Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Senate vote on abortion and health care

The issue, all along, with funding for abortion in the various proposed health care plans, has been whether these plans expand federal funding for abortion, or not.  The spoken/unspoken "deal" with the U.S. bishops has been that they will support health care only as long as federal support for abortion is not expanded from the current situation, which is defined by the limits of the Hyde amendment. 

What's complicated is this:  The Hyde amendment limits federal funding for abortion.  The health care plans put forward are complex attempts to broaden access to health care through a variety of federal programs, federal support for the purchase of insurance, public/private partnerships, etc.  So, to weave the Hyde limits through all this is complicated, and often results in an expansion of its reach because federal funding itself is greatly expanded. Some plans have said that they do not expand federal funding for abortion, but it's clear that a different reading of their language could yield a different result.  What is direct funding, what is indirect funding ... it's not a simple call.

Jerry Filteau, writing in NCR, does a good job of laying out the terrain today, in "Stage set for Senate abortion showdown...".  Here's the crucial piece:  calling for the enactment of the Nelson-Hatch Casey amendment (a Senate version of the Stupak amendment that passed in Congress), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops claim that
"The bill currently before the Senate allows the HHS [Health and Human Services] Secretary to mandate abortion coverage throughout the government-run ‘community health insurance option,'" ...“It also provides [public] funding for other plans that cover unlimited abortions and creates an unprecedented mandatory ‘abortion surcharge’ in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly and explicitly for other people’s abortions.”
Then Filteau gives a helpful explanation...
In other words, unless the Hyde amendment prohibitions on federal funding of elective abortions in other federal health care legislation are explicitly included in the new health care reform legislation, the effects of the Hyde amendment in those other programs could be reversed by regulatory decisions.
THIS is what's at stake in the vote, and I hope the amendment passes.

But if it doesn't, is it then reasonable for the bishops to torpedo the entire health care reform effort?  Would we pick up our marbles and walk away from the possibility of expanding health care to millions of our neighbors because we don't approve of some aspects of the federal funding for abortion?  I hope not.

Update:  On the other hand, looking at the endgame for the process, Sara Kliff says that a loss today for the pro-life side might not be a loss in the end, with regard to the fight over abortion funding, in "Why the Senate's Abortion Debate Doesn't Matter."