The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):
Archive for the ‘Health Care Reform’ Category
The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):
In the aftermath of the enactment of the health care reform law, we have been told over and over by the Administration and its allies that the bill will not provide for public funding for abortion, and that the President’s executive order ensures that.
Nobody who is familiar with the bill actually believes this. Both pro-lifers and pro-abortion advocates know full well that they law will require federal funds to go to insurance plans that cover abortions, direct funding of abortions though such means as “community health centers”, and through the rulings of courts on the meaning of terms in the law like “family planning” and “preventive care”. For a detailed explanation, see this fact sheet from the U.S. Bishops’ General Counsel.
In response to the threats to human life contained in the bill, pro-life members of Congress — led by the stalwart Chris Smith of New Jersey — have introduced legislation that would prevent any federal funding of abortion under the new law, and would also provide adequate conscience protection to those institutions and individuals who do not want to cooperate in abortion. The bill is called, appropriately, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, and it would prevent any payments for abortion from any federal program.
Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston/Houston, and Chairman of the Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, has now written a letter to all members of Congress, calling on them to co-sponsor this bill. The Cardinal’s letter provides an excellent summary of the bill and the reasons it is necessary, so I reproduce the entire text here. It’s long, but well worth the read:
The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 5939) was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) at the end of July, and already has 166 co-sponsors including 20 Democratic members. I am writing to urge you to support and co-sponsor this important legislation if you have not yet done so.
H.R. 5939 will write into permanent law a policy on which there has been strong popular and congressional agreement for over 35 years: The federal government should not use taxpayers’ money to support and promote elective abortion. Even public officials who take a “pro-choice” stand on abortion, and courts that have insisted on the validity of a constitutional “right” to abortion, have agreed that the government can validly use its funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion.
So secure is this agreement, in fact, that some in the past have simply assumed that it is already fully implemented at all levels of the federal government. For example, some wrongly argued during the recent debate on health care reform that there was no need for restrictions on abortion funding in the new health legislation, because this matter had already been settled by the Hyde amendment. However, the Hyde amendment is only a rider to the annual Labor/HHS appropriations bill; and while it has been maintained essentially intact by Congress over the last 35 years, it only governs funds appropriated under that particular act.
In reality, federal funds are prevented now from funding abortion by riders to various annual appropriations bills as well as by provisions incorporated into specific authorizing legislation for the Department of Defense, Children’s Health Insurance Program, foreign assistance, and so on. On various occasions a gap or loophole has been discovered that does not seem to be addressed by this patchwork of provisions – as when unelected officials in past years were construing the Indian Health Service or the Medicare trust fund to allow funding of elective abortions, and Congress had to act to correct this grave situation. While Congress’s policy has been remarkably consistent for decades, implementation of that policy in practice has been piecemeal and sometimes sadly inadequate.
The absence of a government-wide law against federal funding of abortion has led most recently to the passage of major health care reform legislation that contains at least three different policies on federal funding of abortion – none of which is consistent with the Hyde amendment (now Sec. 508 of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill for the current fiscal year) or with similar longstanding provisions that govern all other health programs. For example, one provision of the final Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act technically complies with the first sentence of Hyde (against direct and traceable funding of abortion procedures themselves), but violates Hyde’s second sentence (against funding health plans that cover abortions) – and then violates the spirit of the entire amendment, by directly forcing conscientiously opposed citizens in many plans to fund other people’s abortions through their health premiums (sec. 1303). Another provision appropriates its own new funds outside the bounds of the Hyde amendment and allows those funds to be used for abortions or not, depending on a decision by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (sec. 1101). Yet another provision leaves out any reference to Hyde, and allows its new funding for community health centers to be governed by the underlying mandates in the authorizing legislation for these centers – mandates that in other health programs have been interpreted by the federal courts to require federal funding of abortion (Sec. 10503). These disparate policies are not compatible with the Hyde amendment, or even with one another. This is one reason why passage of a bill like H.R. 5939 is overdue.
The Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support legislation to correct these and other abortion-related problems in health care reform (H.R. 5111/S. 3723). But by implementing the policy of the Hyde amendment throughout the federal government once and for all, H.R. 5939 would prevent such problems and confusions in future legislation as well. Federal health legislation could be debated and supported in terms of its ability to promote the goal of universal health care, instead of being mired in debates about one lethal procedure that most Americans know is not truly “health care” at all. Annual appropriations bills could be discussed in terms of how their funding priorities best serve the common good, instead of being endangered because ideologues favoring abortion want to use them to reverse or weaken longstanding federal policy on abortion funding.
