While legislators on Capitol Hill are tinkering over a national health care bill, Catholics anxiously watch to see what form the legislation might take. Though Catholics, including the U.S. Conference of Bishops, call for a reform, there is apprehension over whether the bill will be genuinely concerned with providing health care, or instead used as an opportunity to fund abortions and undermine conscience protection practices.
These concerns are grounded on the fact that amendments to the bill such as the Caps and Ellsworth Amendments seek to re-write present policy practices on federal funding of abortions. As such, health reform is being used by pro abortion groups and individuals to change long standing practices. Members of Congress, in particular Speaker Pelosi, are not even permitting amendments geared to introduce language into the bill which will assure present abortion funding policies from being brought to the floor for debate or vote. One such amendment is the Stupak-Pitt Amendment, a bi-partisan attempt to assure that longstanding policy on abortion funding be maintained. Instead, what is being pushed is the Ellsworth Amendment, which merely disguises abortion funding, thus only giving the appearance of abortion funding prohibition. Instead of seeking genuine health reform, what is being sought is the expansion of abortions. Add this latest development to the earlier actions of President Obama, who shortly after taking office reversed the Mexico City Policy (thus permitting U.S. foreign aid to be used to support abortions abroad), indicated he may rescind the Conscience Protection practices signed by President Bush, and appointed Kathleen Sebelius (considered a strong pro-choice activist) as head of Health and Human Services, trying to make an abortion-free health care bill seems unlikely.
The bi-partisan Stupak-Pitt Amendment being an exception, much of the debate on Capitol Hill is political, with sides for or against reform being drawn along party lines. The Stupak-Pitt Amendment however is primarily grounded on a moral principle-protection of life.
For Catholics, too, the issue is more than just political. Following the bishops’ lead, many Catholics consider health care a “basic human right” and as such see health reform as a moral issue. Thus, genuine reform has to be harmonious with the moral principle that all human life, regardless of its stage of development and social standing, is sacred and deserving of protection. With this as the moral background, the bishops stated in their September letter to the Senate that health coverage has to be for “all people and protect the life, dignity, and health of all.” Genuine health reform needs to “uphold longstanding laws that restrict abortion funding and protect conscience rights, and... safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society.”
We could argue that proper health care should not be defined by providing for abortions, but instead aim at assuring that both the woman and the newly conceived receive proper health coverage. As such, health care reform should aim to simultaneously provide care to both the mother and the newly conceived. Unfortunately, many pro-abortion proponents, among them Planned Parenthood, insist that abortions be covered, either directly or indirectly in the bill. Such insistence, along with Speaker Pelosi preventing a legitimate debate and vote on the floor on the issue, is threatening the bill. Presently, due to the lack of language in the bill supporting the moral concerns of conscientious pro-life communities, including the Catholic community, the White House and Capitol Hill are making it difficult for Catholics, and sincere members of the pro-life community to wholeheartedly support any health care bill coming out of Washington D.C.
The Catholic bishops are speaking not as legislators but as moral leaders. As such, the moral guidelines they provide need to be transformed into practical legislative language. Regardless of who is espousing a moral principle, it is often difficult to translate morality into a piece of legislation. Though morally we may all agree that we should `love our neighbor,’ we may disagree on what is the legal equivalent of a neighbor, and on how in particular, in our daily actions, we are to express the legal definition of love. Though laws should be grounded on moral principles, it is very difficult to consistently give a concrete expression of a moral principle in a broad and comprehensive piece of legislation such as the one we are presently attempting to form. Add party politics into the mix and the task becomes ever more challenging.
That being said, though we may not figure out how we are to legally define `loving our neighbor,’ we may at least define actions which seem counterintuitive to the principle. For example, though we may not define love, or specify how to legally express it, we can at least say that we should not kill innocent members of our community. The law cannot force me to be kind to the person who cut me off in traffic, but it can demand that I do not run him off the road.
Health care reform, whatever shape it takes, should at least be abortion free. We should not permit an issue that has been used as a political tool to divide communities, now be used to endanger much-needed health care reform. It seems to me that one simple way to unite people behind the bill, and to simultaneously weaken the conservative detractors from health care reform (individuals who may be using the abortion issue as merely a political tool), is for our political leaders to insert language into the bill that clearly states that abortions will not funded by this legislation.
Health care reform is too important to be sabotaged by pro-abortion proponents, or by party conservatives who have used the issue as a tool for division. For the sake of all those individuals and families who are suffering due to lack of proper health care coverage, let us not lose this opportunity for change by insisting that abortions be covered in the bill.
Call your Federal representative now and tell them to focus on health reform and not on the promotion of abortion.
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