In this week’s issue of Newsweek, Lisa Miller laments the power of Catholic bishops in the U.S., commencing her excoriation of Roman Catholic influence on the health care debate by proclaiming that the American public “hardly regards the institutional Catholic Church as sacrosanct,” adding that “more than half of American Catholics believe you can be a good Catholic and disregard the bishops’ teaching on abortion,” according to a 1999 poll. Interestingly enough, Miller does not say which poll that is. These Catholics probably also believe you can go to Mass once a year on Christmas and call yourself a “practicing Catholic”.
In the same article in which she makes the case for the irrelevance of the Church in the eyes of “most American Catholics,” Miller argues that a new cohort of young bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II and committed to a “uncomprimising stance” on abortion hold the power to bring down health care reform. Miller, like most progressives, want to have it 17 ways from Tuesday, arguing that irrelevant institutions, individuals and opinions have an ungodly amount of influence and hold us captive from what they view as progress. This is an illogical fallacy-how can you be influential if the American public thinks you’re irrelevant?
Miller also declines to point out that the bishops’ opposition to any public funding of abortions is consistent with 34 years of policymaking influenced by the Hyde Amendment, as well as with numerous polls indicating clear public opposition to taxpayer-funded abortions, regardless of whether they are pro-life or pro-choice.
Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat of Michigan, together with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, forced Speaker Pelosi to bring his amendment banning any direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care bill before voting on the bill. The bill passed with wide bipartisan support, including dozens of Democrats who have indicated they will not support a bill that publicly funds abortion. The Stupak amendment goes beyond the Hyde Amendment in that it is permanent and does not require an annual vote. The Senate bill does not include the language of the House bill and leaves the door open to publicly funded abortions by allowing insurance policyholders to “write a separate check” for an abortion rider for the policy, and vests enormous power with DHS to determine “basic coverage” for health insurance policies. However, the Senate legislation does not specifically exclude abortion from being included in that determination.
Miller implies that this is about a concerted effort by conservative religious organizations, such as the bishops, to overturn Roe. In reality, this is an effort to maintain precedent in keeping “choice” just that-a private decision whose costs is not of public concern or support. Conversely, faced with a conservative Court that indicates a willingness to reject faulty precedent, together public opinion, which is increasingly Conservative, especially among young people (who show a marked increase in participation in religious services as well as opposition to abortion rights in poll after poll), opposition by progressives like Miller to banning public funding of abortion is part of a long struggle to establish abortion-the murder of unborn children-a basic health care procedure that mandates public financing and shield Roe from any possibility of reversal by the Court. If they thought it wouldn’t kill them politically, progressives would enshrine the Roe decision in a 28th amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Faced with overwhelming public opposition to Democratic plans for health reform, Obama has ordered the House to vote on the Senate version of the bill, with the understanding that the Senate will use reconciliation, an obscure parliamentary procedure intended for budget measures and only requiring a 51-vote majority, to patch the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
With Stupak threatening to kill the bill without language expressly prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions and progressives opposed to any bill prohibiting them, abortion looks to be the death of health reform. Senate leaders and the President have asked the House to approve the Senate measure while promising to “fix” the abortion language in reconciliation. Neither is likely-the fact that health reform is not yet a reality highlights the painful fact that Democrats cannot unite their own party on health reform. Several members who voted for the House bill in December have announced they are now “no” votes. Obama has now set a March 18 deadline for getting a bill to his desk-a deadline unlikely to be met with Democrats facing an already tough battle in November.
What would be so hard about adding the Hyde Amendment language to both the House and Senate versions of the bill and holding a conference committee to reconcile less polarizing differences? Adding the broadly-supported Hyde Amendment language to he bill and making it permanent would go a long way towards engendering meaningful, bipartisan reform, and Miller would do well to check her facts.