The National Catholic Review

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is simply wrong when he states, as he did the other day, that decisions about whether or not to cover abortions with federally funded tax dollars should be "left to medical experts in the field." The issue here is not a medical issue but a political one: Will the Hyde Amendment, which has barred the use of federal funds for abortions since 1976 be set aside or not?

Mr. Gibbs is a young man so he may not recall the debate about liberalizing abortion laws before Roe v. Wade. Indeed, people with the best of intentions, argued that the issue could be better left to doctors than to legislators or bureaucrats because doctors had taken the Hippocratic Oath and were in the business of healing not killing. That argument was put forth by Father Robert Drinan, S.J. in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere. Father Drinan did not foresee that some doctors would end up on the payroll of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, that they would have an economic interest, indeed a livelihood, in the destruction of human life, not its healing. We in the pro-life community cannot be duped again.

On the other hand, we in the pro-life community must understand that we have failed to persuade our fellow citizens that abortion should not be legal. While we can and should do everything in our power to persuade people to choose life, both as a practical matter and in shaping our laws, we cannot unduly interfere with people who are doing what they are legally entitled to do.

The White House should insist that health care reform not be used as a vehicle for the pro-life or for the pro-choice groups to advance their agendas. Health care reform should be abortion-neutral, neither making the procedure more available nor more difficult to procure. Beset by arguments about how to save costs, how to pay for the overhaul, and all the various other aspects of the complicated reform effort, the last thing those who favor reform need is a debate about abortion which brings such powerful passions into play.

There is an easy way to achieve this. Policies that are to receive federal subsidies can’t provide abortion services in their basic policies but the consumer who is selecting the policy and receiving the subsidy can, with his or her own money, get a "rider" to the policy that covers abortion. This way, no federal dollars will be used for procuring insurance that covers abortion services and no woman would be in a different situation from the situation she is in currently. The federal option, if it passes, could follow a similar path of using "out-of-pocket" riders for abortion coverage.

Those on Capitol Hill who think they can hoodwink us with a "board of medical experts" should understand that many of us Catholics who voted for Democratic congressional candidates and for Barack Obama did so because we believed the party as a whole was becoming more sensitive to our concern that, despite the clear wording of the text, Roe has created an "abortion-on-demand" legal regime in this country. We responded to candidate Obama’s call for a reduction in the abortion rate through non-coercive policies of support for women facing crisis pregnancies. We cheered, and some of us cried, when pro-life Sen. Bob Casey, unlike his father, was permitted to address the Democratic National Convention. All that good will goes out the window if the Congress and the White House try to skate around the Hyde Amendment. It would be a cruel irony if, having supported efforts to achieve universal health insurance together since the 1940s, the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church would be prevented from working together at this moment because pro-choice lobbyists want to use health care reform as a vehicle for expanding abortion.

 

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 7/26/2009 - 11:41pm

"Will the Hyde Amendment, which has barred the use of federal funds for abortions since 1976 be set aside or not?"

Instead of attacking reasonable opposing arguments, Winters resorts to ad hominem ("destruction of human life") and poisoning of the well ("Hoodwinking us with a 'board of experts'"). In the interests of fairness, one is presented here.

Winters' argument unfairly equates abortions performed exclusively for birth control with those performed on non-viable fetuses or for the
protection of the well-being of the mother. Many abortions are carried out on non-viable fetuses for the protection of the mother. In addition, doctors are not compelled to carry out procedures where they perceive no threat. Some women will be turned away because there is no reason for them not to carry the child to term.

Unfortunately, procedures are also performed on perfectly viable fetuses that pose no threat to the well-being of the mother. As regrettable as this is, a trained doctor is still needed to decide
whether an abortion is necessary to protect the well-being of the mother. For the time being,
that well-being encompasses the emotional as well as the physical. That doctor may not always make the right call, but the doctor is trained and entrusted to address these issues, not the politician nor the judge.

Thus, the Hyde amendment is a medical issue because it call into question the judgment of the doctor. If the government offers a competitive private insurance plan, there is no reason that a woman who's well-being is threatened by her fetus
shouldn't be covered for her procedure.

Winter's argument is sound if you would trust lawyers and judges to make your medical decisions. But I trust medical doctors to make my
medical decisions.

As a side note, please remember that compassion and logic reduce abortions, not personal attacks and abusive rhetoric.

