” and, as a consequence, Obama is “going to work with the Senate and the House to try and insure that at the end of the day, the status quo is not changed.”

Just how did the amendment change the “status quo”? Most observers of the debate over abortion funding saw it as the application of the Hyde Amendment banning government funding of abortion in the health care bill.

The pro-abortion lobby claims that Stupak/Pitts would prevent private insurance companies that accept government subsidies from covering abortion. Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, said in her statement:

The Stupak/Pitts amendment would result in a new restriction on women’s access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premium with their own money.

This claim was found to be false before the vote on Stupak-Pitts by the non-partisan Politifact.com: Those paying the insurance premium with their own money, without federal subsidies, “are not barred in any way from obtaining abortion coverage, even if they obtain their insurance from the federally administered health exchange.”

Yet the “status quo” argument continues to be used by Obama, Axelrod, and the pro-abortion Democrats who want abortion funding put back in the bill. Those who thought that the pro-abortion ideology could be pried apart from the desire to make health insurance more widely available have now been purged of their idealism.

Two Catholic observers who were not fooled for a moment were Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, and Doug Johnson, legislative director of National Right to Life. Neither minced words: “Obama spoke out of both sides of his mouth in his ABC News interview,” said Donohue in his statement. Doug Johnson asserted, “The phoniness of Obama’s claim that he has been trying to preserve the “status quo” on abortion policy should be evident to any observer by now.”

What to make, then, of Obama’s original statement, “I laid out a very simple principle, which is, this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill”? He was saying the health care bill was an “abortion bill” if it changed the “status quo.” Since Obama and his pro-abortion colleagues see the addition of Stupak-Pitts as surpassing the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment, it is now an “abortion bill.”

Obama’s mind works exactly the opposite of the pro-life mind, and his language has to be parsed from the perspective that access to abortion is desirable – that it is good. When Obama said the health care bill was “not an abortion bill,” some may have thought that he was promising not to create unprecedented federal funding for abortion. The mistake is assuming Obama shared the view that such an outcome would be undesirable. But that’s not the case at all.

I have resisted coming to the conclusion that Obama cares more about assisting the aims of the pro-abortion lobby than truly making health insurance available to more people. There’s no need to resist any longer.

To Bart Stupak, On the Eve of Battle

Deal W. Hudson
Published December 21, 2009

Dear Representative Stupak,

Your statement on Saturday following the decision of Sen. Ben Nelson to support the Senate health-care bill was a great relief to millions of Catholics in this country. Your comment that “the Senate abortion language is not acceptable” provided moral and religious clarity at a crucial moment in the history of our nation and Church.

You pinpointed the problems with the abortion language of the manager’s amendment, noting the “dramatic shift in federal policy that would allow the federal government to subsidize insurance policies with abortion coverage.” You also rejected the proposed “segregation of funds” as “another departure from current policy prohibiting federal subsidy of abortion language.”

Senator Nelson believes that the language you find unacceptable has “accomplished the goal” of preventing “tax dollars from being used to subsidize abortions.” As your statement infers, Nelson is simply wrong about this and, for whatever reason, refused a briefing with National Right to Life, whose ownstatement further explains the shortcomings of the manager’s amendment.

Nelson’s decision was influenced by a deal he was offered so that his state of Nebraska would save money in Medicaid payments. How can that compare to the thousands, and eventually millions, of aborted children that will directly result from federal funding for abortion? Surely you agree that the right to life is not a principle that can be for sale at any price.

In all likelihood, your resolve and leadership is going to be tested when the health-care bill passes in the Senate, passes through conference, and returns to the House for a final vote. Sixty-three Democrats joined you in supporting your amendment banning federal funding for abortion, but the amendment itself addedonly ten new votes to the total.

Nonetheless, if those ten votes remain constant (including your own), the health-care bill, in its present form, cannot pass the House.

I don’t need to tell you that Catholic leadership in the Congress has, for many years, been sending a mixed message on the non-negotiable life issues to this nation’s citizens, Catholic and non-Catholic. If the House, following your leadership, rejects this bill because of federal funding of abortion, it will help correct much of the widespread confusion about Catholic teaching. (It will also bring anger, but I have a feeling you’re prepared for that.)

I hope you will continue to look beyond the political upside or downside of your efforts to remove abortion funding from health-care reform. None of those calculations can matter in the face of the unborn child.

Many of those lives hang in the balance as we approach the eve of the health-care battle, which may well be Christmas Eve itself. You will recall that the Christ child Himself faced a threat to His life in Herod not long after He was born. He wasn’t the last.

With prayers and best wishes during this Advent season,

Deal W. Hudson

Interpreting Bart Stupak

Deal W. Hudson
Published December 28, 2009

In 1917, Wallace Stevens published “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem now firmly ensconced in every anthology of American poetry. Generations of students have read it as a lesson in perspectivism – how the imagination can see the same thing under a variety of guises.

Bart Stupak (D-MI) is not the subject of anyone’s poem, but already a discernible pattern of Stupak caricatures are forming in the wake of his explicit rejection of the abortion funding “compromise” in the Senate bill and his rather barbed commentson the White House’s pressuring him to drop his objections. Over the next two weeks, these interpretations of Stupak will clash in the media coverage of the health-care bill’s final throes.

