A Big Defeat in the Senate

The defeat of the Nelson-Hatch amendment that would have truly barred federal funding of abortion from the health care reform bill is a huge setback for the pro-life movement. Today, it appears that only one Senator, Ben Nelson, and a handful of Congressmen stand between health care reform that is true to its name and health care reform that greatly expands coverage of a procedure that is can only be termed health care in those rare instances when the life of the mother is at stake.

The small group of Democrats who voted for the Nelson-Hatch amendment should be commended although only Sen. Nelson has said that the current abortion language remains an obstacle to securing his vote. Nelson also, and admirably, said that he will continue negotiating, seeking some sort of compromise language that will come close enough to the House-passed Stupak amendment to represent a meaningful ban on federal funding of abortion coverage and yet not so alienate pro-choice legislators that it lacks the votes to pass. The USCCB, which has said it is not negotiating further, should follow Nelson’s lead and get back to the table with open ears and open hearts.

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The most interesting vote cast yesterday was that of Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware. Who? If you don’t recall the name it is because he recently joined the Senate, appointed to fill the seat vacated by Vice-President Joe Biden. Kaufman was a long time aide to Biden and while his seat is not exactly held in trust, it is unthinkable that he would have voted as he did without some indication from the Vice President’s office that such a vote was welcome. This is not to say that the White House has tipped its hat, but I think it shows that the White House is not going to the mat in opposition to the Stupak amendment either.

Both parties have much to learn from yesterday’s vote. Shame on the Republicans who refuse to support health care reform. The rest of the bill is, after all, very pro-life. Providing health insurance to women so that the costs of a pregnancy and live birth are covered is pro-life. Making sure that people are not denied coverage by rapacious insurance companies because of technicalities or pre-existing conditions is pro-life. Republican senators largely supported yesterday’s amendment on abortion and they should be commended, but they are deeply flawed champions of the pro-life cause.

Pro-life Democrats need to find ways to get more of our own elected. This means that we must find candidates for state legislatures, candidates for mayoralties, candidates for statewide office who are pro-life so that they can advance up the political ladder. We must make sure that we contribute to the campaign coffers of candidates who are pro-life on abortion and pro-life on the need for health care reform.

The floor vote was held in the light of day but the negotiations now go behind closed doors. Hopefully there, without the glare of the media and special interests, a better solution can be found than the current language in the Senate bill. It breaks my heart to think that at the end of the day any of us pro-life Democrats will have to oppose this bill. There is work to be done. We lost a vote yesterday but the struggle continues.

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8 years ago
If only one or two pro-life Republicans Senators would vote for health reform if it would exclude funding for abortion the whole scenerio would change! They and the one or two Democratic senators could win the day. If the under 55 age uninsured were to gain access to the federal employee plan that has no abortion funding would that also be a pro-life victory?
Joshua DeCuir
8 years ago
"Shame on the Republicans who refuse to support health care reform. The rest of the bill is, after all, very pro-life. Providing health insurance to women so that the costs of a pregnancy and live birth are covered is pro-life. Making sure that people are not denied coverage by rapacious insurance companies because of technicalities or pre-existing conditions is pro-life. Republican senators largely supported yesterday’s amendment on abortion and they should be commended, but they are deeply flawed champions of the pro-life cause."
You miss the forest from the trees, Mr. Winters.  Republicans cannot and should not support "health care reform" at all costs.  Moreover, "reform" is in the eye of the beholder.  So-called reforms that dramatically expand the power and scope of the federal government at the detriment of the budget and individual liberty are not, in the eyes of Republicans, "reforms" that ought to be supported.  There are alternative reform methods that the Democrats have ignored.
"Pro-life Democrats need to find ways to get more of our own elected. This means that we must find candidates for state legislatures, candidates for mayoralties, candidates for statewide office who are pro-life so that they can advance up the political ladder."
The problem with this idea is that pro-life Democrats are NOT welcome in the Democratic Party.  This is why I left the Party & became a Republican.  True Liberals do not want religious based convictions in politics.  Read the leading liberal political thinkers today - Rawls, Ackerman, etc.  Religion, whether used in support of Republican or Democratic positions, is simple not welcome.  Moreover, look at the vehemence with which leading liberal women in the House spoke out against Stupak (De Lauro in particular - is she a Catholic?).  The Democratic Party simply has a "Pro-life need not apply" sign on the front door.  No doubt we Republicans are flawed messengers (who isn't?) but the flaws are more acceptable to me than the pro-choice secularist tyranny in the Left. 
Thomas Piatak
8 years ago
The national Democratic Party demonstrated, once again, its undying support for abortion, and its contempt for those Americans who oppose abortion. After all, this amendment was about not using taxpayer money for abortion. The national Democratic Party wants abortion to be legal, under all circumstances, and it wants the rest of us to pay for this grisly and barbarous act. The worst part of this is that so many Catholic Democrats voted against the Nelson Amendment, ignoring clear and unambiguous Church teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion dating to apostolic times.
Jeff Bagnell
8 years ago
Senator Feinstein is now on record as saying that it is "morally correct" for taxpayers to fund abortion.  
This is really getting out of control, and I hope the bishops thrown down some kind of gauntlet over this.  People like Feinstein are trying to further entrench the systemic evil of abortion in our country and it scares me what the price may ultimately be for us all.  It reminds of that painting "Saturn Eating His Son."
Michael Liddy
8 years ago
MSW - If you end up supporting this bill with the current or very similar abortion language, you will lose all credibility (and you will take down the very few pro-life Democrats with you). Keep that in mind.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
We all know that Stupak was not "abortion neutral" when compared to either Hyde or current tax subsidies to private insurance which provide abortion. Much of this debate is about status and not about the unborn. It is getting tiresome.

