Abortion Issue Clouds Health-Care Reform

President Obama speaks on health-care reform July 15, alongside Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
President Obama speaks on health-care reform July 15, alongside Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. (photo: Reuters)

With President Barack Obama pushing hard for speedy congressional approval of his health-care reform plan, the question of whether the reform package will mandate taxpayer coverage for abortion becomes a critical issue.

That the abortion lobby wants abortion coverage mandated, and that many congressional Democrats want to accommodate the abortion lobby, is a known fact. In an ominous portent, Senate pro-lifers lost a preliminary skirmish over abortion funding earlier this week when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a bill that authorizes federal officials to mandate coverage of abortion in health plans.

On the other hand, the haste with which Obama is trying to move on the health-care reform file also means that despite his own pro-abortion tilt, it’s possible he could conclude that it’s not worth the defeat of the whole package if he is faced with the prospect of pro-life congressional Democrats combining with Republicans to vote it down because of the abortion-funding issue.

Even Michael Sean Winters, America magazine’s overtly partisan Catholic Democrat blogger, is among those warning about just how damaging the inclusion of tax-funded abortion coverage in health-care reform would be.

Writes Winters:

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions turned down an amendment that would have prevented any government health insurance plan from paying for abortion services. It is unclear yet whether this is part of a legislative strategy, but it is time for Catholic Democrats to lay down some markers.

… We should, however, be letting our congressional representatives and senators know that providing federal funds for abortion is a deal-breaker. Even Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said yesterday that the Hyde Amendment banning federal dollars being used for abortions is “settled law” and should not be overturned in an interview on MSNBC. It is unclear, however, if some complicated legislative language will be found to try and get around the Hyde Amendment. Legislators should know that subverting the Hyde Amendment will cost them considerable Catholic support.

To his substantial credit, Winters makes it clear that he is one of the Catholic Democrats prepared to desert the party if it does force a health-care reform package that includes abortion coverage through Congress:

To be clear: I have never voted for a Republican in my life. My mother told me my right hand would wither and fall to the ground if I did. But, if the president or my representatives in Congress support federal funding for abortion in any way, shape or form, I will never vote for them again and I might risk my right hand in the next election by voting for their opponent.

So, call your senators and representatives. Call the White House. Many of us pro-life Democrats have given the president the benefit of the doubt on the abortion issue because of his repeated commitment to trying to lower the abortion rate, a commitment he reiterated to Pope Benedict XVI last week. All the good will he has earned among Catholic swing voters, and all the arguments on his behalf progressive Catholics have mounted, all could be swept away if abortion is part of a federal option in health care. Politics is the art of compromise, but on this point, there can be none.


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