H.R. 5939 would also codify the Hyde/Weldon amendment that has been part of the section containing the Hyde amendment in annual Labor/HHS appropriations bills since 2004. Hyde/Weldon has ensured that federal agencies, and state and local governments receiving federal funds, do not discriminate against health care providers because they do not perform or provide abortions. It is long overdue for this policy, as well, to be given a more secure legislative status. No hospital, doctor or nurse should be forced to stop providing much-needed legitimate health care because they cannot in conscience participate in destroying a developing human life.
In short, I urge you to co-sponsor the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and help ensure its enactment.
Sadly, New York’s Congressional delegation is probably the most anti-life collection in the entire nation (with two exceptions — Rep. Peter King of Long Island and Rep. Christopher Lee of upstate).
Nevertheless, I would strongly encourage everyone to write to their representatives, and urge them to support the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”. The easiest way to do this would be to go to the NCHLA website (http://www.nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=284) and send an email to your representative.
For months during the health care reform debate, the US Bishops, and other pro-life groups, adamantly insisted that the proposed health care reform bills were dangerous because they would use public funds to pay for elective abortions. The Obama Administration and leaders of Congress consistently responded that their bills would not do any such thing. In fact, the Administration even accused pro-lifers — including the Catholic bishops — of “bearing false witness” when they claimed that the bill would, in fact, pay for elective abortions with public money.
Catholics, including some religious sisters and the Catholic Health Association bought what the Administration was selling, and argued that the health care bill was actually pro-life. Pro-life Democrats were induced, at the last minute, to vote for the bill thanks to such promises, and the President even signed an executive order that supposedly guaranteed that no elective abortions would be paid for under the bill. Pro-lifers objected, but were told, essentially, that we were either lying or that we didn’t understand the bill.
Over the past few days, it has become public knowledge that an obscure provision in the health care reform bill (it involves setting up state-by-state “high risk pools”) is being used to pay for elective abortions in at least two states, and potentially in many more. These programs were approved by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and at least one of them was already putting out contracts and getting ready to provide services.
Once the publicity started, the Administration began to backtrack, and now promises that they will issue regulations that will ensure that no federal funding will go to elective abortions.
This demonstrates yet again why we must be very, very vigilant when it comes to this Administration’s policies that affect abortion. It is also clear that legislation must be passed that will forever settle the matter, and ban any federal funding for elective abortions.
Never forget that this Administration, and the people in major policy-making positions, are utterly committed to the legal regime that permits the destruction of innocent human life in the womb for any reason whatsoever. They will not deviate from their agenda of promoting abortion as a method of “reproductive choice”. The sad reality is that the Obama Administration, and the President himself, are not moderate on abortion — they are extremist supporters of the “right” to kill unborn children.
Elections have consequences, and so does the passage of well-intentioned but gravely flawed legislation.
In the aftermath of the health care reform bill becoming law, there has been a lot of introspection on the part of pro-lifers and within the Church. Many people have wondered how we could lose this battle, given that public opinion was very much on our side. Others have questioned whether we as a Church were effective in getting our message out to our faithful, and in mobilizing them for action.
I’m not a big fan of “friendly fire”, and I don’t want anything here to be construed as criticism of anyone in particular. Nor do I want to get hung up on second-guessing tactical decisions. But I think it would be helpful to take a look at some of the reasons that our message just wasn’t as effective as we would have liked. Here are some of the factors that I would identify:
Most of these reasons relate to attitudes, and point us to the way we can improve our efforts. With all the attention being paid to legislation, it’s easy to forget that the primary field of this struggle is spiritual, and is being waged in people’s hearts and souls.
The great majority of people in general, and Catholics in particular, are good, kind-hearted people who want to do the right thing. Our task is to help more and more people understand that the cause of human life is the perfect opportunity for them to act on their innate good will. We need to redouble our efforts to convert hearts, to convince people of the compassion and love that underlies the pro-life position, and to encourage them to have the moral courage necessary to take this stand.
Sound familiar? It’s basically Christianity 101, a call to discipleship, and to love one another as Jesus loved us. Let’s get to work.
