The Catholic Health Association has endorsed legislation to restrict federal funding of abortion in the health care law passed last year despite its belief that the legislation already prevents it.
In a Jan. 24 letter to Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Penn.), Catholic Health Association president and CEO Sr. Carol Keehan offered support for the Protect Life Act, H.R. 358. She praised the congressman’s efforts to “ensure the protection of the unborn and of providers’ conscience rights.”
“While we continue to believe the current provisions of the Affordable Care Act prevent federal funding of abortion, your legislation will provide further protection by codifying the ‘Hyde amendment’ relative to the new health care reform law,” she wrote.
The bill would also prevent the use of federal funds to subsidize health care plans that cover abortion.
The place of abortion funding in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a point of major controversy. The Stupak Amendment, which would have restricted abortion funding and subsidies for abortion-providing insurance plans in the health care legislation, initially passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.
When the passage of the health care bill was still in doubt, the Catholic Health Association broke from the U.S. bishops and other pro-life opponents of the bill to support the legislation.
Pro-life Democrats, including Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, later settled for a compromise executive order from President Barack Obama in exchange for their support of the bill.
Critics of the executive order said its funding restrictions would not withstand judicial scrutiny and did not prevent subsidies for health plans which cover abortion, unlike the Hyde Amendment. They also suggested the very existence of the order indicated the legislation itself was flawed.
President Obama gave Sr. Keehan a presidential pen he used to sign the final legislation.
In the Catholic Health Association’s recent letter to Rep. Pitts, Sr. Keehan also expressed appreciation that the Protect Life Act adds to the Weldon Amendment’s conscience protections for hospitals and health care providers.
“(W)e must continue to work for the Hyde and Weldon amendments in the annual appropriations cycle until we can make those protections for unborn life and conscience rights truly permanent,” Sr. Keehan said.
Rep. Pitts, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, is sponsor of the Protect Life Act. The legislation presently has 97 co-sponsors, including pro-life Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinksi of Illinois.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, urged Congress to pass the legislation in a Jan. 20 letter.
He said the proposal would bring the health care reform law into line with policies on abortion and conscience protections that have “long prevailed” in other federal health programs.