Writers like to be noticed by the mainstream media, so perhaps I should be flattered that the Wall Street Journal took cognizance of my existence yesterday. William McGurn, who contributes to the venerable newspaper’s Mainstreet blog, wrote about how pro-life Democrats like Congressman Bart Stupak might become to this decade what Gov. Bob Casey was to the 1990s, a symbol of the Democratic Party’s tone deafness to the pro-life concerns of Catholic swing voters. Towards the end of the article, McGurn wrote: "Yet the liberal religious folks who claim to be pro-life as well as pro-Obama have largely left Mr. Stupak standing alone. Except Michael Sean Winters. In a July 14 blog for the Catholic weekly America, Mr. Winters drew a line in the sand over tax funding for abortion."
I have certainly been forthcoming about my views but Mr. McGurn is wrong to claim I am the only one among the "liberal religious folk" who have been active making my views known to the administration. Indeed, while I think our group blog here at America is the closest thing to a blog that articulates the mind of the Church, I do not think bloggers are as important at this stage of the negotiations over health care as are the actual negotiators. The representatives of the USCCB and the Catholic Health Association, groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Faith in Public Life, these are the groups that the administration is listening to. And, of course, there was the only known instance of public lobbying on the health care bill, seen on national television, when Cardinal Sean O’Malley greeted President Obama at the Mission Church in Boston and told him, according to the cardinal’s own account of the exchange, that the bishops were anxious to support President Obama on health care but that abortion remained a deal-breaker. These are the people that deserve kudos.
My sources, both within the liberal Catholic community and within the administration, tell me that the White House been very solicitous of their views, and specifically interested in working with them to find legislative language that will make the final bill neutral on the subject of abortion. Given the way President Obama was spoken of by some Catholics, including some Catholic bishops, during the furor over his speech at Notre Dame, the President deserves a great deal of credit for not throwing Catholic leaders out of his office! But, President Obama does not seem like a man who holds a grudge and, just as important, at the end of the day he really does need the vote of centrist Catholic swing voters.
There is a problem in writing about health care right now: It is a moving target. There are negotiations going on in both chambers and that will eventually give way to negotiations between the two chambers. The White House is increasingly involved but it is unclear at what point they will insist that the language on abortion fulfills the President’s pledge to Congress and the nation that the final legislation will not provide public monies for abortion. As mentioned yesterday, the issue of government subsidies to private insurance plans is more complicated because the government currently allows you to deduct health care expenses - including expenses for abortion or for insurance policies that cover abortion – from your taxes. If a woman has a current policy that covers abortion, and because of her income level she will now be able to receive a federal subsidy for that policy, I cannot argue with a straight face that keeping the bill "abortion neutral" requires that she not get a subsidy.
Here there emerges a great irony. What if Obama salvages the Public Option and it does not cover abortion coverage, just as the federal plans for members of Congress do not cover abortion. But, private plans can offer abortion or not as they freely choose to do so, as they do so today. Will conservative Catholics – who have spent much of the past thirty years telling us that abortion is the only issue that matters – will they embrace the Public Option as the best was to prevent abortions? Or will their commitment to "free market principles" trump their moral concern for abortion? Or will their hostility to the President find some new avenue for objecting to the bill?