Anonymous | 7/25/2009 - 10:00am
Crystal and others:
I fear I've let my comments, while entirely true, sound more intemperate than I intend, a hazard of the disembodied internet.  Where I work, to question the logic of abortion risks being publicly accused of the foulest, most retrograde bigotries, so I carefully hold my tongue. 
I work with many fine people who have only the highest respect for PP, and I understand that logic without sharing it.  Yes, PP does far more than abortions. (And, as we know, there are abortion doctors who have been killed for what they do. I condemn that violence, as I do all violence.)
Similarly, the US military has many fine people in its ranks, who sacrifice a great deal - oftentimes their lives, as we well know - for a cause they truly believe will make the world a better, more peaceful place.  I understand that logic without sharing it.
If we desire even those we disagree with to respect the humanity of a fetus or an enemy, it will cost us more than most of us are willing to part with.  Among the first things we'll have to sacrifice is righteous anger.  I have much to change in myself before I'm ready for that.
I've said enough on this site and this issue.  Thanks for listening.
Anonymous | 7/24/2009 - 9:30am
Brian,
I find it interesting that you think that you, the primary doctor, deserve to know what is going on with your patient.
Do you also think that the parents of that same underage child have a right to know what you are talking to them about and what medications you are prescribing to them?  Do the parents have a right to know about that abortion so that they can help that child?
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 9:00pm
Brian,
Thanks for your input on PP.   My impression of PP was formed by a summer of  volunteering at one of the clinics years ago when I was in college.  I answered phoned-in questions about birth control.  It seemed to me that most of the patients came in for routine GYN exams and birth control, for STDs, for other illnesses, and also for pre-natal stuff.  I don't know what percentage of patients are there for abortions, but that isn't all the clinic does.  The nurses and docs I met there were nice normal good people whose main concern was not how to turn a buck but how to help patients.  Perhaps with  so much hateful rhetoric fueled about them and towards them, PP clnics are more reticent than other clinics about shring info about their patients?
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 8:01pm
Michael,
Very fine commentary. Despite the mantra of "common ground" with the pro-life community, the Democrats and the White House are pursuing a strong pro-abortion agenda. Witness the repeal of the Mexico City policy, the Secretary of State pushing abortion as a universal right for women in international fora, and now the support for federal dollars to get insurance for abortion. All of this despite the majority of the American people being pro-life. Although Gibbs may be a comparative youngster, his comment of leaving it "to medical experts" shows the ethical incoherence of folks who make policy based solely on political calculations. Pro-lifers have a lot of work to.
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 7:50pm
Crystal:
I appreciate that many who support Planned Parenthood are more concerned for women's health than profiting from abortion.  
That said, let me add that I have yet to receive any follow up or procedural information from any of my patients (I'm a general pediatrician) who chose to have an abortion through PP.  In contrast, the man who directs the local Women for Women clinic in town routinely sends a letter informing me, the primary care physician, that one of my patients had an abortion, what follow up was provided, and what I may need to know about the patient's condition. (This is usually the first indication that my patient, whom I likely counseled, chose to have an abortion.) This at least acknowledges that I am the patient's primary care provider, bound by confidentiality not to share patient-specific information with others, but nonetheless needing to know what has happened to my patient in order to properly care for her.  
I am rather aggressive in talking to adolescents about sex, sexual responsibility, avoidance of sexually transmitted infections, and contraception.  I encourage abstinence and communication with parents, but I also write for OCPs and other forms of birth control when the patient so requests.  I counsel young women (the young men rarely come to the office unless they are sick or need a sports physical) on their options and do my best to inform them that there are other ways to deal with pregnancy than abortion (I'm an adoptive father). I have had very long talks with girls whom I'd just told the results of their pregnancy test. Please, please don't accuse me of having my head in the sand.   
Most of the time, however, those who get pregnant - despite all my efforts - go to one of the local abortion providers.  Those who go to PP usually get the abortion; no questions asked and no follow up provided for the young lady's doctor.  Those who go elsewhere often get more information, more care and more follow-up.  
PP has an extraordinarily well-run and well-funded PR apparatus. I disagree with them quite strongly on life matters, but there's nothing to suggest that will ever change. I might think a little better of the organization if they actually showed real concern for coordinated health care, but I see little chance of that changing anytime soon, either. They may have their reasons, but they don't share them with me.  Perhaps PP does their business differently in other cities, but that's my experience here.
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 2:17pm
Doctors who work at reproductive health clinics like Planned Parenthood do not have an economic interest in the destruction of life,  they do have a medical  interest in the health of women.
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 1:29pm
Michael, you are right on on all counts, I think.
John:
Is, for example, getting myself a nose job so that I don't have a monstrous, WC Fields thing going on being covered? I thought it wasn't. There are legal, medical procedures to which a person has a right which will not be covered. They just aren't "necessary." This is usually the case in universal health care systems.
I think you are also missing the boat a bit in re infants being people. There are plenty, very intelligent people who are not of the Peter Singer variety and who acknowledge that a fetus is a person. What they fail to recognize is what person-hood means. And _that_ is a fundamentally religious/metaphysical question. Indeed, many women who chose to abort their child do so with at least some awareness that the fetus is a human being. I think you fail to appreciate the fact that in a society which has replaced sex with pornography, liberal politics with libertine ones, that has replaced justice with absolute freedom, we Catholics are at odds with a great many people on the very fundamental issue of what a person is. 
I am not sure what federally-funded "wars of choice" have to do with the topic at hand other than the face that both are abhorrent uses of federal funds.
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 12:22pm
I don't think they will be offering "abortion riders."  Rather, abortion will hopefully be covered only by Flexible Spending Accounts funded by the policy holder.  Note that if a tax exemption or credit is used to fund health care, the taxpayer is still paying for the abortion - so only the out of pocket portion should be used for these services.
 
