Word out of Washington this morning is that progressive and moderate Democrats have fashioned a compromise on health care reform acceptable to both camps. The odds for passage of a health care reform bill just went up. Yet, a formidable hurdle remains, and that is the Stupak amendment in the House version and the whole issue of abortion politics. A day earlier, the Senate voted to kill a similar amendment, but the 54-45 vote is considerably less than the 60 votes the Dems may need for ultimate passage of health care reform.
Should abortion politics factor into the debate at all? Majority leader Harry Reid apparently gave an impassioned floor speech, suggesting this bill is about health care access and is not, and should not be, about abortion rights or restrictions. It appears those crafting the legislation are bending over to ensure the bill will be abortion neutral: access to abortion is neither expanded nor restricted relative to the status quo, which begs the question: Is this the time and place for the pro-life movement to attempt inroads against Roe v Wade?
Front and center is the American Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, who have historically been for health care reform but against abortion rights. Here is where the rubber meets the road. Will the bishops sacrifice universal health care on the altar of pro-life?
In a hard hitting post in National Catholic Weekly, Joe Ferullo blasts single-issue Bishops.
U.S. Catholic bishops are in danger of finding themselves on the sidelines of history, regarded as a single-issue constituency with no view toward the greater good … the bishops have the influence to help push through a change in public policy they have sought for decades: universal health care coverage. Instead, they have become enmeshed in abortion politics, threatening to undermine a bill that would help ten of millions.
The blog post refers to an column in the Los Angeles Times, which quotes Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:
“As Catholics, are we so laser-focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join the ‘tea-partyers’ and the like to bring down the healthcare reform bill? And at the enormous expense of million of Americans who suffer every day” without healthcare?
Thomas Rutten, the LA Times columnist, offers this summation:
[If the bishops] abandon their church’s historic support for universal healthcare, rather than accept an abortion compromise that preserves a 33-year-old status quo, they’ll have done more than turn themselves into a single-issue constituency. They’ll have broken with a long tradition of not disdaining what is inarguably good in pursuit of unattainable perfection, which has been a hallmark of modern Catholicism’s contribution to American politics.
The tea party rabble can be dismissed as unthinking know-nothings (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”) We expect more reasoned pragmatism from an esteemed body such as the Conference of Bishops.
Congresswoman Lois Capps is right in the middle of the efforts to keep the health care reform bill “abortion neutral”. Today she offered an op-ed piece to suggest the bill (read Stupak amendment) has been hijacked by those with a pro-life agenda to add restrictions to abortion access beyond what exists in the current status quo. Here is a portion, but I commend her entire piece.
I didn’t believe that health reform legislation was the place to promote either a pro-choice or anti-choice agenda. The focus needs to be on getting insurance to the nearly 50 million Americans without it and ensuring stability of coverage for the rest of us.
Unfortunately, the Stupak-Pitts amendment that replaced my amendment during House Floor consideration goes well beyond the status quo and is in no way the simple extension of the Hyde amendment its proponents claim. It would result in a major step backwards for women’s control over their reproductive lives.
We need to strike a balance on this issue so health reform isn’t a casualty of divisive abortion politics. That’s what my amendment did and that’s what the Senate bill proposes. Congress would be wise to send the President a bill reflecting this common ground approach and I will work hard to see that happens.