The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is demanding that Pres. Barack Obama’s health-care revolution not include subsidized abortion — and the bishops are demanding honesty on the issue.
At a high-level Washington, D.C., insider dinner recently, a fellow Catholic made a highly cynical, harsh, and scandalously inaccurate accusation: that in the current debate, the bishops’ conference would trade abortion for immigration. That’s simply not true. As many disagreements as I might have on prudential matters with some of my fellow churchmen who are bureaucrats — and bishops! — on issues like immigration and health care, I recognize that their message on abortion is clear and unmistakable. As Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, president of the conference, has put it: “No one should be deliberately killed.” Even if some Catholics serving in Congress don’t accept that defending the most vulnerable human life is a matter of human rights and a moral imperative, the bishops’ official teaching is that abortion is a non-negotiable: We can’t have taxpayer funding of abortion, period.
And the bishops are sending an especially clear message about what’s going on in the current debate: People are lying to you about abortion funding. An understated “news advisory” release from the bishops lays out the facts in black and white. First, the advisory presents the language of the Hyde Amendment, legislation that’s been around since the 1970s, prohibiting government funding of abortion. It has to be voted on annually during the routine appropriations process, and it’s often a bit of a fight. The language reads: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for any abortion. . . . None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. . . . The term ‘health benefits coverage’ means the package of services covered by a managed care provider or organization pursuant to a contract or other arrangement.” (I’m leaving in the helpful emphases of the chart.)
The bishops’ conference further points out that “the Hyde amendment states further that it does not prevent use of state, local or private funds for abortions, as long as these are separate from the state matching funds that combine with federal funds to purchase a benefits package. In other words, not only federal funds, but other funds used to purchase the same package, may not pay for elective abortions.”
If you listen to legal-abortion proponents, this was a dramatic compromise on their part when they agreed to it in 1976. It’s a very bad thing that tramples on women’s rights, and we’re currently on the precipice of another, deeper, trampling — the greatest rollback of women’s rights in three decades.
But it’s just not true. And members of Congress should know that.
Congress voted on that Hyde language just this year, just this month, as part of a consolidated appropriations bill. On the same day — December 13 — Congress voted on similar standard language on abortion in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program: “No funds appropriated by this Act shall be available to pay for an abortion, or the administrative expenses in connection with any health plan under the federal employees health benefits program which provides any benefits or coverage for abortions.”
The bishops’ advisory explains: “Thus federal employees, including members of Congress, may choose among over 200 health plans offered by private insurers — but they may not purchase a health plan that includes coverage of elective abortion, because health plans in this program are also partly subsidized using federal funds.” In other words, here we have a commingling between the public and private spheres, but the Hyde protections remain.
These two examples make up the current state of federal congressional policy on abortion. This is the “status quo” that is discussed in the context of the health-care debate vis-à-vis abortion.
On December 8, the Senate defeated an amendment that read as follows: “No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.” In other words: However extensive the reach of this health-care legislation, the federal government would be consistent in protecting government funds from supporting abortions.
The bishops’ advisory further makes clear how non-revolutionary that amendment was: “Like the other two provisions compared here, this amendment has exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. The rest of the amendment makes clear that (a) it does not prevent purchasers who do not receive federal subsidies from buying a health plan covering elective abortions, even on the Exchange created by the health care reform bill; and (b) it does not prevent purchasers receiving federal subsidies from buying separate supplemental abortion coverage with their own funds.”
This is consistent with the current law. It reaches farther only because government subsidies would too. And yet: This was too much for the Senate. This was too radical. This was too restrictive. It was so unacceptable that some women and men were moved into hysteria on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
You will hear opponents of this Senate language and the House “Stupak amendment,” named after the Michigan Democrat who fought for it, try to muddy the waters. They’ll tell you that what the bishops advocate on abortion in health care is God encroaching on Caesar’s territory. They’ll tell you that no church should have the kind of influence the Catholics are trying to wield. The truth is that many who are saying these things are simply trying to snow you. But anyone who’s being honest admits that Catholics aren’t the only defenders of the most innocent. Right now, however, they are the loudest consistent voice letting the truth be known. And you don’t even need to buy their theological premises to see it. God is just keeping Caesar honest here.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.