Faith-based Organizations Oppose Senate Health Bill’s Abortion Language

December 31, 2009 - 1:40 PM
Catholic and other faith-based organizations denounced the abortion language in the Senate health care bill that passed on Christmas Eve.

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)

(CNSNews.com) -- Catholic and other faith-based organizations denounced language in the Senate health care bill, which passed last week on Christmas Eve, allowing taxpayer funds to pay for health plans that cover abortion.

The bill, which passed late on Christmas Eve, was approved on a party-line vote of 60 to 39, with two independents voting in favor, along with 58 Democrats.
 
Religious groups disagreed with the Senate bill’s lack of provisions against federal funding of health plans that cover abortion.
 
Human Life International (HLI), a pro-life Catholic group with offices in 80 countries worldwide, told CNSNews.com that it is "sinful" for a Catholic politician to support pro-abortion provisions in the Senate health care bill. 

Stephen Phelan, a spokesman for HLI, said that the Senate health bill does not prohibit federally funded abortion.
 
“No one believes that the Senate's abortion ‘compromise’ will stop federal funding of abortion,” Phelan said in an e-mailed statement.
 
HLI also sad that any Catholic politician who “fails to oppose” what it called the Senate bill’s “anti-life provisions” would violate Catholic teachings.
 
“There are far too many problems with this legislation for any serious Catholic to endorse it,” stated the e-mail. “Catholic teaching is very clear. Any Catholic politician who not only votes for such life-destroying legislation, but who fails to oppose its anti-life provisions vigorously, commits a grave sin and jeopardizes his soul.”
 
HLI also warned that Catholic politicians who show support of pro-abortion language under health-care reform could “lead others astray” due to their prominent status as servants of the public. 

“This is because the politician is a public figure whose sin is likely to lead others astray, the very definition of scandal,” said HLI’s Phelan. “To equivocate by claiming dubious benefits of such legislation will not work with the One who knows the truth.”
 
Catholic Bishops Still Oppose the Bill
 
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also denounced the abortion language in the Senate health bill.

The bishops sent to Senate members a Dec. 22 letter, which was signed by the chairmen of three committees within USCCB, which states:“We strongly urge the Senate not to move its current health care reform bill not to move forward without incorporating essential changes to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences of health of all.” 

“The abortion provisions in the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill do not maintain this commitment to the legal status quo on abortion,” the later reveals.

“Federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases, a federal agency will facilitate and promote health plans that cover elective abortions in a very direct and explicit way,” the letter explains, “Through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions.” 

Language adopted in the Senate’s version of health-care legislation provides federal subsidies to millions of people so that they may buy private health insurance plans available through a new marketplace, or “exchange.” 

The language was a compromise reached by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to secure Nelson’s vote in favor of halting Senate floor debate on the health care bill by stopping a Republican filibuster. Other Democrats participated in the closed-door negotiations as well, and the compromise resulted in allowing people who receive federal funds to be able to purchase insurance plans with abortion coverage.

Under Reid/Nelson “compromise” language, which is echoed in the bill’s 383-page “Manager’s Amendment” to the 2,000-plus page Senate health bill, health plan “enrollees” will pay for their entire premium of the plan excluding abortion coverage and separately pay for the “actuarial value” of abortion coverage. 

The “Manager’s Amendment” also allows for states to “opt-out” from having insurance plans that cover abortion in their exchange through enacting a law that prohibits such plans. 

Currently, five states have some type of restriction on abortion coverage. 

The bishops further stated in their letter that the health-care legislation passed by the Senate falls short of Catholic “moral criteria” by failing to maintain -- as the House version doed -- existing federal law barring “abortion funding and conscience protections on abortion.”

The House version of the health-care reform legislation contains an amendment, sponsored by pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which contains specific language that bars the use of federal taxpayer funds to pay for abortions, except in the case of incest, rape, and threat to the pregnant woman – the same standard outlined elsewhere in law by a provision known as the Hyde Amendment. 

The bishops said the Senate health bill “violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective and health plans that include abortions.”
 
“We believe legislation that fails to comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is remedied,” the letter proclaimed,” they added. 

Stupak’s amendment, which the USCCB supports, bans the use of federal subsidies to purchase health plans that cover abortion. 

The sale of “riders” for abortion coverage is permitted under the Stupak amendment. However, neither the Senate nor the House abortion language affects enrollees who get their health insurance from employer-provided plans. 

Attempts by Sen. Nelson of Nebraska to insert language into the Senate bill emulating the Stupak amendment failed in the Senate.

“The Stupak language of the House bill actually reflected a compromise, which most pro-lifers were not happy about, but at least included strong language that respected the position of the vast majority of Americans' views on restricting abortion coverage,” HLI’s Phelan stated. 

“The fact that even this compromise was rejected by the Senate should tell us all we need to know.”

Senate Majority Leader Reid was eventually able to secure Sen. Nelson’s vote on Dec. 19, the 60th vote needed, after promising increased federal aid for Nebraska and breaks for some of Sen. Nelson’s health care interests. 

In its letter to senators, meanwhile, the bishops cited a Dec. 22 Quinnipiac University poll showing that 72 percent of the American public is opposed to taxpayer funded abortion under health-care reform. 

The bishops who signed the Dec. 22 letter are: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., who heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of the Committee on Migration.

Other groups feel similarly. The Freedom Federation, which represents over 30 million constituents of some of he nation’s top faith-based organizations, showed disapproval of the Senate’s health legislation’s abortion language after Majority Leader Reid filed his Manger’s Amendment. 

According to a Dec. 22 release, the federation “opposes any health care bill that directly or indirectly funds abortion, including the current Senate bill.” 

The Reid amendment violates “the principles of the Hyde Amendment by funding abortion,” the consortium of Evangelical, Catholic and Jewish organizations said. 

Meanwhile, despite claims to the contrary by a Dec. 26 New York Times article, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), said it remains in tune with the U.S.C.C.B regarding abortion language in the Senate health bill.

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the CHA, which represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals, said in a Dec. 28 interview with Catholic News Service: "There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops. We believe there is a great possibility and probability that in conference committee we can work toward a solution that will prevent federal funding of abortion."

Though CHA has shown approval for President Obama’s efforts to reform the health-care system in America, Keehan said that her organization does not support the Senate health bill as it stands now. 

HLI, meanwhile, finds other grounds besides abortion for criticism of the latest version of health-reform legislation, including the lack of “restraint on the Department of Health and Human Services essentially to do whatever they want after the (final) bill is passed.”

In a statement to CNSNews.com, the group said: “Even if by some miracle better language makes it into the final bill severely restricting funding for abortion, we remain alarmed about the myriad threats to the elderly and severely disabled as well as the lack of conscience-protection language in either bill.”

The USCCB echoed a similar concern in a Nov. 20 letter to the Senate -- one of many health-care reform related letters the U.S.C.C.B has sent to members of Congress.