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 ‘Congress’ Category
Gallons of ink, and millions of electrons, have been spilled on the results of last week’s election, and what it means for our nation, our state, the political fortunes of the President and a host of other presidential contenders, our new-fangled voting machines, etc.
I’m more interested in real results.
On the national level, the switch of control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans has brought with it a pro-life majority. The narrowing of the Democratic majority in the Senate also increases the chances for some pro-life legislation. These election results present new opportunities for real gains on Culture of Life issues.
The top priority has to be passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Currently, restrictions on public funding for abortion comes through piecemeal amendments to the budget bills. This means that pro-lifers have to be vigilant about all the various ways that canny legislators and bureaucrats can find to promote abortion. So, the Hyde Amendment restricts funding through the Medicaid program, the Helms Amendment stops funding for oversees abortions, the Smith Amendment prevents federal employee health insurance plans from covering abortion, and the Weldon Amendment provides conscience protection to medical personnel. Each year, these amendments have to be passed against the opposition of pro-abortion members of Congress.
This bill would take the provisions of these individual amendments, make them permanent law, and apply them across the entire federal budget. This would cure the major flaw in the health care reform law, as well as offer genuine and solid conscience protection for all medical personnel. This is a bill that would easily pass the House, and has a decent chance of passing the Senate — public funding for abortion is deeply unpopular. It would be very interesting to see what our pro-abortion President would do if this bill appeared on his desk.
That’s one result of the elections that we’re looking forward to.
On the state level, the results of the election are not as positive. Our state has elected an ardently pro-abortion Governor and a radically pro-abortion Attorney General. Both men have committed to pressing for the passage of the extremist Reproductive Health Act. The chaos over the results of the elections for the State Senate (the final outcome is still in doubt) leaves Culture of Life supporters with a deep sense of uneasiness that the real result of the state elections could be very, very bad. So, we must remain vigilant in monitoring what goes on in Albany.
Perhaps the most interesting result of the election is the continuing demonstration of the popularity of the pro-life position. Conventional “wisdom” characterizes a pro-life stand as an electoral loser, and encourages candidates to avoid it. Conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Polls show that 30% of the voters in this election said that abortion “affected” their vote. But it’s the breakdown of that 30% that’s most interesting — 22% voted for pro-life candidates, while only 8% voted for pro-abortion candidates. That’s an advantage of almost three to one in favor of life.
This reflects an on-going trend that I’ve written about but that continues to elude the mainstream media. Our culture is slowly changing towards greater respect for life, and a greater desire to promote life. The new pro-life majority in Congress is just one reflection of this trend. More will follow.
That is a very encouraging result of the election.
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.
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.
The health care reform debate is coming down to the wire in Washington. The news is filled with reports about parliamentary maneuvering, speculation about tactics, opinion polls, and political calculations.
The Senate has a bill that guarantees public funding for elective abortions. The President has a framework for a bill that has the same flaw as the Senate bill. The House has a bill with good pro-life language in it, but the House leadership seems to have given up on it.
There are so many possibilities and options on the table that you might think that what is needed is a scorecard or a crystal ball.
Actually, what’s needed more than anything else right now is courage.
There is a small handful of pro-life Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who are going to be the key players in deciding what (if any) bill is passed by Congress and signed into law. It’s likely that the vote in the House will be so close that any defection from that pro-life stand may be decisive. It’s hard to imagine the pressure these Democrats must feel, and how strongly they are being importuned to change their vote.
And so we need these few pro-life representatives to be courageous, and hold to their principles in defense of life.
We also need to remember what can happen if a public figure fails to show courage. In 1970, the New York State Legislature was considering legalizing abortion. The bill was voted on in the Assembly, and it came to a 74 to 74 vote — a tie, thus killing the bill. Except that one legislator from an upstate district, who had initially voted “no”, rose to ask permission to change his vote. It was granted, and with that one switched vote, abortion became legal in New York, and thousands of unborn children lost their lives.
That’s the cost when public officials lose their nerve. Perhaps now would be a good time to offer a few prayers to St. Thomas More, the patron saint for profiles in courage among those in public office.
Now that the special election has been held in Massachusetts to fill the vacant United States Senate seat, the Democrats in the Senate have lost their filibuster-proof majority, and new political winds are blowing. So, it’s worth considering where we are in the health reform debate.
My friend Kathy Gallagher from the New York State Catholic Conference suggested that the best way to illustrate the status and fate of the bills currently before Congress is this — take the largest stack of paper in your house, go over to the window, open it up and throw all the papers out.