The question going forward is whether a compromise is needed to get the bill out of the Senate, or can it wait for the Conference Committee (where it is inevitable to get past the House).

For the record, this bill does not federalize all health care (much as some of us would like it to). Indeed, it is odd that there are some on the right wing who are more supportive of giving 55 year olds Medicare than offering a brand new public option. I suspect if they took the age down to 45 for Medicare they could simply expand Medicaid and be done with it - although premiums would be higher for the under 65 set and there would likely be an expansion of the Medicare tax. Of course, if you did that, many would abandon private insurance - and the insurance companies would not mind at all (since they don't want to cover anyone over 50 anyway).
Joshua DeCuir
8 years ago
Mr. Binder, Bart Stupak begs to differ with you.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/opinion/09stupak.html?hp
 
Even if we don't agree on that, I think we can and should agree that no Catholic can, in good conscience, be ''abortion neutral.''
 
I regret saying this, but its time the bishops put some teeth in their teachings.  How many years removed from Roe are we & there is not any appreciable movement towards compromise over the issue of abortion.  Drawing lines would help move this consensus.  Any Catholic opposed to banning federal funds for abortions should not be allowed to take communion.  I think that we should be able to agree with that as a floor, no?  But whether we set that floor or not, this renewed abortion debate shows the allegiance the left wing of the Democratic Party (which under Obama is clearly on the rise) to the abortion agenda.  Until the bishops DO draw a line in the sand, we're kicking the can down the road until there is a fundamental break between the Democrats & the bishops.  Its coming, sooner or later.  It would be a pastoral act on the part of the bishops to draw such a line & to begin discussions (as Bishop Tobin did with Rep. Kennedy).  I suspect at the end of the day, pro-life apologists for the Democratic agenda such as Mr. Winters will be left holding the bag over abortion, abandoned by both their supposed political allies & the bishops.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
While we can't be abortion neutral, we can accept a health care reform that is, since on the whole such a reform will decrease abortions by making the working poor (who are more likely to have abortions) more financially secure. Indeed, we must do so.

As far as using Communion as a political weapon, that view is contemptable and probably more of a sacrilege than pro-choice politicians in the Communion line (or at the Communion rail - I can dream, can't I). Such positions fall within the area of prudential judgment on HOW to reduce abortions, not whether to do so. Insisting on either the overturn of Roe by the SCOTUS (which should not happen and actually can't - given the views of Messrs Kennedy, Alito and Roberts) or even insisting that they be criminalized are not a requirement of faith (not only because abortion is not in the Creed). The fact is, the bishops are ignorant of how legalization in America differs from how it goes down in parlimentary democracies in Europe (where an actual vote was taken).
Jim McCrea
8 years ago
"A progressive is someone who keeps making the same mistake, while a conservative is someone who prevents a mistake from ever being corrected."  G. K. Chesterton
 
