Proponents of the health-care reform bill now moving through Congress try to assure critics that neither abortion nor euthanasia are part of it.

There was a crack in that wall Aug. 10 when a Democratic congresswoman from California admitted that abortion will be part of the package.

“Abortion will be covered as a benefit by one or more of the health-care plans available to Americans,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren at a town hall meeting. “And I think it should be.”

Says the National Right to Life Committee: “The Obama administration, working with powerful Democratic leaders in Congress, is trying to smuggle into federal law sweeping expansions of access to abortion on demand, including federal funding of abortion, through ‘health-care reform’ legislation.”

In the Senate, the NRLC reports, the White House is backing a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., which was approved on July 15 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on a 13-10 party-line vote.  The committee voted down all pro-life amendments, including an amendment offered by pro-life Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to prevent health-care providers from being penalized for refusing to participate in providing abortions. 

In late July, the House committee working on the health-care reform bill defeated an amendment, introduced by Reps. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., that would have stopped any mandate for abortion coverage.

President Obama has tried to stay above the legislative fray in crafting a health-care bill. If he is serious about looking for ways to reduce abortion, as he claims, he should lobby for pro-life amendments to the House and Senate bills.

At the other end of life, there is equal concern. Proponents of health-care reform point to the fact that Section 1233 of the House bill (H.R. 3200) does not mandate end-of-life counseling, that it only allows practitioners to be reimbursed by Medicare for the time spent talking with their patients regarding end-of-life care. 

In essence, this section makes end-of-life counseling a Medicare-reimbursed benefit as a separate office visit, as opposed to an office visit where care is delivered. Therefore, more doctors will actually schedule special visits for “the talk.”

The health-care bill mandates $500 billion in savings in the Medicare program to pay for the public-option plan. Just where is this half a billion dollars going to come from when resources are scarce?

Although the bill does not use the words “assisted suicide” or “euthanasia,” it also does not specifically bar the discussion of either.  It lists the topics to be covered in this counseling session.

Section (hhh)(1)(A) notes “an explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to.”

Who are these “suggested people to talk to”? Would groups such as Compassion & Choices and Final Exit be among those suggested? 

Section (hhh)(1)(D) mentions the “provision by the practitioner of a list of national and state-specific resources to assist consumers and their families with advance care planning.”

Since Oregon and Washington have both legalized assisted suicide, one must presume that practice will be included in the end-of-life counseling for patients in those states, at least. 

The concern of a majority of Americans about this health-care “reform” bill is that the federal government will control every aspect of life and death. The American people know that once legislation is passed it takes on a life of its own, and it is in the implementation that abuses can arise. 

Defenders of the bill keep telling us that that won’t happen.

But one can see a parallel to 1972, when Roe v. Wade was being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those in favor of overturning abortion laws in the states said it was necessary for the “hard cases,” where pregnancy truly threatened a woman’s life. Abortion would not be widespread; it would not be common.

We all know how that turned out.

If this summer’s debate over health-care reform has demonstrated anything, it has shown that Americans are waking up. They feel burned by the rush to enact the stimulus package. That bill was hurried through Congress at the urging of Obama, who warned direly that the world economy would collapse “if we do nothing.”

Congress ended up passing a bill that many senators and representatives didn’t even take the time to read.

Americans are reading the proposed health-care bill — and urging their elected representatives to do the same.

Obama and company urge fast action on health-care reform legislation because the status quo is a threat to the nation’s economy — and the widely reported 46 million to 48 million uninsured Americans can’t wait.

The president is also aware that it will be much tougher to get a bill passed next year, with midterm elections coming up. And tougher still after that, when no doubt he’ll be working on his own re-election. He also knows that if he fails in this effort, that re-election might very well be in jeopardy.

But America can’t afford to rush through a massive overhaul of its health-care system without thoroughly deliberating on the consequences, particularly for unborn babies and elderly ill people.

Those who represent Americans in Congress need to reassure us not with promises or by pointing out that nowhere does the bill mention abortion or euthanasia, but by legislating those assurances by explicitly excluding abortion and euthanasia. Until they do that, Catholics must keep on making their voices heard.

Ditto for pro-life people, who happen to be the majority of Americans.