WASHINGTON â€” Some Catholic activists fear federal funds may soon go to contraceptive subsidies and sterilizations and open the door to state-funded abortions.
At issue is the State Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Before breaking for recess, both the Senate and the House passed their own versions of a bill designed to expand the existing State Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
The pressure is on to finalize the bill by Sept. 30, the date which existing legislation is set to expire.
Critics of the new child health care bills say that they provide health insurance for families that are making well over the poverty level, citing it as a step towards socialized medicine. The House bill would add $50 billion to current health care provisions, while the Senate bill would add $35 billion. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it contains too much additional spending.
Catholic organizations in March came out in favor of extending the program, as lawmakers considered its expansion. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined by Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association, called on Congress to expand health care funding. They also raised concern over proposed cuts to the Medicaid and Medicare programs.
However, the current legislation in the House version of the bill also makes provisions to expand and streamline Medicaid so that states have funds to provide contraceptives, including sterilization, both for children and adults. It also includes measures that offer states the option to use federal funding provided for abstinence programs to include options for family planning programs, a victory for Planned Parenthood activists.
â€śPlanned Parenthood applauds the majority of members of Congress who stood up and voted in favor of children and familiesâ€™ health â€” and in favor of a commonsense prevention agenda,â€ť said Nancy Clack, vice president for Public Policy and Advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, after the House bill was passed. â€śThe best way to build healthy families is to put prevention first â€” and that means making sure our children have health insurance, women have access to reproductive health care and affordable birth control, and teens have access to medically accurate information.â€ť
That has U.S. bishopsâ€™ policy watchers more than worried.
â€śThese are all things that donâ€™t have to do with SCHIP itself,â€ť said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. bishopsâ€™ conference. â€śThis is a bill they threw in with Medicaid and Medicare and Title V abstinence programs that doesnâ€™t have much of anything to do with SCHIP. We hope that there will be a straightforward enough bill on the childrenâ€™s health program; itâ€™s important enough in its own right to deserve its own bill.â€ť
Michael Oâ€™Dea of the Christus Medicus Foundation noted that Catholics should challenge the new family planning measures within the bill.
â€śI donâ€™t believe that the majority of Americans want to subsidize family planning, abortion, contraception, sterility and faulty procedures for children in a health plan.â€ť he said.
As the bill was debated in both houses, pro-life activists successfully brought an amendment to the Senate floor sponsored by Wayne Allard, R-Colo., which attempted to codify the â€śunborn child ruleâ€ť into the bill.
The clause, inserted by the Bush administration in 2002, included unborn children into the definition of a child, specifically stating that a â€śchild means an individual under the age of 19, including the period from conception to birth.â€ť
The Allard amendment failed in the Senate, 49-50. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, said that in spite of the defeat of the Allard amendment, the current Senate bill did not threaten the unborn child clause. â€śThe Senate bill does have language that makes it clear that they are not overturning the rule.â€ť he said.
Johnson noted that attempts to include similar legislation in the House bill were rebuffed by the Democratic leadership. Doerflinger said there were fewer concerns with the Senate bill than the House, but both bills diminished the â€śunborn child clause.â€ť
Although the clause allows states to cover pregnant women, both the House and Senate versions of the bill codified a different rule in the name of the â€śpregnant woman, rather than defining the personhood of the unborn child. In their zeal to not mention that the unborn child is a child, what they have done is to cover the pregnant woman as if she were a child,â€ť said Doerflinger.
If the unborn child is only covered by health coverage for the mother, it could allow more states to fund abortions.
â€śThe pregnant woman can get whatever coverage that pregnant women get in that state,â€ť said Doerflinger. â€śIn 17 states, that means elective abortions.â€ť
Doerflinger added that some states were required by court order to fund abortions if they have a program that covers childbirth. â€śObviously we think that covering the woman and child in the name of the unborn child is preferable,â€ť he added.
Both Doerflinger and Johnson noted that they are interested in communicating with conference members as they are appointed, but itâ€™s unlikely that they will have much influence in the final bill.
â€śThere are a lot of other issues in play,â€ť Johnson said, citing the budget differences with the president. â€śNo matter what happens in conference, it may end up that what the Congress committee produces will be vetoed and weâ€™ll be back to square one.â€ť
Charlie Spiering writes from