Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Catholics Sway Health Care Passage

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Catholics Sway Health Care Passage

Article excerpt

The night before the Nov. 7 final vote on health care reform in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was shuttling between gatherings of pro-choice legislators and antiabortion forces, the latter including officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the end, according to numerous reports, it was the pro-choice group that spurned all efforts at compromise. Pelosi was forced to abandon her pro-choice allies to allow a vote on the amendment advanced by Congressman Bart Stupak, a moderate Democrat from upstate Michigan. As the health reform effort heads now to the Senate, the Catholic church, both its hierarchy and laity, stands in the center of the debate. On the line is not only the long-elusive goal of universal health coverage but also President Obama's effort to reach out to moderate Catholic voters.

With the Republican Party all but marginalized in its unyielding opposition to almost any reform effort, the wide variety of opinions within the Democratic Party on different aspects of the legislation became all the more apparent. The most vexing issue is that of federal funding for abortion.

All summer long, Pelosi and her allies had tried to convince their colleagues that the Capps Amendment, segregating the federal funds from the premiums paid by individuals, had solved the issue. And all summer long, pro-life members had said that the Capps Amendment amounted to an accounting gimmick. Factcheck.org, a non-partisan group that evaluates the veracity of political claims, agreed that Capps amounted to federal funding of abortion coverage. The issue would not go away.

The night before the vote, Stupak led the pro-life negotiators and had officials from the bishops' conference with him in his office. At Pelosi's invitation, they moved to a room in the speaker's office. In another room in the same suite was a group of pro-choice lobbyists. For two hours, the discussion went back and forth until Pelosi threw her support behind Stupak's amendment. Late Saturday evening, the House voted to support Stupak and passed the final health care bill.

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The amendment did more than bar federal funding for abortion in both the public option and in any plans purchased through the "exchanges," the markets the legislation sets up if those plans were subsidized by the federal government. The bill requires that any insurance company plan that covers abortion offered in the exchanges, even one being purchased by someone with their own money and no federal subsidy, has to be matched with an identical plan that does not include such coverage.

The Stupak Amendment does not forbid the purchase of plans that cover abortion, but the actuary for the insurance companies said that functionally no companies would offer such plans because the pool of applicants would be too small to make them economically feasible.

The bishops and staff at the bishops' conference were elated by the victory in the House. …

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