The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions turned down an amendment that would have prevented any government health insurance plan from paying for abortion services. It is unclear yet whether this is part of a legislative strategy but it is time for Catholic Democrats to lay down some markers.
First, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania voted with the GOP senators in support of the measure. His bishop in Scranton was quick to denounce the senator for voting to confirm Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services and I hope he will be just as quick to commend Casey for this courageous vote. I see nothing on the diocesan website this morning. As I have noted before, if the bishops want to create a culture of life, they must recognize the need to have pro-life politicians in both parties.
Now, the others who voted for the measure may truly want a federal option to cover abortion services, but some may also see this committee vote as a bargaining chip. After all, it is unclear if the more conservative Senate Finance Committee will even back a federal option in the health care reform legislation. Legislators are permitted to vote in ways that appear wrong in pursuit of an overall legislative strategy, so no one should be getting into a lather yet.
We should, however, be letting our congressional representatives and senators know that providing federal funds for abortion is a deal-breaker. Even Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said yesterday that the Hyde Amendment banning federal dollars being used for abortions is “settled law” and should not be overturned in an interview on MSNBC. It is unclear, however, if some complicated legislative language will be found to try and get around the Hyde Amendment. Legislators should know that subverting the Hyde Amendment will cost them considerable Catholic support.
My sources in the Obama administration tell me that the White House understands that overturning the Hyde Amendment could kill health care reform and that they do not want to have this fight despite pressure from pro-choice organizations to hijack health care reform to achieve this long sought goal of theirs. Catholics should stiffen the administration’s resolve on this. To be clear: I have never voted for a Republican in my life. My mother told me my right hand would wither and fall to the ground if I did. But, if the President or my representatives in Congress support federal funding for abortion in any way, shape or form, I will never vote for them again and I might risk my right hand in the next election by voting for their opponent.
So, call your Senators and Representatives. Call the White House. Many of us pro-life Democrats have given the President the benefit of the doubt on the abortion issue because of his repeated commitment to trying to lower the abortion rate, a commitment he reiterated to Pope Benedict XVI last week. All the good will he has earned among Catholic swing voters, and all the arguments on his behalf progressive Catholics have mounted, all could be swept away if abortion is part of a federal option in health care. Politics is the art of compromise, but on this point, there can be none.