Aborttion has been part of the healthcare debate from the beginning. The effort was supposed to be that the healthcare bill would be “abortion neutral” meaning it neither expanded the opportunities for abortion, nor restricted them. Now it seems that no longer suffices for the US Catholic Bishops who want to impose their view on abortion on all of American citizens and make this an anti-abortion health Care bill. Sara Posner at Relgion Dispatches explains the current fight over abortion in the health care bill:
As the House of Representatives health care reform bill edges closer to a vote, anti-choice Democrats continue their threats to hijack the bill over abortion funding. These members, and their supporters, are the very constituency Democrats have been urged to placate on abortion-related issues. That strategy, misguided to begin with, seems even more so as the “pro-life” Democrats are trying to bring down their own party’s signature legislative initiative.
As part of Democrats’ re-tooling in the post-“values voters” election of 2004, they tried to be more “friendly” to religion. A big part of that strategy included making anti-choice Democrats feel more “welcome” in the party by being less doctrinaire on choice, and acknowledging the claimed heartfelt religious belief at the core of these Democrats’ position.
But now some of these Democrats, who claim to be pro-life, are playing politics with health care reform, aligning themselves more closely with the anti-choice hard right and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) than their own party. They insist that efforts to ensure that no public funds will be used to cover abortion services are insufficient. This game-playing is not about public funding of abortion, already outlawed in the Hyde Amendment (which bars federal funding from being used to pay for abortions for low-income women under Medicaid and other programs). Indeed, the House bill already incorporates Hyde through its own amendment authored by pro-choice California Democrat, Rep. Lois Capps.
Instead, these Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, are pushing for an amendment to restrict womens’ access to abortion. And that’s not theology, it’s politics.
Even so, says Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, those attempting to torpedo health care reform over the abortion issue do not represent mainstream religious views. “Pro-choice religious groups and leaders are very mainstream. They are supporting health care reform in the broadest framework,” she said in an interview with RD.
While the USCCB has taken a hard line on opposing health care reform (which it claims to support) if abortion isn’t sufficiently restricted, it does not represent the views of most Catholics. A recent poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice found that 68% of Catholics disapproved of the Bishops’ opposition to health care reform that includes abortion coverage; 56% believed the Bishops shouldn’t even be taking a position on the health care reform legislation. The views of the country’s 65 million Catholics, said Jon O’Brien, the group’s president, “are not represented by 350 members of the USCCB.”
Other pro-choice religious leaders are similarly dismayed. Rev. Debra Haffner, president of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, reacting to efforts to restrict abortion coverage in health care reform, wrote on her blog, “It is profoundly unjust when the private moral choices of women… are subject to majority vote and political trading. There can be no common ground when votes are allowed to strip people of their existing rights.”
Planned Parenthood, said Richards, wants the Hyde Amendment repealed because low-income women should have equal access to abortion services. But, she added, “we’re not taking the position that health care reform is the place to relitigate that issue… unfortunately a handful of people would rather bring down health care reform in its entirety than provide the coverage women already have.”