That may be a bit dramatic, but there’s no doubt that the entire political dynamic has changed, and there is clearly a groundswell of opposition to increased government spending and activism. As a result, the Senate health reform bill, which has been sent to the House for consideration, is unlikely to pass without major changes. Given the new make-up of the Senate, no bill will pass that body again without significant concessions to the Republicans and moderate Democrats. Moderate members of Congress, particularly the Democrats, are re-calculating their political futures, and are unlikely to support dramatic expansions of government activity or increases in taxes.
This new situation also has tremendous significance for pro-lifers. It now appears much less likely that there will be an expansion of federal abortion funding under the guise of health care reform.
In short, it seems likely that the current bills have reached their expiration dates, and the President and the Congressional leadership will have to look to new ideas to break the deadlock and accomplish any kind of health care reform.
I think that Catholic social teaching provides a possible solution, particularly the principle of subsidiarity. This requires that, in developing social policies, we must defer to the most local level that can handle the problem adequately. So, the primary responsibility for virtually all issues falls on individuals and families. We must respect their freedom to make decisions about their welfare, trust that in most cases they will act rationally, while at the same time enacting social policies that help them make decisions and offer assistance when they are unable to accomplish their goals.
Now, there are many possible policy solutions that would satisfy the principle of subsidiarity. But one that would also accomplish the major goals of health reform (restraining costs, allocating costs fairly across the population, increasing consumer choice, attaining universal coverage) could include some of the following:
The President and Congress could pass these initiatives in a very simple piece of legislation that would, in my opinion, enjoy wide bi-partisan support. It wouldn’t significantly expand the role of government in the economy, and wouldn’t dramatically increase deficits or taxes. It also wouldn’t require all Americans to pay for abortions, or leave them in fear of government health care rationing.
Elections have consequences. The Massachusetts election result is saying something very clear — it’s time to start thinking of new solutions.
Last week, the New York Times ran a profile of Rep. Bart Stupak, the Democrat from Michigan who has been a stalwart in fighting to prevent the health care reform bills from funding elective abortions.
The profile was surprisingly positive, since it highlighted a man who is not only a pro-lifer, but is a Catholic who has no problems with saying that his political positions are informed by his faith. To put it mildly, those are not positions that are typically favored by Our Daily Newspaper.
Several things struck me about the column. One was that Mr. Stupak spoke openly about a reality that is not frequently acknowledged in public. He related several examples of the deep hostility towards the pro-life position held by the establishment of the Democratic Party. Democratic political consultants refuse to work for him, he has been denied committee positions, and was told bluntly that he would never “get on” in his political career because he is pro-life. And we wonder why so few Democratic politicians manage to hold on to their pro-life views once they are elected.
What was more striking to me, though, was a statement by Mr. Stupak’s chief of staff. He was reflecting on the reaction to the House’s adoption of the “Stupak Amendment” to the health care bill, a provision that ensured that federal funds would not be used to pay for elective abortions. The push-back from his fellow Democrats has been strong and negative, and Mr. Stupak has been getting calls from the public as well. In fact, the aide said, “I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers have called me up and yelled at me about this Stupak guy.”
We should not stand by and let Mr. Stupak think that all New Yorkers are pro-abortion. Pro-lifers from New York should send him a message that we support him, and thank him for his efforts. Here’s the best way — call Mr. Stupak, and tell him that you thank him for his pro-life position, and are praying for him. His phone number is (202) 225-4735.
It’s hard to imagine how much pressure Mr. Stupak must be feeling from the leadership and other members of his party. The momentum behind the health care reform bill is so intense that the leadership appears willing to do virtually anything to pass a bill. Mr. Stupak and a handful of other pro-life Democrats may be all that stands between us and a massive increase in federal funding for elective abortion, and an increase in the number of abortions. It will be very, very difficult for them to hold out for the cause for life.
Please pray for these men, that they may have the courage and resolve that they will need over the next few weeks as this bill comes up for final action.
But in the meantime, call Bart Stupak, and thank him.
The debate over health care reform has reached a critical stage, as the Senate version of the bill nears its approval. The key moment in the past week was when a “compromise” was reached over the question of abortion funding.
The Senate bill, if it were to become law, would be an unprecedented expansion of abortion in the United States. The equivalent of a tax would be imposed on every single American, and then used to subsidize health insurance plans that pay for abortion on demand. A transparent bookkeeping stunt will be used to camouflage the fact that the government will be subsidizing abortions that are done for any reason, or for no reason. And, for the first time, killing unborn children would be recognized as an ordinary part of health care.
Much of the debate over the health care bill has been dominated by fiscal concerns — over the amounts of money being spent, and on the number of uninsured persons who will be covered. But it might be useful to take a look at the human side of abortion as it is actually occurring, and can be seen in some simple statistics.
