Public Funding For Abortion Or A Good Game Plan?

BlogHer Original Post

When I  received this assignment, I thought it would be easy to take a clear position on the issue of whether I believed the Stupak Amendment to the House health care bill was worthwhile or even necessary. As I thought further, it became less clear to me, as someone who believes in the foundations of small government and individual liberty upon which this country was built, and given the reality of the time in which we live, it became more difficult for me to make a definitive statement.

First, from Bart Stupak himself, interviewed in the Atlantic, some background on the Stupak Amendment.

Stupak said his amendment does nothing more than apply current abortion law (the annually renewed Hyde amendment) to health care reform, that pro-choicers are "distorting the hell" out of it, that he's confident his language will be included in the Senate bill, and that pro-choice Democrats have only themselves to blame for its passage on the House floor Saturday night.

The amendment itself prohibits federal subsidies from being used to purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortions, on any of the regional exchanges set up under the House bill for low-income individuals, and other Americans who don't have access to coverage to shop for health insurance. It specifies that subsidized individuals can purchase supplemental coverage, out of pocket, that covers abortions. It does not restrict coverage of abortions in the case of rape, incest, or saving a woman's life.

Frankly speaking, the Stupak Amendment was a brilliant tactical move. It allowed so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats to support a bill that might have threatened their continued employment otherwise, and provided a way for Christian and Evangelical Democrats who support a robust public healthcare option out of a sense of social justice but who consider themselves pro-life (surprisingly, the two go hand-in-hand quite often), to both cast a yes vote and quiet their conscience. Bart Stupak may have earned the ire of his more progressive colleagues, but in the end, he preserved a coalition that Nancy herself seemed unable to.

For Republicans and most pro-lifers, including, to a limited degree, myself, the Stupak Amendment was a tiny positive in an otherwise thoroughly disappointing bill. Chocked to the gills with government graft and packed with the kid of freedom-curbing governmental bureaucracy I have nightmares about, the bill represented one of the largest and most expensive government expansions in history. It might have TRIED to solve a pressing problem in our society, but as Camille Paglia put it in Salon, it failed miserably:

As for the actual content of the House healthcare bill, horrors! Where to begin? That there are serious deficiencies and injustices in the U.S. healthcare system has been obvious for decades. To bring the poor and vulnerable into the fold has been a high ideal and an urgent goal for most Democrats. But this rigid, intrusive and grotesquely expensive bill is a nightmare. Holy Hygeia, why can't my fellow Democrats see that the creation of another huge, inefficient federal bureaucracy would slow and disrupt the delivery of basic healthcare and subject us all to a labyrinthine mass of incompetent, unaccountable petty dictators? Massively expanding the number of healthcare consumers without making due provision for the production of more healthcare providers means that we're hurtling toward a staggering logjam of de facto rationing. Steel yourself for the deafening screams from the careerist professional class of limousine liberals when they get stranded for hours in the jammed, jostling anterooms of doctors' offices. They'll probably try to hire Caribbean nannies as ringers to do the waiting for them.

Even though three weeks ago we were told, flat-out, that the healthcare bill did not in any way provide for federally-funded abortion services, House Democrats were forced to stand up on the record and inform the American people that the “propaganda” they’d been “sold” by Republican leaders was, in fact, a carefully hidden reality. As I watched the Democrats erode the last shreds of trust moderate and independent Americans had in them by openly admitting that a GOP scare tactic was indeed, true, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a creeping warmth in the cockles of my heart. In addition, 60 Democratic House members willingly cast their vote for the pro-life cause. They could have held out for a more weakly-worded amendment. They could have voted down Stupak and voted for something that wouldn't have explicitly denied healthcare funds to the abortion industry, or something that would have had to be “interpreted” somewhere down the line, but they didn’t. Bart Stupak and those 60 Democrats stood up for something they believed in, and that’s more than I can say for most Republicans - and for that matter most Congressmen.

That’s not to say that the GOP happily embraced the Stupak Amendment. As much as the pro-life caucus was happy that the spirit of the Hyde Amendment was honored - that no federal funds from health and human services programs would be allocated to abortion providers - it meant that the bill would pass easily. As Adrienne of Cosmopolitan Conservative observes, many conservatives initially laid the blame for the healthcare bills passage squarely at the foot of some of the most prominent pro life groups.

I’ve seen a lot of ire aimed at National Right to Life, particularly for releasing an advisory announcing that they would score “nay” votes for the amendment as opposition to life. This is an extremely difficult situation, and I don’t think that there is an easy answer. The Stupak Amendment created a dilemma that conservatives don’t see quite as often as liberals: party politics vs. issue politics...

