Some liberal Democrats are up in arms about the Stupak Amendment, even though many of those same liberal Democrats voted for the final bill which included that Amendment. They need to remember, however, that the objective here is to pass a health care bill and that inflammatory rhetoric may not help them achieve that goal.
Over at Politico, their featured "Arena" on health care includes some of the worst diatribes. Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant, writes: "The members of Congress who voted in support of the Stupak amendment sent a message to America’s women: after more than 200 years we are still not full citizens of the United States. Apparently members of Congress now believe that it is within their power to determine what legal medical procedures are acceptable." No, the members who voted for Stupak sent a message to the entire country that abortion is an issue about which most Americans evidence profound ambivalence. Even those who think it should be legal do not think it is something to be encouraged. "Safe, legal and rare" was the formulation Bill Clinton provided in 1996 and it captured the way most Americans feel still, especially those in the center of the electorate. Unfortunately, thanks to redistricting that makes most House seats "safe," most members have no reason to listen to the center of the electorate, and are more afraid of being Scozzafaved in a primary by a yet more ideologically pure challenge from the base.
Timothy Stoltzfust Jost, a professor of law at Washington and Lee University, thinks issues of Church and State are involved. He writes: "For Congress to have to look to a particular church for permission to move legislation is frightening. Religious persecution is a very real issue for many throughout the world today. We have been very fortunate in the United States to have been largely spared its ravages. But the only guarantee that we will continue to enjoy religious freedom is the jealous protection of the separation principle. If any religion dominates politics, it has the power to dominate other religions as well. Let us not become another Iran." This is pure baloney. No one looked to the Church for "permission" and America is scarcely in danger of becoming another Iran.
Members of Congress looked to the Church for two things. First, for information. Professor Jost may not realize it but the Catholic Church runs hundreds of hospitals and other medical facilities, and work with indigent people who for-profit hospitals shun. We know something about the health care system so of course members of Congress turned to us for analysis of the problems and solutions involved. Second, members of Congress look to the Bishops for support. As Congressman Mike Doyle told the Wall Street Journal yesterday, "[The bishops] command respect because they have a good social-justice record….They actually wanted to pass the bill. That's why they had status. Other groups that had similar views on abortion weren't interested in passing the bill." The USCCB rarely "endorses" a bill, of course, but the members of Congress, and Speaker Pelosi in particular, understood that meny of the people represented in "the People’s House" have moral concerns about abortion and that the USCCB was the place to go to try and reflect those concerns in the final legislation.
Professor Jost also criticizes the Stupak Amendment because, as he writes, "it essentially applies the Hatch amendment [sic], which has long applied to Medicaid program, to all of the new programs created under the House bill." Now, leaving aside the fact that the Hatch Act applies to campaign contributions from federal employees and the Hyde Amendment bars federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortion, Professor Jost has given a fair description of what abortion neutrality looks like: The restrictions on the use of federal funds through Medicaid should apply to federal funds in any new government arrangements set up by the health care reform bill.
Now, to be clear, the final Stupak language goes beyond Hyde. It not only prevents plans that cover abortion from receiving government subsidies, at also bans any such plan from participating in the exchanges being set up. So, a woman who will be paying entirely for her own coverage, with no government subsidy, is still prevented from getting a plan that covers abortion. This is the provision that I think has most angered women and it is also the provision that can be dropped without breaking the compact with Stupak and his supporters to achieve a meaningful ban of the use of federal funds for abortion. I would prefer to keep the language, of course, but if either side is looking for a compromise, there it is. In the real world, of course, what will happen whether Stupak is touched or not, is that insurance companies will develop policy riders that cover abortion for women to purchase with their own money and, because abortion is not an expensive procedure, the riders will be very inexpensive. Women are not being cast back into the back-alleys as some have claimed.
What should be clear, crystal clear, is that many of us who support health care reform, who backed the President in part because of his pledge to accomplish health care reform, also cringe at the prospect of health care reform being hijacked by Planned Parenthood to increase abortion coverage with our tax dollars. There is no going back to the Capps Amendment which was always too clever by half. Yes, abortion is different from other procedures. There is no misogyny in the Church’s position: We stand alike with the unborn females and the unborn males. Even more, we stand with women who might think an abortion is a "solution" to their "problem" but who will discover that abortion is not a solution to anything. Of course, we in the pro-life movement must also make sure that we are doing everything in our power to help women see that a pregnancy is never just a problem either. Calling Nancy Pelosi a murderer doesn’t help anything.
But, here is the difficulty. The fact that there are actual solutions at hand doesn’t always matter. The Stupak Amendment has taken on symbolic importance, and while people will compromise over pragmatic solutions, they will fight to the death for a symbol. Members of Congress should be urged to remember, as President Obama said, that this is a health care bill not an abortion bill. Yes, you can’t achieve the first kind of bill without confronting the same thorny issues that would be raised by the second kind of bill. Those thorns, however, can be dealt with so long as members determine not to invest their political stances with more symbolism than the occasion requires. Yes, issue your statements to appease your constituencies, but leave the hubris at the door. Health care reform is too important.
Michael Sean Winters