Of course, this squeamishness over paying for abortion is more about soothing our collective guilty conscience for not finding a way to reducte abortions.  Women at least have an autonomy right that makes their use of birth control legitimate, although the Church won't recognize this due to its views on both sexuality and its misunderstanding of the ontology of a blastocyst.  A blastocyst is a pre-organism containing stem cells and the eventual chorion.  The stem cells can become more than one child or no child at all if they are not viable genetically.  They don't behave like an ensouled organism and it is squeamishness again that has the Church fail to recognize this.
 
As to Roe, given that the plain language of the 14th Amendment recognizes personhood at birth, whether we like the result or not, it was rightly decided.  Law is not about the result, but the process.  If we wish to change the result, the 14th Amendment gives the Congress enough power to interpret the 14th Amendment to change the status of the fetus.  No fundamental right of privacy stands against a congressional finding of personhood.  States are not constitutionally competent to make that determination under the Amendment.  It lost that power because time and time again they have used it for ill (against Freedmen, Latinos, Women and Gays).  The fetish with overturning Roe judicially has as much to do with returning that lost power to the states (which they still have not earned back due to good behavior - just ask gays in California) as it does with the protection of life.
 
When the movement gets beyond overturning Roe it will find a better legislative strategy - which might even yield a better electoral strategy - and will lead to protection of the unborn.  Of course, the movement must also distance itself from the economic conservatives who believe that redistribution of income is theft.  The tax code can be well used to guarantee a living wage by giving generous tax credits to families with children (and not giving them to those who don't - for example, the mortgage interest deduction).  This is necessary because the employment market on its own  penalizes employers who pay a just wage based on family size.  Additionally, the way we currently treat young people as pets of their parents well into their early to mid 20s has them delay marriage for too long, when evolution says that this is the time to have sex and produce young.  Abortion should not be used for birth control - so the alternative must be to make it economically possible for young people to get married and have families much younger.
 
Abortion is but a system of our sick society.  In the unlikely even we could ban abortion, the sickness remains.  If we cure the sickness, the symptom goes away.  The jury is out as to whether Obama is willing to cure the sickness.  I suspect not, but he is at least better than the other guys who ran against him.  Caritas in Veritate commands that we cure the sicknes.
Anonymous | 7/23/2009 - 11:26am
I don't know how you can expect people to accept that if something medical is deemed legal and a person has a privacy right to that medical legal something  then still to argue that under universal Federal funding that same something will not be funded. Very many people will see this as injection of religious beliefs upon their rights. Sort of like saying that treatment for alcoholism won't be given because we believe alcoholism is a willful sin, not a medical condition. This will just harden the opposition.
Seems to me it is better to go back to the root of the problem and convince people that an unborn baby is a person and that Roe vs Wade is wrong! This, of course, is what you are exactly trying to move away from doing due to the apparent unsuccess of this educational effort.
Consider that the thousands of billions of dollars spent recently on wars of choice have directly killed a million people made homeless millions more and indirectly killed many millions more by wasting resources that could have gone for basic survival necessities like medicines. Guess what, these were Federal Dollars. Where does that take your argument?
Anonymous | 7/29/2009 - 12:10pm
Note that in Catholic Charities USA's call for action on health care reform, they mention abortion not at all.
Anonymous | 7/25/2009 - 12:01am
Joe: Yes, I do.  
Crystal:  Thanks for sharing your experience. I find the righteous anger flows both ways. I've learned never to speak my mind on this matter at work. It's unnerving to hear a respected physician fantasize in public about losing control of his car and running over abortion protesters.