According to the New York State Department of Health, in 2007 (the last year for whcih official statistics are currently available) there were 120,554 abortions in New York. Think about that number for a moment. That is just about the same number of people who would sell out three games in the new Yankee Stadium. When you add in the mothers and fathers who were affected by these abortions and you have about as many people as attended all the playoff games in Yankee Stadium this year. Does that give you an idea of the scope of human misery involved here?
How about this. In New York City in 2007, there were 83,310 abortions. Among African-Americans in New York City, there were more abortions than live births that year. In the borough of the Bronx, among whites in the borough, there were more abortions than live births. Think about that for a moment — more babies destroyed in the womb than were born alive.
And this. In that year, 2,244 abortions took place after 20 weeks of gestation — after five months of pregnancy. 3,900 women who had an abortion in New York that year had at least five previous abortions. 647 girls under the age of 15 had an abortion that year — in a state that does not require their parents to be even notified.
This is what we’ll be paying for, and more, if the Senate bill becomes law. In 2007, Medicaid paid for 46,653 abortions — in other words, our tax dollars paid for them. Another 30,000 abortions were paid for by private insurance, and a further 34,701 were paid by the women themselves — but if the Senate bill passes we will be paying for them too. But those numbers are going to rise if the current health care bills pass — if one thing is certain from the social science research, it’s that the abortion rate goes up when the public pays for it.
If those numbers aren’t enough to horrify you, then you should turn your eyes to the South Bronx, to the Clinton Place Medical Center. There, you’ll find the abortionist, Dr. Pierre Renelique, whose license to practice medicine in Florida was revoked over his participation in a late-term abortion that resulted in a live birth, and because he lied in medical records to hide the fact that the baby was intentionally killed. Dr. Renelique’s license to kill in New York is still valid, so he continues his dirty work unabated, just like his colleagues in abortion clinics around the nation.
This is the kind of man that our tax dollars currently go to, to pay for abortions under Medicaid. This is the kind of man that our tax dollars will go to, to pay for any kind of abortion, if the Senate health care bill becomes law.
Doesn’t that put into perspective the real facts, and the real stakes, involved in this health care reform debate? Why won’t Congress see this?
As cynical as I am about politics, I still cling to the belief that ideas matter, that cogent policy arguments can sway people, and that content is more important than process. But then you see what’s going on in the United States Senate.
The current spectacle over health care “reform” in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is a case study on how not to make legislation, especially on an issue that can cost people their lives.
The Senate leadership is acting as if the chamber is an open-air bazaar, and is nakedly buying votes and selling favors to get Senators to jettison their objections to the bill. The President is pressuring Congress to act, as if he believes all that nonsense about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world, saying that this is the last chance ever to reform health care. Reasoned debate has long since gone beyond the board, and naked political calculation seems to be all that matters. Passing the bill — any bill — has become an end in itself, regardless of its contents. The hesitancy of the American people, as reflected in the opinion polls, doesn’t count, as Congress rushes headlong to change a fundamental aspect of American life.
Here’s how bad it is. Over the weekend, Congress passed an enormous appropriations bill. In that bill were three key provisions of interest to Catholics: the Hyde Amendment (which strictly limits federal funding for abortions), the prohibition of abortion funding in federal employee benefit plans, and the Weldon Amendment (which protects the conscience rights of health care institutions and providers). Virtually every Democratic Senator voted for the appropriations bill, and thus for these provisions.
Yet these are the same Senators who have been claiming that the same language as is found in the Hyde Amendment and the federal benefits provision, when offered as an amendment to the health care bill (the Stupak Amendment), was too “extreme”. These are also the same Senators who have done nothing to add adequate conscience protection language to the health care bill.
How does this make any sense? Do they even try to be consistent in what they say and do?
This is a very frustrating time to be a public policy advocate. It is in this poisonous atmosphere that the Catholic bishops are trying to make a principled argument about the deficiencies of the pending Senate bill. The bishops have been highlighting the inadequate protections for human life, and have been respectfully requesting that the bill be fixed. They have consistently supported common-sense amendments to the bill, and have expressed their desire for authentic health care reform that protects life, provides justice for immigrants, and ensures that the bill results in affordable access to health care for all. They have written letter after letter, made public statement after public statement. Is anybody listening?
And it’s not as if the stakes are small. If adequate conscience protection is not ensured, medical professionals and institutions will be forced out of business. But even worse, lives are at stake here. It is clear that when there is increased public funding for elective abortion, the number of abortions increase. ln other words, if the Senate bill passes in its current form, more children will be killed in the womb, and we will be forced to pay the doctors who commit such atrocities.
The credibility, and even the fundamental legitimacy, of the democratic process is on trial in Washington. The picture right now isn’t pretty.