“Anti-abortion advocates have done a good job of making their fellow citizens aware of the plight of the unborn. They have not done a good job of coming to terms with the concerns of women, or the complexity of abortion as a social problem. Legal reforms are necessary, but insufficient. Abortion was common enough before it was legalized, and outlawing it will not end the practice. It is a stubborn biological, legal, and moral reality that abortion is not just about the rights of the unborn. It is also about the moral autonomy, physical integrity, health and well-being of women. There is no other situation in which one human being is as dependent on another as is an unborn child on its mother. If abortion is starkly drawn as a battle of competing rights — of the rights of the unborn versus the rights of women — the unborn will always lose. We need a different approach, one that will promote the flourishing of both mother and child — an approach that recognizes that their individual well-being is inseparable.”
 
Paul Baumann, After Tiller: Envisioning A Compromise, NPR.org, June 19, 2009 ·   http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105413931
 
“To be clear, the problem with current pro-life political strategies lies exactly here. We Catholics look at a two week old embryo and we see a child at a very early stage of development. Most pro-choice people only see a colony of cells. In order to end the practice of abortion, we have to convince people that life, even at its earliest stage, is worthy of respect. Shouting at them, distorting their position, calling them evil and comparing them to Hitler, these tactics are not likely to persuade them of the radical beauty and truth of the Catholic perspective.”
  
Sean Michael Winters, America blogsite, 5-5-09   http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&id=36725928-3048-741E-7670677473590077
Jeff Bagnell
8 years ago
Maybe Mr. McCrea can enlighten us on what progress has ever been made with the pro-legal abortion camp by quietly showing them ultrasounds of what is in the womb.  Not much, if any.  And now they want us all to pay for abortion on demand under the guise of "healthcare" "reform."  Talk about "distortion"?  Orwell would be proud.
 
John McGuinness
8 years ago
Leaving aside the communion issue, which I consider above my pay grade, can someone explain to me why supporting either the Stupak or Nelson amendments should not be the bare minimum of what we should expect from Catholic politicians?
Contrary to @Michael_Binder, not supporting an abortion ban or the confirmation of particular Supreme Court justices, but amendments that ensure that the government does not fund abortion?   How could a vote against this possibly be consistent with Catholic teaching.
The only way I could possibly see such a vote being supportable is if the amendment was a ''poison pill'' that would render an otherwise passable bill that would achieve an important goal un-passable.  But all indications is that these amenedments make health care reform more rather than less passable.
Again, I will leave the question of communion to those charged with making such determinations.  But I don't see how a Catholic politician could possibly defend a vote against such amendments.
Rudy Rau
8 years ago
"Even if we don't agree on that, I think we can and should agree that no Catholic can, in good conscience, be ''abortion neutral." Agreed but no one should be using Communion as a method of coercion.
Moreover, we need to stop assuming that all Democrats are into some kind of abortion 'promotion' and Republicans are the defenders of the unborn. That's a political statement, not a Catholic belief.
The republicans have allowed 75% or more of the abortions in this country to happen, and have done eseentially nothing. So they are not the great knights of our country.
It does not appear that a mortal group is going to overturn Roe. The bishops need to get behind the personhood ballot initiatives and try and force the whole issue of life beginning at conception into the Supreme Court. Yet, in my state, the bishops have basically come out and said they do not support such a ballot issue. I wonder, why not??
John McGuinness
8 years ago
@Jeff,
 
Would it be safe to assume that those who voted against the Nelson amendment, including my state's Catholic Senator, have demonstrated promotion of abortion?
8 years ago
"The national Democratic Party demonstrated, once again, its undying support for abortion"
 
I think instead they are showing their support for women.
Peter Meyer
8 years ago
I really don't understand this overriding focus on the abortion provisions of the bill.
Nearly every one of us who has private insurance is currently subsidizing abortions in the same way the bill allegedly would, as our premium payments are going into the same pot of money that is payed out for others' procedures. I don't see the bishops out leading a campaign calling on Catholic Americans (1/4 of the marketplace) to only purchase insurance from companies that do not cover abortion.
Yet, somehow, allowing those who are poor enough to be eligible for public subsidies to purchase plans with abortion coverage is worth killing a bill that would expand health care to millions of Americans, including prenatal care and other health coverage to the same women who would have no health care without the bill?
I'm pro-life, but I fail to see how opposing the bill leads to a more pro-life outcome.
John McGuinness
8 years ago
Peter,
 
If being ''pro-life'' does not entail opposition to government funding of abortion, what would one have to do to disqualify oneself as ''pro-life?''  Procure an abortion?  Perform an abortion?
 
