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Looking Back with Bart Stupak

May 17, 2010

Via Grant Gallicho, Bart Stupak looks back at his role in healthcare reform. In my book, Stupak is a hero – his dual commitment to the unborn and to universal healthcare was unwavering, and he fought an extremely tough fight to secure an expansive healthcare reform that kept its distance from abortion. It is because of him and his band of pro-life Democrats that we got healthcare reform, and we got reform that is more pro-life than anybody could have possibly imagined.

And yet, today he sounds like a broken man. On the left, he was derided for merely interjecting abortion into the debate. On the right, he was attacked as a traitor, a Judas, who had the gall of actually believing in healthcare reform. And in the current poisoned atmosphere on the right, Stupak now faces a constant flood of hate mail, harassment, and death threats.

Through all of this, I am most disappointed by the role of the USCCB. In line with the Church, Stupak and his pro-life Democrats supported universal healthcare and opposed abortion – just like the USCCB. But in today’s society, there are far too few people in this camp, even among Catholics. And the USCCB ended up pulling the rug from under its erst-while ally, because he crossed a line in the sand drawn by those who opposed healthcare reform in any event. Here is his take:

“We also put in a final call to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had been among my strongest supporters during the fall.  I was disappointed by what I heard. No, no, no, no, they said. We need statutory law. But an executive order can have the full force of law, I said. Lincoln used one to free the slaves. George W. Bush used one to block stem-cell research using human embryos. And President Obama assures me that this is “ironclad.” Besides, I said, it’s time to negotiate or lose our chance to shape the bill. Help me with it? No, they said. Won’t you at least look at it? No.

That call changed my relationship with the pro-life movement. In the 18 years I’ve been in Congress, pro-life Democrats like me have delivered, working out compromises that protect human life. Now we had the most important piece of legislation for our movement yet—with pregnancy prevention, prenatal and postnatal care, and care for kids—and we couldn’t get support.”

What went wrong? A number of issues.

First, the USCCB elevated a prudential judgement – on how the final bill would affect abortion – to a point of principle.

The USCCB read it one way, others (including Prof. Timothy Jost and, importantly, Sr. Carol Keehan) came to another conclusion. Many times, I argued in favor of the latter:

  • The legislation banned federal funds from covering abortions, using tried-and-tested accounting techniques – funds must be strictly segregated and audited by state insurance commissioners using GAP, OMB, and GAO accounting standards.
  • The real difference came down to either a supplemental policy (Stupak) or a supplemental premium in the same policy (the legislation) covering abortion, with an identical fungibility issue;
  • States can prohibit all plans that offer abortion from accessing the exchange – a more radical idea than even Stupak had suggested, as it would even ban coverage for people who do not receive subsidies;
  • The forced separate premium for all plans that cover abortion will discourage people from taking these plans, and companies from offering them;
  • There must be at least one plan in every exchange that does not offer abortion;
  • The community health centers have never offered abortion and will not be able to offer abortion, as the newly appropriated funds will not be segregated from existing funds under the auspices of the Hyde amendment;
  • These protections are cemented by executive order;
  • There is a clear connection between abortion (which is highly related to poverty) and access to healthcare – after all, what is a pregnant uninsured woman to do when childbirth costs $25,000 and up, while an abortion costs a mere $400? Indeed, there seems to be a strong link between universal healthcare and lower abortion – even after the Romney experiment in Massachusetts which is eerily similar to the current reform.

When you look at the facts, it seems pretty clear that this was a pretty decent bill on pro-life grounds, and that the protections are light-years ahead of what is available to those with employer-sponsored insurance (and where the abortion coverage is fully subsidized through the tax system). But, even with the seal of an executive order, the USCCB refused to budge.

Remember, this is a prudential issue, one based on the application of principle to fact and circumstance. The debate quickly became rather technical and complicated, related to the reading of obscure legislative language. It may well be that they are right, and I am wrong. But I firmly believe the balance of evidence is on my side.

That said, I’m not necessarily saying the USCCB should have supported this bill. They could have laid out the principles clearly and left prudence to the faithful. After all, that is what they did with the Iraq war, when the prudential case for it being just was far less certain. To put in differently, the facts and circumstances indicated that the probability of a just war was far smaller than the probability of the current healthcare reform leading to a surge in tax-payer funded abortion.

Second, the USCCB failed to distinguish valid and invalid reasons for opposing healthcare reform.

