The head of Catholics United, a group advocating the passage of the Senate health care bill, says that the abortion funding rules in the Senate and House bills are too restrictive. He also criticized the U.S. bishops for being more interested in persuasion than in compromise but admitted that the Stupak Amendment “might be the only acceptable solution” from a Catholic moral standpoint.
Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, told ReligionDispatches.org that pro-life opposition to language approved by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) “suggests that they’re not really serious about finding a workable solution.”
Discussing the manager’s amendment added by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to the Senate bill, he said its “Nelson language” goes too far in Catholics United’s opinion. He reported that a survey of Catholics United members showed 48 percent believed the Nelson language is too restrictive regarding abortion.
CNA sought clarification from Korzen in a Tuesday phone interview.
He confirmed that his comments about “Nelson language” referred to the final Senate bill and not the Nelson-Hatch Amendment, which was defeated by a by a 54-45 vote on Dec. 9.
While many pro-life activists have criticized the Senate bill for not restricting abortion funding and subsidies enough, Korzen repeated that his group believes the language goes too far.
“The agreement was that we weren’t supposed to change existing federal policies in healthcare legislation. Both the Stupak and the Nelson language do.”
“I’m not commenting in any way on the moral considerations,” he qualified.
Defenders of the Stupak Amendment language, approved in the U.S. House by a vote of 240-194, are wrong to argue that their amendment simply preserves existing law, Korzen claimed.
According to Korzen, an existing health coverage tax credit allows someone to receive a federal subsidy to buy any insurance plan they want. COBRA operates similarly.
If someone is self-employed, he or she can deduct from taxes the purchase of any desired insurance. If one’s taxes are itemized, he told CNA, “you can write off an abortion.”
“I don’t see any case of a public tax subsidy under our current law where there are restrictions placed on what kind of plan you can purchase,” he added, charging that the Stupak language creates such restrictions under the new health care options. Under its rules, someone who receives a subsidy “cannot buy a plan that includes abortion coverage.”
“I understand from a Catholic moral perspective how that might be the only acceptable solution. But we’re not structuring health care reform from a Catholic moral perspective. The agreement is supposed to be in a way that upholds existing precedent.”
He claimed support from Cardinal Justin Rigali’s past letters against direct funding for abortion.
Under federal policies that exist right now, Korzen told CNA, no federal funds are ever allowed to be used to pay for an abortion.
However, he did not consider federally subsidized insurance plans that cover abortion to be “direct funding,” explaining that differing interpretations of federal funding were a “sticking point.”
“If direct funding of abortion means you can take a subsidy and buy an insurance plan that covers whatever services you want, then we have direct funding of abortion under current law. But I don’t think we do.”
CNA asked Korzen about his charge that that some pro-life advocates aren’t serious about finding a “workable solution” to the abortion controversy in the health care bill.
He said that in general, it appears to him that the pro-life side, including the Catholic bishops, is emphasizing “Stupak or nothing.”
He reported attending a meeting several months prior with a “high-level official with the USCCB.”
“This person said ‘We’re in persuasion mode, we’re not in compromise mode.’
“That tells the story right there,” Korzen commented to CNA.
He characterized “the pro-choice community” as generally engaging in “a good faith effort to find a middle ground,” citing some of its allies’ support for the Nelson language he believes goes beyond existing policy.
“So I see one side of this debate really coming to the table and trying to work ways that we can move forward. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that from many voices in the pro-life community, including the USCCB.”
The U.S. bishops have been active in working for abortion funding and abortion subsidy restrictions in proposed health care legislation. Richard Doerflinger, the associate director of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, recently said that the USCCB would strongly urge Democrats and Republicans to vote to waive a point of order blocking a Senate vote if an acceptable agreement on abortion funding restrictions is reached with leaders in Congress.