On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama .- stated in his speech on health care reform that "no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions." According to one U.S. Bishops' Conference official, the president's abortion statement refers not to H.R. 3200 but to a new proposal on health care reform that the White House plans to introduce.
The reaction from many pro-life organizations to last night's statement by President Obama was to say that the House bill—H.R. 3200—does in fact fund abortion and that the president was misleading the American public.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, writing for the U.S. Catholic bishops, weighed-in on the House legislation in mid-August, describing it as "seriously deficient" because it bypasses restrictions on the federal funding of abortion and allows federal officials to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit.
CNA asked Richard Doerflinger, the Associate Director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, if President Obama was saying last night that the bishops' assessment of the bill's funding is wrong.
"We have said the current bills such as HR 3200 will fund and mandate abortion coverage. Last night the President did not comment on that issue, but said the new bill he is preparing to introduce will not fund abortions," Doerflinger replied to CNA in an email.
"We have to wait and see what is actually in the bill before judging whether we agree. We are willing to work with him and Congress to help make sure this commitment is reflected in the actual bill," Doerflinger added.
Any new legislation on health care reform is unlikely to be introduced as an entirely new bill but would most likely be introduced in a "manager's amendment," a package of amendments agreed to by both sides before its introduction.
On the topic of conscience protections, Doerflinger argued that, "At the very least, existing federal laws on conscience rights should be maintained and reflected in any new health care reform legislation."
Finally, the USCCB official warned that pro-lifers should not let their guards down, saying, "there is every reason to be concerned about this issue -- not only funding abortions through taxes but being required by the government to fund them through health care premiums. The forthcoming legislation should be scrutinized very carefully.