The bishops stated their principles clearly – affordable universal healthcare, no funding for abortion, no discrimination against immigrants. And yet, the Catholic opponents of healthcare readily mixed moral issues with arguments from American liberalism in ways that were often impossible to distinguish. Just peruse these sites, and you will find the abortion argument intermingled with attacks on“socialized medicine” and “government-run healthcare”, as well as hyperbola about rationing and death panels. Pro-life arguments were always suffused by other, darker, arguments – arguments stemming from a tradition alien to Catholic social teaching, from an Enlightenment -era liberalism that glorifies the supremacy of individual freedom and pours cold water over notions of solidarity. 

These people were never on the same page as Stupak, as he quickly realized. They never wanted this healthcare reform to pass. They were using him, and the unborn too. It is for this reason that they turned on Stupak, and in such a nasty and vicious manner. The bishops could have taken a stronger position here. They could have put more stress on the Catholic insistence that healthcare is a right, and the government might have a valid role in this provision. They could have corrected the misinterpretation of Catholic teaching on solidarity and subsidiarity doing the rounds.

On a related point – the bishops also did not do enough to damp down the flames that engulfed the whole healthcare debate. Is it any surprise that Stupak is receiving death threats when the Palinesque tea-partiers first began combining hateful and incendiary rhetoric with lies and misinformation almost a year ago? The bishops knew as well as everyone else that the ideas behind this healthcare bill came from the right – from Romney in Massachusetts to the Republican opponents of the Clinton healthcare reform in 1994. The ideas were relatively conservative (and I use that term in its correct sense). They could have been out in front in calling for a more civil debate.

To sum up – the first mistake was to raise prudence to principle, and the second was insufficient clarity on principle.

Not exactly a recipe for success. Still, I impute no bad motives to them, and my disappointment goes along with continued respect. Like Nicholas Cafardi, I fear they were more inclined to follow rather than lead on this issue,a dn to follow the most dubious participants in the debate. For following the disingenuous National Right to Life Commitee (NRLC)- which has in the past supported government funding for private abortion plans that cover abortion – is a recipe for disaster. And the result? Bitterness among the pro-life Democrats and all who desire a consistent ethic of life. Association of the pro-life cause with an angry, bitter, and increasingly violent, fringe. A setback in the ability to persuade those open to persuasion on the abortion issue.  

Of course, a “pro-life Democrat” is anathema to the NRLC and is political machinations, so they and their supposedly “pro-life” allies will no doubt appreciate this outcome (and are already exploiting it). But for the Church, for the commonweal in general, and for the unborn in particular, it’s bad news. We need more Bart Stupaks, not less.

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10 Comments
  1. May 17, 2010 1:30 pm

    The two things which concern me really are:

    1) they didn’t denounce the poor, uncatholic reasons being used to denounce the whole need for health care reform and
    2) the double-speak which can be shown where they said a public option where one could “opt out” of paying for coverage which paid for abortion could be accepted.

  2. Kurt permalink
    May 17, 2010 2:24 pm

    All of the above is true. The Bishops could have been better and there are some bishops, not exceeding a single diget number, who truly were out of line.

    Having said that, the reason we have this legislation today is because millions of Americans, including millions of Catholics, were willing to stand for something more than selfish interests. And contributing to this ability to rise above self-interest is God’s grace. And for millions, this grace found them or was enhanced by the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the preaching of the Gospel by the same Church and prayers and devotions that the Church led these souls to.

    And for that, the bishops played no small role in favor of enactment of this legislation and we should all be grateful to them.

  3. May 17, 2010 4:04 pm

    Oh good grief. I am about to say plagues on both your houses. I am slightly more disapointed with Henry Karalson that is a LAW prof and know these issues of what can be funded as to abortion funding will be much more in dispute than he is portraying. At least I hope he realizes that because both sides and the future lawyers he can educate can drive a bulldozier throught this. I suspect he is doing those HYPOS on LAW exams that he inflicts on his students.

    Oh and Kurt get off your high horse. The Sacraments nourish me and I opposed this legislation. Am I in mortal sin. Should I turn in my Catholic secret decorder ring in. Good grief. The two recent posts on this reminds of the current immigration debate. We all take sides and don”t engage. An undercurrent of whos is not true Catholic or not wgich is getting so tiresome

    All just sick

    At times likes this I really don’t think Catholic blogs on the right or the left(though they swear they hate those models do a darn thing).