Congress has now passed the health reform bill. In the next few days, the President will sign the Senate bill into law.
So where do we go from here, from a legal perspective?
Once signed, the law will certainly be challenged on constitutional grounds, both by state attorneys general and by private citizens. The grounds for the challenge will involve an attack on the so-called “individual mandate” — the provision that will require every person to have some kind of health insurance. This argument could be based on two grounds: that Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause to regulate economic activity does not authorize it to force people to engage in economic activity (i.e., to buy an insurance contract), and that the mandate violates the Tenth Amendment, which reserve rights to the people or the states unless they are specifically granted to Congress in the Constitution.
It’s doubtful that this litigation will be successful, since no major piece of social legislation has been ruled unconstitutional based on the Commerce Clause since the 1930′s, and the Supreme Court has rarely invalidated statutes based on the Tenth Amendment.
The other major legal question is the significance of the last minute deal for an executive order from the President that claimed to apply the Hyde Amendment (the provision of law that restricts federal funding for abortion) to the health care bill.
Sadly, this executive order is a nullity, and will certainly be set aside by the courts, if the President even bothers to try to implement it.
The separation of powers doctrine, which is at the heart of our Constitution, dictates that Congress makes laws and disburses money, the President enforces these laws, and the courts interpret them. The courts have consistently ruled that the President cannot unilaterally amend or revoke laws that Congress has enacted, he cannot refuse to spend money that Congress has ordered to be spent, and he cannot interpret statutes in a way that is inconsistent with court rulings. The President is authorized to enact regulations to implement laws, but only if he is delegated that authority by Congress, and his regulations cannot be inconsistent with the original statute or with court rulings.
The executive order promised by the President purports to apply the Hyde Amendment to the health care bill. But the bill does not contain the Hyde Amendment, or any language like the Hyde Amendment. In fact, the Senate and the House both specifically rejected including such language in the bill. The President lacks the authority to include the Hyde Amendment on his own initiative — he cannot amend the plain meaning of a statute to make it mean something that Congress did not enact.
In addition, the executive order runs afoul of all the previous court rulings on federal health care statutes (e.g., Medicaid). In every case decided, the courts have ruled that these health care bills are required to cover and pay for elective abortions, unless Congress specifically forbids such funding. That is why it is necessary to have the Hyde Amendment added to spending bills every year, and that is why it was needed in this bill. The President lacks the authority to define a statute in a way that is inconsistent with these court rulings. Again, he cannot enact the Hyde Amendment on his own.
So, if neither the courts nor the executive order is the answer, where does that leave us, on the day after?
The only way to change the law is to do it through the legislative process. And that brings us back to elections and culture. As we saw on Sunday night, that means that we need more authentic pro-life legislators. And we can’t do that until the conscience of our culture — of individuals, of voters — is awakened to the gross injustice of abortion. Every time abortion is discussed as a major political or social issue, hearts are changed and people become more pro-life in their sentiments. Our task is to energize people into a commitment for real social justice that is dedicated to fully protecting the unborn, and to electing representatives who will ensure that our civil laws reflect and embody the fundamental moral law. Nothing short of that will ever be acceptable.
And so, on the day after, we bind our wounds, recommit ourselves to the crusade, and move on to the next struggle.
As the health care debate nears yet another critical vote in Congress, it would be natural for us to be weary, and to wish only that the fight were over. This has been an exhausting struggle, complete with dastardly stabs in the back. It’s been a nightmare, even for those of us like myself who are on the periphery. I can only imagine how the staff at the U.S. Bishops Conference and the pro-life groups must feel.
And yet, we fight on, because the stakes are so high.
In the grand scheme of things, we are fighting to stop our nation’s laws from recognizing that abortion is a mainstream medical procedure, no different from an appendectomy or a bunion removal. If the Senate bill passes, our nation’s laws will be telling us that the poisoning or dismembering of an unborn human being has no moral significance.
We cannot stand for that. It is a profound injustice to those children in the womb.
But it is on the personal level that we realize how high the stakes are. Anyone who has been a parent knows how sacred the life in the womb is — hidden away from our sight, she nevertheless grows in our hearts, beautiful and precious. Anyone who has lost a child before birth, for whatever reason, knows the pain of grief for the missed opportunity of greeting their child into the outside world, and showing them the love that they were destined for.
