Tom Reese, S.J. quotes chapter and verse to show that, yes Virginia, the Catholic bishops really do support health care reform, a few episcopal recusants notwithstanding. But one bit of rhetoric finesse has to do with the issue of federal funding of abortions. Here’s Tom’s last graph:
The bishops do not want an abortion fight in the health care debate.
They have said that they will be satisfied with the status quo, which
is that no federal dollars can go to paying for an abortion. What they
do want is health care for all.
Not exactly. Medicaid’s federal dollars do pay for a few thousand abortions per year, in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. And, judging from the letter sent to members of Congress by Bishop William F. Murphy, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, the bishops can live with this arrangement–which follows the latest version of the so-called Hyde Amendment:
Programs, such as Medicaid, that provide funding for the rare “Hyde exception” abortions, also provide for participation in the program by health care providers who decline to provide any abortions at all. (For a compilation of such federal laws, see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf.) Health care reform cannot be a vehicle for abandoning this consensus which respects freedom of conscience and honors our best American traditions. Any legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality. Making the legislation “abortion- neutral” in this sense will be essential for widely accepted reform.
It is to be presumed that the bishops’ readiness to support Medicaid in its present form will extend to the expansion of Medicaid proposed in the reform bills. That, in other words, would retain the status quo and therefore be “abortion-neutral.”
What remains is for the bishops and other pro-life supporters of health care reform to make clear where they stand on federal subsidies to help those of modest means pay for health insurance (whether private or public). Most private insurance policies include abortion coverage–going beyond the Hyde cases involving rape, incest, and life endangerment. Effectively, what the government would be providing is a voucher to help individuals pay for their coverage. Would such an approach meet the bishops’ criterion of an abortion-neutral retention of the status quo?
Possibly, if as an accounting matter, the federal subsidy was prohibited from applying to the abortion portion of the policy. Can the bishops live with that?