We can discuss if Pelosicare would have passed without the Stupak Amendment, but does it matter? At the end of the day, National Right to Life and other pro-life organizations did their job. It was the fault of the Republican party and Republican House members for not doing a better job in presenting their arguments. Pro-lifers should not be blamed for the failure of the party.

To me, blaming the pro-lifers for failure seems ridiculous. As I said before, had the Stupak Amendment not been on the table, another compromise would have been found, most likely one that doesn’t expressly forbid what Stupak expressly forbids. This bill would have passed regardless; at least there’s something to show for it. Bart Stupak, of course, immediately under fire for his moral quest, must not think that his addition to the bill was an empty maneuver. After all, he’s become a top target of Democratic “house-cleaners” who are seeking to have him ousted, thrown off committees and ostracized for his “conservative” pro-life views.

Here’s where my qualms come in. While I agree with Hyde in spirit, I would rather federal funding not go to ANY health care services, preferring that health care provisions for American citizens be handled by the state in which they live. I also hate taxes, and given that someone will have to foot this bill’s hefty $1.2 trillion dollar price tag, I presume it will be the American taxpayer. Sure Obama says that it will only affect the "rich"; to Obama, though, nearly everyone qualifies as “rich.”

But back to the Hyde Amendment and why I believe taxpayers should be protected from having their cash go to procure abortion services.

National Women's Law Center Rally

I feel differently about abortion than I do about most other “social” issues. I personally believe that abortion is the destruction of innocent human life, and while I don’t necessarily believe that legality or illegality of the procedure affects whether it is occurring or not, I do believe that when the subject of abortion rears its head in the public square it should be treated with more care than even war, and especially more care than other “social justice” issues. War can be justified. The distribution of wealth is a matter left to argument. Whether it is the responsibility of the federal government to take care of the poor or the responsibility of lower bodies in society (families, communities and states) is up for discussion. Whether the state should have the power to take the life of those found criminally culpable  for heinous actions and those who are a danger to the state is up for discussion, as well. The destruction of innocent human life, however, should be avoided at all costs, as it is without justification, and where people are implicated in what they believe to be the destruction of human life such as when they are forced to pay for it through their tax-dollars, I have a hard time believing such a measure is necessary. Sure, I don’t believe my tax-dollars should pay for a lot of things - unnecessary wars, the failed War on Drugs and a host of other failed or failing government programs - when it comes to abortion I’m a hardliner We’re talking about something that goes beyond just government responsibility. We’re sailing right into moral turpitude.

I'm sure those who went through basic Catechism recognize what I just listed as authentic Catholic teaching, and of course, in the wake of all of this controversy, it is, of course, Catholics who are drawing the most heat. I could go into more detail about the wrongheadedness of criticism leveled at those who voted with their conscience, and how this interlocks with a larger world view, nicely defeating NARAL's indictment of the Church as a meddling force that overlooks the needs of women in its question for Patriarchial control, but Charmaine Yoest at St. Michael's Soceity, has already done that for me.

By the way, the Catholic Church supports a public option. And, incidentally, the First Amendment protects your rights of conscience as part of your free exercise of religion. That's one right we often don't see discussed, but its there.

Now this is all well and good, of course, sitting and talking about how we feel abortion should be discussed in the public square, but the long-term livelihood of the Stupak Amendment and the current state of abortion law is only as good as the Congressional Representatives who share a commitment to it. In other words, if tomorrow, the majority of Congress flipped the other way, I would take defeat fair and square This is how a representative Democracy works: the majority decides what gets codified into law. In the end I’m grateful to Bart Stupak not just because he adequately represented the needs of pro-lifers but because he called out what was an utterly unfair initiative on the part of House Democrats: hiding a controversial policy measure in the folds of a 2000 page bill. And to make matters worse totally denying its very existence. If House Democrats want desperately to overturn Hyde, if they have a burning desire to force taxpayers to foot the bill for abortion, they have the votes in their coalition to do it, then they should grow a pair ad put the measure BY ITSELF to a full ad fair vote. If the idea of pushing American money to abortion providers is so popular, so desperately necessary that the American people are just clamoring for the opportunity such that their representatives would be remiss in not addressing it, why work so desperately to pass it secretly in the dead of night, sandwiched between doctor scholarships and tax breaks for tongue depressors (which by the way, does not apply to other FDA-classified medical devices such as female condoms and breast pumps)? Be the men you claim to be, Congress...put your money where your mouth is.

I doubt the Stupak provision will remain in the bill. I think it will be stripped out at the first available opportunity and that the healthcare bill will eventually, ultimately, fail. As the vote pushes closer ad closer to tax day, and further and further into the 2010 election cycle, even hardline Democrats will find it more difficult to support a bill that their constituents know will push them further into debt. For now, I’ll sleep well with that knowledge.

Well, at least, for now.


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