Bishops Oppose Casey Amendment

The U.S. bishops conference has come out against Sen. Bob Casey’s compromise amendment that is an attempt to win over Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Nelson, whose own pro-life amendment to Sen. Harry Reid’s health-care bill was defeated, has withheld his support for the bill unless it’s amended to reflect Hyde Amendment restrictions on federal funding of abortion.

Politics Daily reports that the final version of the Casey amendment has yet to be released. But, Casey’s office on Friday circulated summary language, which includes:

—Conscience protections identical to those in the House bill that pro-life groups backed;

—Elimination of a requirement that at least one plan in each health care exchange cover abortion and at least one plan not cover abortion (an exchange is the government-regulated market where uninsured people and small businesses can find affordable plans by using by government subsidies;

—A provision for anyone in the exchange to “opt out” of abortion coverage in any policy, with a guarantee that no premium dollars from individuals who opt out will be used to fund abortions;

—Segregating public and private funds in the exchange to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize abortions. A difference from earlier efforts to keep government and private money apart is that the accounts would be administered by insurers and overseen by state insurance commissioners, not the Department of Health and Human Services.

And here is today’s statement from the bishops conference, followed by a statement from the National Right to Life Committee.


‘Compromise’ would make citizens pay for others’ abortions

Senate should mirror House of Representative’s Hyde amendment language

Bill doesn’t meet goals of affordability, fairness to legal immigrants, protection of life

WASHINGTON—Responding to reports of a new “compromise” proposal on abortion in the U.S. Senate’s health care reform bill, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo today reaffirmed the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the legislation will be morally unacceptable “unless and until” it complies with longstanding current laws on abortion funding such as the Hyde amendment. Cardinal DiNardo is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Chairman of the Conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The Cardinal commented on efforts by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) to improve the Senate bill’s treatment of abortion.

“Senator Casey’s good-faith effort to allow individuals to ‘opt out’ of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy. Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm. In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm. And numerous opinion polls show that the great majority of Americans do not want abortion coverage.”

“I welcome Senator Casey’s good-faith effort to improve this bill,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “In particular he has sought to improve protection for conscience rights, and to include programs of support for pregnant women and adoptive parents that we favor in their own right. However, these improvements do not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill: Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them.”

Cardinal DiNardo had written to the Senate on December 14, saying that “the Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support authentic reform of our ailing health care system.” His letter cited “three moral criteria for reform: respect for life and conscience; affordability for the poor; and access to much-needed basic health care for immigrants,” noting that so far the Senate bill “has fallen short of the example set by the House version of this legislation in each of these areas.”

On abortion funding, the Cardinal urged the Senate to “incorporate into this bill the longstanding and widely supported policies of current law, acknowledged and reaffirmed by the Senate itself” when it approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act for the new fiscal year on December 13. This Act reaffirmed the Hyde amendment and other laws that exclude elective abortions from health plans receiving federal funds—including the plans that cover the Senators themselves and all other federal employees. The Senate so far has failed to reflect this same policy in its health care bill as the House has done, he said [see].

Cardinal DiNardo said December 18: “We continue to oppose and urge others to oppose the Senate bill unless and until this fundamental failure is remedied. And whatever the immediate outcome in the Senate, we will continue to work for health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, conscience and health of all. As the bishops have said many times, ‘providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority.’ In particular we will work vigorously to ensure that the substance of the House’s provision on abortion funding is included in final legislation. A special debt of gratitude is owed to House and Senate members, especially Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who have placed their votes and reputation on the line to stand up for unborn children. Making this legislation consistent with longstanding federal law on abortion will not threaten needed authentic reform, but will help ensure its passage.”

National Right to Life letter to Senator Casey:

Your “compromise” does not fix abortion problems

WASHINGTON (December 18, 2009)—The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of right-to-life organizations in all 50 states, today sent a letter to Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), expressing its strong opposition to language Casey proposed regarding subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion on demand.

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson and Senior Legislative Counsel Susan T. Muskett wrote, in part:

We believe that your proposed language in no way improves the highly objectionable provisions of the Reid bill that authorize subsidies for health plans that cover elective abortion, and that authorize federal mandates for private health plans to cover elective abortion.

...The Reid bill, as modified by your proposal, would effectively enshrine in federal law the doctrine that elective abortion is routine health care, and then deign to allow individual citizens to declare themselves to be conscientious objectors.  This is a political fig leaf for a pro-abortion policy – and a cellophane fig leaf, at that. 

On December 8, the Senate tabled an amendment sponsored by Senators Ben Nelson (D-Ne.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) that would have removed elective abortion from the new federal programs that would be created by pending health care legislation.

The letter also notes that the already objectionable abortion provisions in the Reid bill were made worse on December 3 when the Senate adopted the Mikulski Amendment.  The Mikulski Amendment empowers the Department of Health and Human Services to compel every private health plan in the country to include coverage of all abortions, merely by listing abortion as a “preventive” service.  Senator Ben Nelson voted against the Mikulski Amendment for this reason.  As NRLC explained in a November 30 letter to the Senate opposing the Mikulski Amendment, some pro-abortion authorities have already started describing abortion as a “preventive” health service.

A PDF of the NRLC letter to Senator Casey is available here:

The National Right to Life Committee, the nation=s largest pro-life group, is a federation of affiliates in all 50 states and 3,000 local chapters nationwide.