Liberal members of the Democratic caucus are realizing just how pro-life the Stupak Amendment restrictions are and the backlash is starting. We pro-lifers have been focusing on encouraging moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate to hang tough on abortion but pro-choice advocates are doing the same with those members who support their cause. Health Care reform is far from a done deal.
In this morning’s Washington Post Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado claims that she has more than 40 Democrats in the House who have pledged themselves to opposing any final bill that includes the Stupak Amendment. The problem with this is two-fold. First, passing laws is like squeezing a water balloon, when you tweak something at one end, something pops out on the other. The bill, with Stupak, garnered a majority of the chamber. That has been demonstrated. Any other configuration of the bill might get 218, it might not. No other configuration will get the vote of a Republican, that is for sure. Democrats like DeGette, in totally safe districts, may bluster and complain, but Speaker Pelosi needs to count votes.
The second problem is, well, more problematic. Rep. DeGette said, "There’s going to be a firestorm here. Women are going to realize that a Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women paying for abortions with their own funds." That is not true, but I understand her point. The Stupak Amendment prohibits any policies, private or public, offered in the insurance "exchanges" that are to be set up by the government from offering abortion coverage. This goes further than a mere ban on federal funding: There will be women who go to the exchange to find coverage who will not receive federal subsidies and they, also, will not be able to buy a policy in the exchange that covers abortion. In this sense, Stupak is not abortion-neutral, it is positively pro-life. I like that, and I hope we can keep it, but that single provision is not a deal-breaker for me and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the USCCB. Now, I suspect it is: Having achieved it once, they will be as loathe to give it up as the pro-choice crowd is loathe to swallow it.
But, here is where DeGette is also just wrong. The basic plans offered in the exchanges can’t offer abortion services but there is nothing in the bill that prevents women from buying an insurance rider or from paying for an abortion out-of-pocket. Sad to say, abortion is expensive morally and psychologically, but not monetarily. So, DeGette is wrong: Insurance companies will surely offer a variety of services with riders, and women will be free, as they are under current law, to purchase coverage for abortion services. The Senate might even entertain an amendment requiring at least one insurance company that participates in the exchange to offer such a rider. This is a far better solution than tampering with the Stupak language which achieves the complicated and non-negotiable goal of avoiding federal funding of abortion and abortion coverage.
There is a deeper issue as well. No one should confuse a legislative victory with a cultural one, or even with a political one. Speaker Pelosi is not now pro-life, she merely recognized the need to accommodate pro-life concerns to achieve her goal. It is still important that Catholics reach out to their representatives and senators. The Democrats need to be less doctrinaire in their pro-choice position (and those 64 Dem votes for Stupak were a good start) and the Republicans need to be less hostile to the Obama administration when it is pursuing policies that reflect the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. We need to convert the Nancy Pelosi’s of the world to the pro-life cause, not just force her into a legislative compromise. And conversion, like all evangelization, requires patience, listening, respect and solidarity with the person being evangelized. Building a culture of Life was helped by Saturday’s vote, but that task was not finished. That task will never be finished this side of the abyss.
No one at the USCCB should contact insurance companies to make sure they are coming up with insurance riders that cover abortion. On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi was whipping liberal, pro-choice Democrats to vote for a bill that included the Stupak Amendment. And, in a strange way, the final outcome on Saturday was profoundly bi-partisan: It took GOP votes to amend the bill to make it something the Democrats (and Cong. Cao) could pass. The legislative result was and is fragile. But, it is a result worth preserving and everyone should tread carefully.