  4. phosphorious permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:08 pm

    And President Obama assures me that this is “ironclad.”

    This was the fatal flaw. Every good conservative knows Obama simply cannot be trusted.

    Whereas those of us without the visceral personal reaction to him see just another politician who will keep a promise because of the political pressure to do so.

  5. phosphorious permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:09 pm

    Oh and Kurt get off your high horse. The Sacraments nourish me and I opposed this legislation. Am I in mortal sin.

    No. . . of course not. . . it’s a prudential matter. Those of us who support it are also not in mortal sin.

    But the bishops strongly suggested otherwise.

  6. Josh Brockway permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:21 pm

    “All just sick

    At times likes this I really don’t think Catholic blogs on the right or the left(though they swear they hate those models do a darn thing).”

    Here’s a hint: Stop reading them.

  7. May 18, 2010 1:18 pm

    the bishops also did not do enough to damp down the flames that engulfed the whole healthcare debate

    I’m not sure what you expect the bishops to have done. I think they encouraged civil debate in every letter they wrote on the subject (except maybe the one hastily written on the day of the vote to say why they disagreed with Stupak). Both sides should get part of the blame for making the “debate” as unsavory as it was.

    As the USCCB’s decision, I’m glad VN has decided the bishops aren’t elderly simpletons easily swayed by the meanies at the NLRC (perhaps since immigration is an issue again, some have reverted back to favoring the wisdom of the USCCB?) but really all the USCCB did was repeat Bart Stupak’s own arguments back at him. I don’t know why Stupak has been so vicious (both in the text you quote and in his statements on the floor the day of the vote) against the USCCB.

  8. Gregory B permalink
    May 18, 2010 10:38 pm

    Stupak reaps what he has sown.

    Stupak’s betrayal has enables the genocide to go into high gear.
    Planned Parenthood is expanding.

    Lets look at the statistics

    Abortions in the United States
    Total number of abortions in the U.S. since 1973: 48 million +
    Abortions per year: 1,200,000
    Abortions per day: 3,288
    Abortions per hour: 137
    9 abortions every 4 minutes
    1 abortion every 26 seconds

    Surgical abortions in the United States (1965-2005)

    Since the first states decriminalized abortion in 1967, it is estimated that more than 46,000,000 reported surgical abortions in the U.S. An estimated 1,878,990 were committed before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that lifted all restrictions. An average of 1,300,000 babies are killed annually through surgical abortion.

    Chemical abortions in the United States (1965-2005)

    Because many contraceptive measures are abortifacients (drugs that induce or cause abortions), it is important not to overlook the number of children killed by chemical abortions. Since 1965, an average of 11 million women have used abortifacient methods of birth control in the United States at any given time. Unsing formulas based on the way the birth control pill works, pharmacy experts project that about 14 million chemical abortions occur in the United States each year, giving a projected total of well in excess of 560 million chemical abortions between 1965 and 2005.

    Planned Parenthood’s income break-down for 2006-2007 fiscal year
    PP clinic income: $356.9 million
    PP Government grants and contracts: $336.7 million
    Total profit: $114.8 million
    Total income: $1.02 billion

    2006 Planned Parenthood service numbers
    Number of abortions (medical and surgical): 289,750
    Total number of abortions per week: 5,572
    Adoption referrals: 2,410
    Ratio of adoption referrals to abortions: 1 per 120

    2007 Planned Parenthood Annual Survey
    Total number of PP clinics: 855
    Total number of non-express clinics: 814
    Express clinics: 41
    Total number of PP clinics that perform surgical and/or medical abortions: 287
    Total number of affiliates: 108
    Number of clinics that started doing abortions in 2007: 55

    Other random information
    Highest number of PP non-express clinics: 938 in 1995
    Total number of PP clinics in 2006: 859
    Number of states that do NOT give money to PP: 6 according to 2006 ALL study

    Percentages of U.S. Females, Age 15-44, Broken Down by Race (According to 2000 U.S. Census)

    Whites: 64.7%
    Blacks: 12.3%
    Hispanic or Latino: 12.4%
    Other: 10.6%

    Percentages of U.S. Women Who Obtained Abortions, Broken Down by Race (According to Center of Disease Control, 2004)

    Whites: 54.1%
    Blacks: 38.2%
    Other: 7.7%

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  1. More Violent “Pro-Lifers” « Vox Nova

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