Opposing this bill makes it possible that a bill that respects the unborn can pass.  If the current bill passes, that is impossible.
 
Crystalw,
 
So, are you saying that support for abortion = support for women?
 
Sorry to be so pissy, but since this amendment failed, I am no longer in a mood to tolerate squishiness, and calls to be more squishy.  If ''common ground'' on abortion doesn't include opposing government funding on abortion, the hell with it.
8 years ago
"So, are you saying that support for abortion = support for women?"
 
I'm saying that support for choice = support for women.
Gabriel Marcella
8 years ago
If choice=support for women, what of the lives of the women who are not permitted to be born because they are aborted? How does this support them? The logical incoherence of the pro-choice, pro-abortion folks is astounding.
John McGuinness
8 years ago
@Crysytalw,

First, this amendment was about government funding of abortion, not ''choice.''

Second, do you think situations like this are pro-woman? http://www.slate.com/id/2237005/pagenum/3.

Giving people the legal option to do a terrible thing is not supporting them.
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
If women are given a choice, that does not mean that women will choose abortion.  However, most women who choose abortion are not currently doing so merely out of preference.  One factor that is prominent in the so-called choice is the economics of being pregnant, giving birth, and becoming responsible for the well-being of the offspring. 
 
If the method of paying for one's health care is changed so that taking care of one's medical needs and the medical needs of one's dependents is no longer a worry, then the health insurance reform under discussion will default into pro-life legislation.  If we insist that this all hinges upon none of our tax money even indirectly paying for someone's abortion, then we undermine our own efforts.
Joshua DeCuir
8 years ago
"Leaving aside the communion issue, which I consider above my pay grade, can someone explain to me why supporting either the Stupak or Nelson amendments should not be the bare minimum of what we should expect from Catholic politicians?Contrary to @Michael_Binder, not supporting an abortion ban or the confirmation of particular Supreme Court justices, but amendments that ensure that the government does not fund abortion?   How could a vote against this possibly be consistent with Catholic teaching."
 
This is EXACTLY the point.  Winters & the pro-life Liberals want to talk about common ground, etc.  But there can be no common ground if the ground is not defined.  Every litmus test or floor by which one ought to be able to judge the votes of so-called Catholic pro-choice politicians is constantly shifted.  So we're told it can't be voting for a justice who doesn't support overturning Roe, or banning international aid from supporting abortion, or now, Stupak.  Meanwhile, the politicians play their games & continue to dupe religious liberals.
 
As for communion - how is it a "method of coercion" to state that one not in agreement with a fundamental moral teaching of the church is not, therefore, in communion with the church, of which receiving communion is the sign and reality?  How else do you propose to "coerce" these politicians? Or do you prefer their lip service to faith?
 
The reason I left the Democratic party is because I realized that pro-choice Catholics are playing pro-life Democrats for everything their worth.  When push comes to shove, they;ll choose re-election (and therfore the Democratic Party) over their faith commitment.
Gabriel Marcella
8 years ago
Marie,
Will all due respect, aren't you confusing an economic decision with a moral choice? They are not the same. The fact that a woman is poor does not morally justify the choice of abortion, as an economic calculation would. Moreover, the best way to teach about "becoming responsible for the well-being of the offspring" is not to dispose of human life but to defend it in all of its forms. Unfortunately, modern society reduces moral-ethical calculations about human life to economics and politics.
John McGuinness
8 years ago
"If the method of paying for one's health care is changed so that taking care of one's medical needs and the medical needs of one's dependents is no longer a worry, then the health insurance reform under discussion will default into pro-life legislation."

Ok, to oversimplify the costs involved:

HCR with Stupak or Nelson:
abortion($300)
giving birth(pregnancy raising child minus health care

HCR without Stupak Nelson:
abortion(free)
giving birth(pregnancy, raising child minus health care)

No HCR:
abortion($300)
giving birth(pregnancy, raising child, plus health care)

It seems obvious to me that the the first scenario is the most pro-life. It is not clear to me which of the second two is, and if it's clear to you, I suspect you're kidding yourself.

