Well, the knives are out. Senator Bob Casey has come forward with a compromise proposal regarding federal funding of abortion in the health care reform bill and some pro-life advocates are already piling on. Mind you, no one really knows precisely what is in the proposal at this point, but why let a little thing like facts get in the way.
Douglas Johnson is so unrelentingly hostile and strident I think his group should change its name to the Nasty Right to Life Committee. He denounced Sen. Casey’s efforts in stark terms: "This proposal would break from the long-established principles of the Hyde Amendment by providing federal subsidies for health plans that cover abortion on demand. This is entirely unacceptable…This is an exercise is cosmetics -- like putting lipstick on a legislative warthog." I confess the reference to a warthog is a nice touch.
On the merits of the issue, incidentally, I happen to agree with Johnson. I think the idea of segregating funds in a non-starter. I also think he should have the decency to acknowledge, however, that thirty states use the segregated funds approach to provide abortion coverage for Medicaid recipients using state money and in many if not all of those states, there is really no effort to segregate the funds. The reason there is no effort is, I suspect, because money really is fungible as the USCCB has recognized. So, one of the effects of the health care debate is that we are realizing that the Hyde Amendment may not do what it purports to do, and that is worth looking at.
Theoretically, there is a way to segregate funds so that no federal dollars go to support abortion coverage, but the segregation of funds doesn’t really matter. If subsidized plans can cover abortion, there will be an increase in the number of people who have abortion coverage. But, it is not clear what effect that will have on the abortion rate: Only about 12% of abortions in America are currently paid for by insurance plans as most women prefer to pay out of pocket and maintain their privacy. Yes, some studies indicate that women who have abortion coverage are more likely to get an abortion but those studies do not apply to the current health care reform debate because only with the reform will all women have health insurance for childbirth! Johnson and his apologists at right-wing groups like CatholicVote.org and the American Life League are just as capable of distorting facts and arguments as is Sen. Barabara Boxer.
It also can’t be repeated too often that groups like NRLC and the American Principles Project and other right-wing outfits have contributed to the likelihood that the Senate will pass something that extends abortion coverage. Go to Mr. Johnson’s website and the heading says, "Stop Abortion and Rationing in Health Care!" Rationing? Of course, health care is rationed today. The concern about rationing is a GOP talking point and it gives away NRLC’s true objective which is to defeat the bill no matter what. Just so, as I have never tired of repeating, they give the Congress and the White House no reason to listen to them. They are going to oppose the bill no matter what. The USCCB, by contrast, has made clear that they want health care reform but that they can’t support a bill that extends coverage. The bishops bring something to the table which is why they get listened to.
The reason to oppose the extension of abortion coverage is not primarily a practical objection because no one knows how this health care reform will play out exactly. The reason to support the firmer language of the Stupak Amendment is that we think it is important that the government register the fact that, while abortion might be considered a constitutional right under Roe, it is not a procedure that we want to encourage in any way, shape or form. Even those who are committed to keeping abortion legal may have a deep and profound ambivalence about abortion, and the Hyde Amendment registered that ambivalence.
There is one other point here that needs to be made. Sen. Bob Casey is trying his best to find a way to advance the health care debate and to accommodate the concerns of pro-life advocates, indeed, to honor his own pro-life commitments. These issues are never as cut-and-dried as the zealots of left and right would have you think. I wish Casey would dig in a little more forcefully, the way others dug in opposing the public option, but I applaud his effort to keep negotiating. I am sure that any legislative language built around segregating funds will not pass muster with the USCCB and probably not with me either for that matter. But, the demonization of Sen. Casey is a Republican, not a Catholic and not a pro-life objective. Remember that next time you get an email alert from Mr. Johnson.