Perhaps the most dominant caricature of Stupak will be “Anti-Choice Fanatic.” For example, the Huffington Post’s recent headline, “Stupak Coordinating Anti-Choice Activism with GOP Senate Leadership,” included a link to Politico’s story on alleged e-mails between Stupak’s office and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). A Google search of Stupak and “anti-choice” yields 190,000 hits.

A rather unfair interpretation of Stupak is as “The Bishops’ Puppet,” but that’s what Cliff Kincaid argues in an otherwise pertinent take on the bishops’ role in the health-care reform. Kincaid views the Stupak Amendment as “a ploy designed to keep the legislation alive,” devised by five lobbyists from the USCCB. If it makes Stupak feel any better, Kincaid casts Cong. John Boehner (R-OH) in the same role – “Boehner got his marching orders as well” from Francis Cardinal George who told him “that the Republicans shouldn’t scuttle the Stupak amendment.”

Probably the most utilized charge against Stupak is that he’s “against women’s health.” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, began banging that drum, arguing (falsely, by the way) that the “Stupak/Pitts amendment would result in a new restriction on women’s access to abortion coverage in private health insurance.” In spite of this claim being proved false by independent investigators, it continues to be repeated in editorials nationwide. For Planned Parenthood, however, facts are less important than promoting its pro-abortion ideology.

Of course, not all the interpretations of Stupak are negative. Among social conservatives, Stupak is a “Pro-Life Warrior,” as named by blogger Stephen Dillard. More than a few preachers have invoked the David vs. Goliath story to describe Stupak’s defiance of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. Dillard asks aloud what many are asking in private: “Will Stupak cave like Nelson?”

“Well, call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I truly believe Stupak will stand his ground,” Dillard says. “Like the late (and great) Robert P. Casey, Sr., I am convinced that Stupak is the genuine article. For me, Stupak is the Catholic Politician Who ‘Gets It.'”

The evidence for this is not only his courage in sponsoring the amendment and refusal to accept Nelson’s compromise, but his remarks from an article in the New York Times published on Christmas Day. Stupak was evidently asked about the Catholic Health Association’s surprising endorsement of the Senate health-care bill containing abortion funding. “They don’t hold the same sway,” Stupak said of the CHA.

Stupak “gets it” because he’s not going to hide behind the skirts of Catholic groups who compromise the Church’s teaching on life issues, and who do so without any authority. By dismissing the influence of the CHA, Stupak not only rejects the cover of a lobbying organization with vested interests, but he also defers to the authority of the bishops and their insistence that the health-care bill be stripped of abortion funding.

In the coming weeks, Bart Stupak will be portrayed as everything from a saint to a demon… or just another political hack waiting to make his deal. Who Bart Stupak turns out to be will be the most important factor in this round of the health-care debate.

Exposing Biden’s Lie About the HHS Mandate

Deal W. Hudson
Published October 16, 2012

It was hard to get much done on Friday due to the flurry of phone calls, emails, and texts concerning the USCCB statement about Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.

Everyone was asking the same thing, “Where is Biden’s name? It’s not there!”

In case you missed the debate, at the end the moderator asked each candidate, both Catholic, to say something “personal” about their faith and the abortion issue in particular. Inevitably, the topic of the HHS mandate came up, and Vice President Biden told a whopper of a lie – that the mandate will not force any Catholic to pay for contraception.

The USCCB statement quotes Biden verbatim but does not mention who the statement is intended to correct, Biden or Ryan. It begins, “Last night, the following statement was made… ” Anyone reading this press release, unless they were familiar with last night’s debate, would be left in the dark regarding just “who” misrepresented the impact of the HHS mandate on religious institutions, a stark violation of religious liberty.

That the USCCB went to the trouble of correcting a seemingly anonymous debater defies common sense, but those of us who have been through several political seasons are used to surprises when it comes to the conference, chanceries, parishes, and a presidential campaign. We’ve already dealt with the problem we’ve seen in state conferences issuing alphabetical voter guides – they contradict what the bishops themselves wrote in the “New Introduction” to “Faithful Citizenship”.

Is there a good reason why the USCCB statement would leave Biden’s name out? There is certainly precedent for bishops’ publicly correcting Biden, both as a senator and as vice president. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote an article for Newsmax entitled Ryan, Biden and the Bishops listing 15 bishops who have publicly corrected Biden when he has misrepresented the Catholic faith.

Yet, here Vice President Biden had an audience of 51 million people for his debate with Paul Ryan. Biden’s lie about the HHS mandate potentially has a huge impact on how Catholic voters view the Obama/Biden ticket and the record of their first term.

Biden’s appearance in 2008 on “Meet the Press” was seen by approximately 3 million people, and 15 bishops publicly corrected him. Forty-eight million more people saw and heard Biden deny the violation of religious liberty that the bishops themselves devoted two full weeks to in the summer with their “Fortnight for Freedom”. Yet, the USCCB cannot bring itself to utter his name.

Perhaps there will be other bishops who will fill the void and speak his name aloud saying, “Vice President Biden did not tell the truth about the HHS mandate, and while I am at it, he also spoke incorrectly about the proper role of the Catholic faith in public life.”

But, there is an even stronger reason why the USCCB shirked its responsibility by leaving out Biden’s name. Biden is the Vice President of the United States. He is the second ranking member of the Obama administration, an administration that announced a policy violating the religious liberty of Catholic institutions, causing more than forty of those institutions, including a number of dioceses, to bring law suits against the government. (When Ryan asked Biden about those law suits he was promptly interrupted by moderator Martha Raddatz.)