Catholic Bishops Prod Members of Congress to Support Permanent Ban on Taxpayer-Funded Abortions

By Christopher A. Guzman | August 24, 2010 | 5:31 PM EDT

Cardinal Daniel Dinardo of Houston-Galveston, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (AP photo)

( - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is soliciting the support of Congress for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 5939), introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) at the end of July. It would codify a permanent ban on taxpayer-funded abortions.

“H.R. 5939 will write into permanent law a policy on which there has been strong popular and congressional agreement for over 35 years: The federal government should not use taxpayers’ money to support and promote elective abortion,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston/Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Prolife Activities, wrote in a recent letter to members of Congress. 

The letter addresses assumptions that a ban on federally funded abortion already exists under the Hyde Amendment.
The Hyde amendment bars certain taxpayer funds from being used for elective abortions. However, the amendment is not settled law, but a “rider” attached to the annual Labor/ Health and Human Services appropriations bill. 

Despite implementation of the Hyde amendment, several provisions in the recently passed health care bill (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) allow federal funds to be appropriated for abortions, the bishops said.
“The absence of a government-wide law against federal funding of abortion has led most recently to the passage of major health care reform legislation that contains at least three different policies on federal funding of abortion – none of which is consistent with the Hyde amendment (now Sec. 508 of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill for the current fiscal year) or with similar longstanding provisions that govern all other health programs,” the letter stated.

“For example, one provision of the final Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act technically complies with the first sentence of Hyde (against direct and traceable funding of abortion procedures themselves), but violates Hyde’s second sentence (against funding health plans that cover abortions) – and then violates the spirit of the entire amendment, by directly forcing conscientiously opposed citizens in many plans to fund other people’s abortions through their health premiums (sec. 1303),” it added. 
Additionally, the letter cited specific sections of the health-care legislation by which federal funds can be appropriated towards elective abortions. The UCCB said it hopes the Smith legislation will close the means by which federal funding can be appropriated. 
Although President Obama signed an executive order banning federal funds for elective abortions just before passage of the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, executive orders can be reversed at any given time.
“We believe this legislation would close these and other loopholes in terms of federal funding of abortion,” Richard M. Doerflinger, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the UCCB, told in an e-mail regarding support for Smith’s bill.

In addition to the Hyde amendment, H.R. 5939 would make permanent the Hyde/Weldon amendment, which protects health care providers against discrimination of receiving funds from federal, state, and local agencies if they do not support or provide abortions.

With members of Congress currently working in their home districts and with Congress working its way towards the mid-term elections, the prospect for passage is not high. However, the legislation already has generated 166 co-sponsors, including 20 House Democrats.

“The response we hope for is that more members will co-sponsor the legislation when they return in September,” Doerflinger said “Congress is in recess now, so this letter allows their staff to study the bill and make a recommendation to the member upon his or her return.”

The bishops say the USCCB does not want to get involved in the effort to repeal the Democrats' health care law, as some congressional Republicans have promised to do. Rather, their stated intention is to simply deal with the provisions that concern abortion and conscience rights of healthcare providers who are morally opposed to the practice of abortion. 

Once those provisions have been taken care of, any action on health care could be debated, the letter says.
“Federal health legislation could be debated and supported could be debated and supported in terms of its ability to promote the goal of universal healthcare, instead of being mired in debates about one lethal procedure that most Americans know is not truly ‘healthcare’ at all,” DiNardo wrote.
Doerflinger reiterated the concern to address specific moral problems with which the bishops take issue. 
“The health-care legislation has already been enacted, so we are dedicated to addressing specific moral problems in the enacted law on abortion, conscience rights and immigration,” Doerflinger told
“With passage of HR 5939, we could concentrate on remaining deficiencies in the areas of conscience rights and immigration. We are not part of any effort to rescind the health-care law overall.”