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.