U.S. Catholic Bishops: Healthcare Bill Funds Abortion

The U.S. bishops conference says the purported ban on federally funded abortion is a 'legal fiction.'

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a letter condemning the House Democrats' healthcare plan, alleging that the plan's purported prohibition on federal funds for abortion is a "legal fiction."

Of course, the House healthcare bill may not be the last word on abortion coverage in the federal healthcare plan, should one pass. But it's unlikely that the Democrats, including President Obama, will heed the bishops' and other social conservatives' call for an outright ban on abortion coverage in health insurance plans that are subsidized with federal funds, including the public option.

And that, along with mounting Democratic support for the Ryan-DeLauro bill on abortion and other reproductive health issues—whose contraceptive funding rules out the U.S. bishops' support—appears to dim prospects for Obama finding common ground with the American Catholic Church on abortion.

I'm not sure the administration seriously thought it could bring the U.S. bishops on board for its plan to "reduce the need for abortion," but the bishops' support for universal healthcare and other Democratic goals seemed to place it in the realm of the possible (whereas socially conservative groups like the Family Research Council or Concerned Women for America oppose most of Obama's agenda and were never going to lend their support).

Without the backing of the bishops or traditional Christian-right groups, what antiabortion organizations or figures can the administration claim to have won over through its "common ground" approach that weren't already signed up with the Democrats? The White House has yet to reveal its "common ground" plan—and, as I said, abortion coverage in the healthcare bill may not be a settled matter—so it's still too early to close the book on the question.

Here's an excerpt from the letter that Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, sent to U.S. House members yesterday:

[The House Commerce and Energy Committee] created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion: Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand; but anyone who purchases these plans is required to pay a premium out of his or her own pocket (specified in the Act to be at least $1.00 a month) to cover all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde amendment. Thus some will claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion under the Act.

But this is an illusion. Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions. Furthermore, those constrained by economic necessity or other factors to purchase the "public plan" will be forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage. This is the opposite of the policy in every other federal health program. Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others (and abortion coverage for themselves) even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.

Please consider the broader context. No federal program mandates coverage for elective abortions, or subsidizes health plans that include such abortions. Most Americans do not want abortion in their health coverage, and most consider themselves "pro-life," with a stronger majority among low-income Americans. About 80 percent of all hospitals do not generally provide abortions, and 85 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. By what right, then, and by what precedent, would Congress make abortion coverage into a nationwide norm, or force Americans to subsidize it as a condition for participating in a public health program?

Read the full letter here.