Follow-up on abortion and health care
There’s an interesting article in today’s New York Times about the fight within the Democratic Party over the issue of abortion funding in the health care reform bill. The entire article is well worth reading, but here are some snippets, followed by some random thoughts of mine:
Lawmakers pushing the abortion restrictions say they feel the momentum is on their side, especially because the restlessness of other Democratic moderates is making every vote count.
At least 31 House Democrats have signed various recent letters to the House speaker,Nancy Pelosi, urging her to allow a vote on a measure to restrict use of the subsidies to pay for abortion, including 25 who joined more than 100 Republicans on a letter delivered Monday.
Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, a leading Democratic abortion opponent, said he had commitments from 40 Democrats to block the health care bill unless they have a chance to include the restrictions.
After months of pushing the issue, Mr. Stupak said in an interview, Mr. Obama finally called him 10 days ago. “He said: ‘Look, try to get this thing worked out among the Democrats. We want you to work it out within the party,’ ” Mr. Stupak said, adding that Mr. Obama did not say whether he supported the segregated-money provision or a more sweeping restriction. “We got his attention, which we never had before.”
After the president called, Mr. Stupak said, Ms. Pelosi agreed to meet with Mr. Stupak on Tuesday to discuss his proposals for the first time, her office confirmed. Her spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, said in a statement, “As we have throughout the process, we are meeting with our members to listen to their concerns, consulting with the administration, and making progress.”
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote this week on a proposed amendment from Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, to restrict the use of federal subsidies.
Advocates on both sides said that if the committee does not adopt the amendment they expect a very close contest over the issue when the bill reaches the floor. Two Democratic abortion-rights opponents, Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are pushing the issue.
Mr. Casey voted in the Senate health committee for a proposal to restrict the use of the subsidies; it was defeated by one vote. Mr. Nelson is considered a pivotal vote needed to pass the overall bill. “Senator Nelson does not believe that taxpayer dollars should be used in any way to fund abortion,” his spokesman said.
Advocates of tighter restrictions note that the health insurance program for federal employees complies with the ban on abortion financing by excluding any plans that offer abortion.
And under the Hatch amendment in the Senate or the Stupak proposals in the House, women would be free to pay extra for an insurance “rider” that would cover abortions.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has lobbied for decades to persuade the government to provide universal health insurance, says it opposes the bill unless it bans the use of subsidies for plans that cover abortion.
“We have said to the White House and various Senate offices that we could be the best friends to this bill if our concerns are met,” Richard M. Doerflinger, a spokesman for the bishops on abortion issues, said in an interview. “But the concerns are kind of intractable.”
A couple of points:
1. As the USCCB spokesman implied, the health care bill represents probably the best opportunity since the beginning of this Administration for the President to make good on his promise of seeking common ground with abortion opponents. The question is this: does President Obama recognize that “common ground,” by definition, does require his side to give up something? Judging by his previous actions on the life issues (the Mexico City policy, embryonic stem cells, etc.), he has been thus far been unwilling to break the promises that he made as a candidate to the abortion lobby. Since one of those promises was that a public health care plan would cover abortions, the President’s actions on this issue will show if he is serious about common ground, or if it is just rhetoric meant to screen his loyalty to this highly influential lobby. Here’s hoping he surprises us.
2. If the final health care plan excludes abortion, it will be due entirely to the efforts of these pro-life Democrats in the House and Senate. It will happen in spite of, not because of, the actions of the “mainstream” pro-life movement, for example ALL and its now-infamous “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” signs. For more detailed Vox Nova discussions about how such organizations have been undermining this effort, go here and here. I wonder if, once the whole health care debate dies down, any of the movement’s leaders will recognize this and take the time for some much-needed self-reflection.