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Michael Sean WintersNovember 11, 2009

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


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Think Catholic
14 years 8 months ago
MSW you want pro-abortion Dems to cool the rhetoric, but you fail to recognize that they believe it.  Planned Parenthood is now cashing in on Obama's promise that abortion is at the core of his health reform plans, so Obama has come out against the Stupak amendment, even though Politifact has verified that it's a lie to say women will not be able to buy abortion insurance with their own money.  These pro-abortion Dems who you have aligned yourself with think covering abortion is more important than health care-or that the point of health care reform is to create universal coverage for abortion-and they're willing to kill the whole deal without abortion.  So their strategy is to lie and say the Stupak amendment is one sided and prevents women from paying for abortion insurance.  That is NARAL's and Obama's strategy. And now you have adopted their strategy too, even though the Stupak amendment got 240 votes.  Why can't you simply support pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak?  Is health care more important to you too than is keeping abortion out of it?
Marie Rehbein
14 years 8 months ago
In the interest of making medical care affordable, no elective procedures or medications, including those for abortion should be covered.  There should not have to be a special amendment addressing abortion.
Marc Monmouth
14 years 8 months ago
Au contraire Marie, abortion must be addressed.  Where is your sense of compassion for the unborn?
Michael Liddy
14 years 8 months ago
Michael - You should submit a CORRECTION to this article and read the Stupak amendment again. You have the details factually incorrect. I could be wrong so please let us know either way.

Incorrect - You wrote that Stupak ''not only prevents plans that cover abortion from receiving government subsidies, it 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.''

Correction: Plans that cover abortion ARE PERMITTED in the exchange and women and men MAY PURCHASE one of these plans with their own money. Insurers who offer plans with abortion coverage are just required to offer an identical version of that plan that does not include abortion coverage (copy, paste and delete the abortion area). This way, no one is forced to pay for anyone's abortion insurance, no employee is forced off their plan should that plan become part of an insurance exchange (though they will have to drop their abortion coverage if they recieve a subsidy for their insurance), and the same quality of health insurance is available to all in the exchange.
14 years 8 months ago
From Guttmacher; 'Some 74% of women pay for abortions with their own money;13% from medicaid 13% from insurance ..Other sites say...almost all woman do NOT use insurance for abortion for privacy/tracking reasons. I calulate only 24,000 now uninsured abortions are effected by Stupak.. at $400 each = $12 million measly dollars..It's not the money stupid ... it's the pro-abortion lobby wanting to set up a guilt free subsidy track 'down the line'. Pro-life Dems have better stay on this so Stupak is not deleted in the Senate... only one or two Pro life Dem senators can hold Stupak in ..its that close..
Joshua DeCuir
14 years 8 months ago
Hey Winters, make sure you check out this one from Nancy Kennan & Jon O'Brien, the president of some group called "Catholics for Free Choice" http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1109/29377.html
Liberalism is showing its true colors regarding the public expression of faith and the absolute, unquestioned idolatry of "Choice".  This is why I left the Democratic party & this is why the Democrats will never be viewed as a party of "faith" despite all the window-dressing that Mr. Winters and other Catholic Democrats try to put up.
Jim McCrea
14 years 8 months ago
Stupak comes across a bit disingenuous in all of this:
Jim McCrea
14 years 8 months ago
I'd like to see those who are constantly harping on compassion for the unborn to express and demonstrate an equal or greater amount of compassion for the born.
James Lindsay
14 years 8 months ago
You are correct that Stupak has become a symbol, which is the same thing as saying that much of the abortion rhetoric is more about tribalism than abortion.
14 years 8 months ago
Whether Stupak is a symbol I do not know but Stupak is a pro-life Democrat who is powerful! I think that is the biggest threat to NARAL, planned parenthood and others who have fought so hard to keep the Democrat Party the Party of Death. I think this less of a healthcare issue and more of a Democrat Party issue. If Stupak and the pro-life Democrats succeed then there will be a major fissure in the Democrat Party. These will no longer be "token" pro-life Democrats who have no power.

This is a nasty war and I predict it will get nastier!
Alice Frizzell
14 years 8 months ago
I believe that, the issue shouldn’t be pro-life/pro-choice or democrat/republican.  The issue should be that health care reform is too important to let religion get in the way.  There are too many young Americans uninsured, myself included, who cannot afford to go to the doctor for something simple like a cold or allergies.  An overwhelming number of Americans are financially forced to suffer needlessly.  According  to Health, United States, 2008, “In 2006, young adults age 20-24 years were more likely to be uninsured at a point in time (34%) than those age 18-19 and 25-19 years (21% and 29%), and more than twice as likely to be uninsured as those 45-64 years of age (13%).”  The report also states that “In 2004-2006, 17% of young adults 18-29 years of age reported that they needed and did not receive one or more of the following services in the past year because they could not afford them:  medical care, prescription medicines, mental health care, or eyeglasses.”  Also, “America spends more on health care per capita than any other country.”  Why are we spending so much, yet getting so little in return?  Can citizens, groups, organizations, churches, hospitals, democrats, and republicans not put aside petty differences for the good of the community? 
National Centers for Health Statistics.  Health, United States, 2008 With Chartbook.  Hyattsville, MD:  2009.

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