In the wake of passage of the health care bill, some Catholics are complaining that the bishops erred in the end by opposing the measure over the abortion issue. The hierarchy, it’s said, ought to have set aside its objections to abortion for the sake of the great goal of universal health coverage.
Speaking of setting aside, let’s pass over the question of how a plan that restricts legal immigrants’ access to coverage and denies it entirely to illegals can properly be described as “universal.” Universal for me but not universal for you, maybe? But leaving that aside, let’s take the complaint at face value.
The criticism aimed at the bishops would represent a tenable position—not correct, but reasonable at least—provided one crucial condition were met: namely, that the bishops had unrealistically demanded the total abolition of government-funded abortion as the price for their support for the bill.
But they didn’t. They asked for retention of the status quo on abortion funding in place since 1976 in the form of the well-known Hyde Amendment limiting Medicaid abortions to cases involving rape, incest, or the mother’s health.
Prodded by the abortion lobby, however, the Obama administration and Congress said no to that. So, convinced that the legislation in its final form opens the door to the funding of elective abortions, the bishops had no other choice except to oppose it—making clear as they did so that they continued to support truly universal health coverage.
Recall the sequence of events. Last fall, President Obama affirmed his support for the status quo on funding—that’s to say, Hyde. In November, the House passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and others incorporating Hyde-type limitations in the bill. In December, however, the Senate voted for expanded abortion funding. Obama, reversing himself without acknowledging it, thereupon agreed.
Writing in The Washington Post, Stupak, who’s retiring from Congress, says he acted in good faith before the crucial second vote by the House on March 21 in accepting, in lieu of language in the bill limiting abortion funding, the promise of an executive order from Obama. At the same time, he complains that some prolifers who supported his original amendment actually wanted the health care bill to fail.
No doubt. But if the Michigan congressman wants people to accept his good faith, he needs to reciprocate by recognizing the good faith of others. There are, after all, prolifers who support health care reform but believe for non-frivolous reasons that the version enacted through the strenuous efforts of Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership has too many serious shortcomings over and above expanded abortion funding to have deserved to pass.
The position boils down to saying that if—as was so often claimed—this truly was the last shot we’d have at health care reform for a generation or more, then we should have gotten it right.
As for Obama’s executive order, prolife and pro-abortion spokespersons agree that it doesn’t amount to much. The consensus is that it’s unenforceable and simply not capable of overriding the health plan’s opening to the funding of elective abortions. The reason can be stated very simply: law trumps executive order.
The bottom line is that American bishops, at the end of the protracted health care debate, stood exactly where they’d stood all along. They were in favor of universal coverage that is truly universal but opposed to expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion to include elective abortions. They were right, and they deserve our thanks.