Nancy Pelosi and the Claims of Conscience

On Sept. 28, a bipartisan group of 187 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak and Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter. The key paragraphs follow:

“Proposed health-reform legislation, H.R. 3200 … radically departs from the current federal government policy of not paying for elective abortion or subsidizing plans that cover abortion. None of the bills reported out of the three committees of jurisdiction have addressed our serious concerns about public funding for abortion. The version that was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, containing the Capps Amendment, actually explicitly authorizes the federal government (the Department of Health and Human Services) to directly fund elective abortions, with federal (public) funds drawn on a federal Treasury account. Widely circulated claims that these would be ‘private’ funds are misleading; they are contrary to law and the until-now universal understanding of what constitutes federal funds. The simple fact is that under the Capps language, the U.S. Treasury will be permitted to issue checks to abortion clinics to reimburse for abortion on demand for the first time in decades.

“The bill also explicitly provides for government subsidies to pay the premiums for private insurance policies that include elective abortion coverage. This, too, is a drastic break from longstanding federal policy. The Hyde Amendment has, for over 30 years, prevented programs funded by the annual Health and Human Services Appropriations bill from financing abortion. However, H.R. 3200 bypasses the annual appropriations bills and directly appropriates funding for both the public options and the affordability credits. This means the Hyde amendment will not apply to the public option or to the premium subsidy program created by H.R. 3200. In two memos … the Congressional Research Services has confirmed that these programs will not require any future appropriations. In addition, legislation of this magnitude should include permanent language to ensure that federal funds are not used to support abortion.”
The 187 members then requested the Speaker and the Rules Committee Chair to permit a clean vote, up or down, on the Stupak-Pitts amendment, which would bar all federal funding for abortion. As of late October, Pelosi, who has cut stalwart pro-life  Democrats and Republicans out of the negotiations to determine the content of the health-care reform bill that the entire House is to consider, had persistently and obstinately refused that request.
This is an outrage in terms of the comity and collegiality of the House: the Speaker is using the considerable powers of her office to coerce the consciences of her fellow members. The outrage is compounded by the fact that Nancy Pelosi regularly describes herself as an “ardent” Catholic formed by the Church’s social justice traditions. An “ardent Catholic” won’t permit fellow Members of Congress from across the political and religious spectrum an open, clean, up-or-down vote on federal funding for abortion? Where is the social justice in this?

And where is the president who promised at Notre Dame to seek “common ground” on abortion? Has he called Speaker Pelosi to urge an open vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment? Or do both Speaker Pelosi and President Obama fear that they would lose any such vote, further aggravating their base on the lifestyle left? Do Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama care more about the rage of pro-abortion activists than they do about the consciences of the Members of the House—and the conscience of the American people?

The period between Halloween and Christmas will likely tell the tale on health-care reform. The moment to act is now. It will be a dark day in the history of Catholicism in America if the Speaker of the House of Representatives, an “ardently” Catholic woman formed by 16 years of Catholic education, willfully blocks an open vote by the people’s duly elected representatives on federal funding of abortion. Write your member of Congress, urging him or her to support a rule allowing an open, clean, up-or-down vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Write Speaker Pelosi, urging her to let her House colleagues vote their consciences on this grave matter.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Do your elected representatives in your Senate and House of Representatives represent their electorates to the Federal Government? Or do they represent their parties to their constituency? Do your elected representatives work for you or for their parties?

    Pelosi cannot actually control the vote of any member of your Congress unless those members allow her to do so, and in that case they are the ones ultimately responsible for their vote. And you know what that means: Make them do an honest job in November next year.

  • dennisofraleigh

    “…the Speaker of the House of Representatives, an “ardently” Catholic woman formed by 16 years of Catholic education…” And therein lies much of the problem. Catholic education in the U.S., (a problem that goes back to the 1960’s, at least) from parochial school up to university level has, with rare exception, done an abysmal job in properly catechizing and forming American youth. Pelosi is an excellent example of “Catholic” formation gone awry. The same could be said for the vast majority of Pelosi’s fellow “Catholic” lawmakers in Congress.

    Remember former V.P. candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s famous caveat that she could support abortion “rights,” but so long as she was “personally opposed,” and that it made it somehow morally excusable? That sort of thinking is right out of the post-Vatican II American catechetical handbook. No longer was it necessary to believe and obey everything taught by the Church’s Holy See or Her bishops. One had only to search one’s “conscience” and if “conscience” said this or that conduct was OK, that settled it.

    There is no other way to explain the brazen defiance of America’s Catholic lawmakers who attend Mass regularly, receive Holy Communion (yet another outrage layered on that of the abortion scandal), proclaim their Catholicity at election time, and turn right around and warmly embrace the accolades of the likes of NARAL and Planned Parenthood for their support of abortion.

    And do you think their Catholic constituents who vote in their districts are any different? Why would anyone think otherwise? They experienced (for the most part) the same Catholic catechetical mal-formation as those pro-abort lawmakers they send back to Congress time after time. Or no Catholic formation at all.

    If we’re to see any sea change in this tragic situation we must pray for the conversion of hearts: Catholic lawmakers and Catholic voters alike.

  • Our elected representatives mostly represent themselves, and those who buy their votes with campaign contributions. They are nearly impossible to unseat; I’ve ranted on that before:

  • tomdundee


    It was not Catholic education, but lack integrity, something that got lost in Washington DC, when they were seduced by the forces of the dark side. Some place they developed a deep and real hatred of the US.

  • consecrata

    Nancy Pelosi strong arms her people and actively, passionately, promotes and fosters her pro abortion agenda. She is openly defiant of Catholic Church teachings and who can blame her. She claims that no Bishop has reprimanded her and that the Bishops have differing opinions on essential Church teachings and that it must be a ‘regional’ thing…if a child is engaged in or promoting something that is gravely evil and the parent warns the child to stop the behavior and explains why but the child continues on the same path, but the parent gives no consequences then the child may rightly believe his behavior is really no big deal. So it is with ‘Catholic’ politicians who brazenly continue in fostering the grave moral evil of abortion because they receive no consequences and are permitted to receive the Eucharist despite their open and public defiance of the Church. Who is more responsible? The Bishops or the Politicians? Archbishop Burke has claimed over and over again that the Canon Law of the Church prohibits those who publicly go against Church teachings and encourage others to do so from receiving the Eucharist…but the Bishops ‘disagree’ even about this…I wonder if the ‘American’ Church will one day split from the Roman Catholic Church? We have many wonderful, courageous Catholic Bishops who stand with the Church…but there are those who do not. We have to pray for all…and for the soul of our nation. Mother Teresa told us that a nation that kills its young cannot survive. And we cannot. So let’s pray…