Health Care and the Power of the Bishops' Conference
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Just a few minutes ago the Stupak amendment which restricts the funding of abortion in the House Health Care Reform bill, passed handily. Staffers in several congressional offices on both sides of the aisle tell me that it was the Bishops Conference opposition to any bill without a pro-life amendment that forced the hand of House leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, late last night, reluctantly allowed the Stupak amendment to come before the entire House of Representatives. The amendment, which forbids using federal funds to pay for abortions via public or private health plans was approved this evening by a vote of 240-194. Many Democrats on the left were not happy.

What this demonstrates is the power of the Bishops Conference when its sets its mind to something. Unfortunately, they set the bar too low. They should have pushed for the full Catholic agenda on this bill. The Democrat leadership now knows how to roll the Conference, and how to pacify it.

The Bishops other demands: conscience clauses for medical workers and coverage for immigrants have been virtually ignored in the bill. And though nearly 50 bishops raised the issue of subsidiarity (a core tenet of the Church's social doctrine which teaches that decisions are best made at the lowest level), the Bishops Conference made no mention of this in any of its letters or public statements. There was also no mention of the rationing mechanisms in the bill that will very likely hit the frail elderly as well as the poor. The zeal of the staff to get a Universal Health Care Bill passed (any Universal Health Care Bill) overwhelmed even the cries of the bishops themselves. So the staff drove but one stake in the ground on Capitol Hill: the abortion stake.

The victory the Bishop's Conference enjoyed with the Stupak amendment may be short lived since the hard won pro-life language will very likely be scrubbed from the final plan. Assuming the Senate passes its Health Care legislation, both bills (the House and Senate versions) must be reconciled in "conference committee." Tonight, Democratic California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey said of the Stupak Amendment: "I feel certain it will come out of the bill before it comes back from committee. I will insist that it come out." She is not alone.

Let me know what you think at

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