For the first time since Gallup started asking the question in 1995, a majority of Americans describe themselves as “pro-life.” That may include a majority of Congress. Enter the Catholic debate.
On the one hand:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge you [House members] to vote for the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment … Despite some claims to the contrary, H.R. 3962 [the healthcare reform bill] … utterly fails to maintain current prohibitions on abortion mandates and abortion funding. Instead it creates elaborate measures requiring people to pay for other people’s abortions with their taxes, private premiums or federal subsidies. … Additionally, H.R. 3962 allows the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate that the “public option” will include unlimited abortions. Millions of purchasers will be forced to pay an “abortion surcharge,” which requires purchasers of many plans to pay directly and explicitly for abortion coverage. This is unprecedented in federal law. The [SEPKDLS] Amendment will not affect coverage of abortion in non-subsidized health plans, and will not bar anyone from purchasing a supplemental abortion policy with their own funds.
On the other hand:
They are demanding that the bill go far beyond the status quo restrictions on abortion that had been incorporated into the original bill. In an outrageous amendment … antichoice Democrats are demanding explicit and unequivocal exclusion of any coverage for abortion, even in private health plans in the proposed health insurance exchange. Women would lose coverage under this proposal. … Catholics support healthcare reform and support coverage for reproductive healthcare services in that reform. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been on Capitol Hill claiming to speak for America’s Catholics. They do not do so with any legitimacy. Poll after poll has shown that the American public, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, does not want to see Congress play politics with women’s healthcare. American Catholics will not forget who held their healthcare hostage, and allowed it to be held hostage, when the elections come around in 2010.
The Catholic angle emerged as pivotal to the whole health care bill at the last minute, as anti-abortion Democrats enlisted the Catholic bishops to endorse the amendment, so the amendment would get Republican votes, end up in the bill, and provide cover for anti-abortion Democrats to support it. Whew.
I’m wondering, how often do we pay, through public or private resource pools, for practices we think are immoral? Naturally, the political arena is a reasonable place to hash out which of these we are willing to tolerate and which we are not. Under current law and policy we bend over a long way not to pay for abortion services, effectively denying healthcare to many poor women. This principle was enshrined in the 1989 Webster decision by the Supreme Court, which let stand a state ban on funding for abortions, even though legal, in part because:
The Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government may not deprive the individual.
If you have the right, the state may not take it away. If you don’t have the right, the state need not provide it to you.