Second, there is a cultural impact to the federal government determining that abortion is a medical procudure just like any other. Don't you think more people have had abortions because it is their constitutional right to do so? And wouldn't including it in health care coverage weaken any social stigma against abortion?
8 years ago
according to pro-abortion Guttmacher only 13% of woman with insurance use it for abortion coverage now.. this is because of privacy and they dont want tracking. Ask why the pro-abortion advocates want to 'sneak' in fed funding?
I say they want 'If the gov. pays for it can't be wrong spin'
This alone is reason to withhold the measely abortion insurance payments and hold the needed bill hostage to add an no abortion funds. Would Obama lose his entire agenda on this measely abortion funding scheme. I bet no, Call the pro-abortion bluff. Let them take blame if bill fails. That's called hardball.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
State abortion initiatives violate Roe as much as a state bill would. They are a side show to enrich the staff of professional fundraisers. There are only two ways to grant personhood rights to the unborn.

The first, and most unlikely, is a constitutional amendment. There are at least 14 pro-choice states which would not ratify the amendment, so proposing it is folly.

The second is for Congress to use its enforcement powers under the 14th Amendment to set a uniform standard of recognition for the unborn at either viability or assisted viability. This would short circuit Doe v. Bolton and would be constitutional under Roe. It could, in fact, overturn Roe by granting citizenship rights.

Ron Paul actually has a bill to do this, however it is DOA because it does not address the issues that such an action would involve.

The first issue is criminality and the second is tort liability. Recognizing the citizenship rights of the unborn means that killing them would be considered homicide. The person who ordered the homicide would be as culpable under the law as the provider. Since the pro-life movement has so far resisted calls to penalize mothers, legal recognition has no chance in the first trimester. This is especially the case because equal protection would demand that every first trimester be subject to inquest and investigation. No husband will ever sit still for such procedures subsequent to a natural miscarriage, nor to ambulance chasers offering their services in order to extort money from insurance companies when miscarriages occur, since part of legal recognition includes the right to sue for malpractice when a loved one dies (even if genetic abnormalities make such deaths a blessing to the family, the individual and the species). Most insurance companies will settle such nuissance suits happily and tell its policy holders to avoid caring for mothers until the first trimester has passed. Note that this puts the health and safety of every fetus at risk. It is not unCatholic to make sure that women receive prenatal care at all stages of pregnancy, even if the result of this happening is that some will chose abortion.

Josh, it is not up to the Bishops to tell Catholic legislators how to think. That is the responsibility of all the faithful. 13% of abortions are indirectly funded through tax benefits to employers to provide private insurance. The reason Nelson failed was that this 13% was thought to be at risk under Stupak/Nelson. Materially, a tax subsidy (or even a direct one) to buy private insurance is not much different from the current subsidy. Unless this is taken into account, or some is found to explicity protect the current subsidy (and similar subsidies) compromise is not likely in the Senate. I suspect (putting on my prognosticator hat rather than my what ought to be hat) that this will be the nature of the final compromise (protecting the 13% + similar direct tax subsidies to buy insurance).

Given that the recent compromise in the Senate will likely kill the public option, the whole question of Stupak/Nelson will likely go away.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
One final comment on the Bishop's position.

I hope that as the public option is replaced by Medicare coverage for people over 55 (and presumably their families), an expansion of Medicaid for the near poor, and coverage through OPM for the remainder through the FEHBP (where, presumably, I will be signing up when eligible), that Stupak/Nelson quietly dies, as there will no longer be any reason for it without an insurance exchange.

Failure to drop the issue when it no longer matters can only be read as pandering to the pro-life base, who seem quite willing to throw those children who would not be aborted because their parents are better off under the bus for what would be a hollow legislative victory for a certain Cardinal from Philadelphia and those bishops of like mind.
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
Michael, your point in parentheses is actually very significant.  What good would it do to insure 55 year olds and up if a large portion of them still have dependents who could not be included?  This "compromise" in place of the public option is virtually useless to anyone with dependents.
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
Gabriel Marcella,
I am not confusing an economic decision with a moral choice.  It is the women who decide to have abortions because they cannot see how it would be possible for them to economically do otherwise who are changing the question from a moral one to an economic one.  It really does not matter what you or I think about the issue philosophically when the reality is that most abortions are chosen, at least in part, for economic reasons.
 
Do recall the following from Evangelium Vitae:
 
"...when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."
 
and
 
"...it must be noted that it is not enough to remove unjust laws. The underlying causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and motherhood."

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