We cannot stand by silently while our sons and daughters are destroyed.
The other day, the excellent website Ignatius Insight Scoop posted an excerpt from a book by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. The piece was entitled, “Why We Must Not Give Up the Fight“, and it addressed this very point. He asked,
Why not accept that we have lost the battle and choose instead to dedicate our energies to initiatives that can hope to find support in a broader social consensus?
This indeed is the question that we are being asked, and the answer being given by too many of our political leaders and by allegedly “Catholic” groups is, “You should accept it. You’ve lost. Move on to other issues.”
But that isn’t an acceptable answer to the man who is now our Pope, nor should it be for us. Citing God’s promise to Noah that He will defend the value of every human life, the Holy Father said:
It follows that the recognition of the sacred character of human life and of its inviolability — a principle admitting no exceptions — is not some trivial little problem or a question that may be considered relative, in view of the pluralism of opinions we find in modern society…
He then closes with two essential points that we must bear in mind, now more than ever:
First, there are no “small murders”. The respect of every human life is an essential condition if a society worthy of the name is to be possible.
Secondly, when man’s conscience loses respect for life as something sacred, he inevitably ends by losing his own identity.
As we approach this new decision point in our long, twilight struggle against the culture of death, we would do well to consider what is at stake. Not only are real human lives at stake — thousands and thousands of them — but our identity as individuals and as a nation is at risk.
That is why this debate matters so much. And that is why we can never, never, never, never concede defeat.
Although in recent days there’s been news of some religious sisters who have betrayed the Church by endorsing the Senate health care bill, there is hope: the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious has issued the following statement in support of the bishops:
March 17, 2010
In a March 15th statement, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke on behalf of the United States Bishops in opposition to the Senate’s version of the health care legislation under consideration because of its expansion of abortion funding and its lack of adequate provision for conscience protection. Recent statements from groups like Network, the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) directly oppose the Catholic Church’s position on critical issues of health care reform.
The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the second conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the United States, believes the Bishops’ position is the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.
Protection of life and freedom of conscience are central to morally responsible judgment. We join the bishops in seeking ethically sound legislation.
Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, R.S.M.
On behalf of the Membership of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious
These sisters recognize and understand that when our Bishops call on us to unite in defense of human life, the proper response is to rally around their flag.
Let’s all join them.
When the battle has reached its critical stage, and you are trying to find the way to victory against all odds, that’s when you need your friends and allies to stand by you. It’s a time when those bonds of loyalty are tested.
And so we come to the case of the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals and other health care entities, and lobbies on their behalf. Given the dire financial status of many Catholic health care organizations, the CHA has a keen interest in the outcome of the debate on health care reform.
It’s important to note that the CHA considers itself to be more than just a lobbying group. It states in its mission statement that its purpose is “to support and strengthen the Catholic health ministry in the United States”, and elsewhere asserts that “Catholic health care organizations treasure their relationship with the Catholic Church and strive to protect their continuing ability to serve the health care needs of the United States while remaining steadfast to Catholic values.”
So, one would also think that the CHA had a primary interest in standing in solidarity with the Catholic Church, which is to say with our bishops. And an interest in protecting human life. And an interest in defending the right to conscience. One would think that these concerns would out-weigh economic interest.
One would be wrong.
After months of ambiguity, the CHA came out of the shadows the other day and endorsed the Senate health care bill. That’s right, the same bill that would establish abortion as just another kind of health care, as if it were the same thing as bunion surgery. The same bill that would: provide federal money to health insurance plans that cover elective abortions; impose a mandatory payment on those who are covered by those plans, specifically to pay for abortions; and fail to include adequate conscience protection for religious institutions.
In endorsing this evil bill, the head of the CHA made several statements that are astonishing in their naivete and moral obtuseness. First, she claimed that the question of whether there would be federal funding for abortion was a “technical issue”. Excuse me? Whether federal funds would directly or indirectly pay for the destruction of tens of thousands of lives each year is not a “technical issue” — it is a moral issue of profound significance. It’s hard to believe that the head of CHA doesn’t see this. Of course, this is the same person who gave an extended interview about health care reform recently and somehow managed never to mention abortion or conscience protection.
Second, she expressed confidence that Congress would eventually address and correct these flaws. I’m sorry, but nobody with any realistic understanding of politics believes that this Congress and President will permit, much less support, a stand-alone pro-life bill that would embody true protections for the unborn and for religious organizations. It’s just delusional to believe that.
In the final analysis, any bill that endorses abortion as a routine kind of medical procedure, and that forces us to pay for them, is an evil bill that cannot be tolerated, but must be opposed with all our strength. The Bishops of the United States, speaking both collectively and individually, have made this clear. The desire for health care reform that would truly be just and humane is a good thing. But not at the expense of destroying human lives and endangering the integrity of our institutions.
The CHA, unfortunately, has decided to collaborate with those who are inimically opposed to the dignity of human life, and to provide political cover for those who wish to vote for this bill. The CHA has betrayed the Church at an hour when She needs all the support that She can get.
They have failed the test.
Just in case it isn’t sufficiently clear, Cardinal George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued a clear and unambiguous statement about where the Catholic Church is on the health care bill — and, therefore, where all Catholics should be.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have long and consistently advocated for the reform of the American health care system. Their experience in health care and in Catholic parishes has acquainted them with the anguish of mothers who are unable to afford prenatal care, of families unable to ensure quality care for their children, and of those who cannot obtain insurance because of preexisting conditions.
Throughout the discussion on health care over the last year, the bishops have advocated a bipartisan approach to solving our national health care needs. They have urged that all who are sick, injured or in need receive necessary and appropriate medical assistance, and that no one be deliberately killed through an expansion of federal funding of abortion itself or of insurance plans that cover abortion. These are the provisions of the long standing Hyde amendment, passed annually in every federal bill appropriating funds for health care; and surveys show that this legislation reflects the will of the majority of our fellow citizens. The American people and the Catholic bishops have been promised that, in any final bill, no federal funds would be used for abortion and that the legal status quo would be respected.
However, the bishops were left disappointed and puzzled to learn that the basis for any vote on health care will be the Senate bill passed on Christmas Eve. Notwithstanding the denials and explanations of its supporters, and unlike the bill approved by the House of Representatives in November, the Senate bill deliberately excludes the language of the Hyde amendment. It expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures. In so doing, it forces all of us to become involved in an act that profoundly violates the conscience of many, the deliberate destruction of unwanted members of the human family still waiting to be born.
What do the bishops find so deeply disturbing about the Senate bill? The points at issue can be summarized briefly. The status quo in federal abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies. In the Senate bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state plans will not cover elective abortions – all other plans (including other multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds abortions in order to meet their particular health needs.
Further, the Senate bill authorizes and appropriates billions of dollars in new funding outside the scope of the appropriations bills covered by the Hyde amendment and similar provisions. As the bill is written, the new funds it appropriates over the next five years, for Community Health Centers for example (Sec. 10503), will be available by statute for elective abortions, even though the present regulations do conform to the Hyde amendment. Regulations, however, can be changed at will, unless they are governed by statute.
Additionally, no provision in the Senate bill incorporates the longstanding and widely supported protection for conscience regarding abortion as found in the Hyde/Weldon amendment. Moreover, neither the House nor Senate bill contains meaningful conscience protection outside the abortion context. Any final bill, to be fair to all, must retain the accommodation of the full range of religious and moral objections in the provision of health insurance and services that are contained in current law, for both individuals and institutions.
This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.
What is tragic about this turn of events is that it needn’t have happened. The status quo that has served our national consensus and respected the consciences of all with regard to abortion is the Hyde amendment. The House courageously included an amendment applying the Hyde policy to its Health Care bill passed in November. Its absence in the Senate bill and the resulting impasse are not an accident. Those in the Senate who wanted to purge the Hyde amendment from this national legislation are obstructing the reform of health care.
This is not quibbling over technicalities. The deliberate omission in the Senate Bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way to meet the President’s and our concern to provide health care for those millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor. As Pope Benedict told Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz when he presented his credentials as the United States government’s representative to the Holy See, there is “an indissoluble bond between an ethic of life and every other aspect of social ethics.”
Two basic principles, therefore, continue to shape the concerns of the Catholic bishops: health care means taking care of the health needs of all, across the human life span; and the expansion of health care should not involve the expansion of abortion funding and of polices forcing everyone to pay for abortions. Because these principles have not been respected, despite the good that the bill under consideration intends or might achieve, the Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed.
The easiest way to let your Congressional representative know your opinion is to visit the webpage of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.