White House spokesman: Catholic bishops fail to understand law on federal funding of abortion
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

.- Twice last week White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated that federally funded abortions will not be included in the government's health care reform due to the Hyde Amendment, a statement which is in direct opposition to two recent letters sent to Congress by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

CNA reported that last Wednesday, Gibbs claimed that the Hyde Amendment will also apply to health care reform legislation. The Hyde Amendment, named after the late pro-life advocate Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), prevents federal funds that are appropriated through the annual Health and Human Services appropriation bill from paying for abortions.

Gibbs' first assertion that abortions will not be paid for with taxpayer funds in the new health care reform bill came last Wednesday at press briefing at the White House. The White House spokesman had said at the time, “there’s a fairly well documented federal law that prevents it.”

Responding to the press secretary's claim, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) said that “the proposed health insurance reform contains a nationwide government-run insurance program and premium subsidy programs to help tens of millions of Americans purchase health coverage.  None of the funds for the public plan and spent by the premium subsidy programs would be appropriated through the annual appropriations bill and would therefore be outside the scope of the Hyde Amendment.

The NRLC said this analysis has been confirmed by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

Then, on Thursday the U.S. bishops sent a letter to members of Congress asking them to “exclude mandated coverage for abortion,” and include “policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.” 

The bishops noted that they “remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes. If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously,” they insisted.

The following day, Gibbs contradicted the bishop's letter at a White House press briefing. 

CNSNews.com addressed Gibbs saying, “You said on Wednesday that the Hyde amendment would prevent abortion funding through the health bill. The Catholic bishops have repeatedly said that the Hyde amendment would not apply to the health care bill and yesterday in the letter that they sent to Congress they said that if language expressly prohibiting abortion funding is not added to the health care bill, they will vigorously--‘vigorously oppose’--that's a quote--the bill.  My question on that, does the President support the bishops on this? And to eliminate this as an issue, will he call on Congress to have an explicit prohibition of abortion funding?”

Gibbs answered that his answer is the same as it was on Wednesday.  “There may be a legal interpretation that has been lost here, but there’s a fairly clear federal law prohibiting the federal use of money for abortion. I think it is--again, it's exceedingly clear in the law.”

Lucas then followed up his question, asking, “But the Hyde amendment is only for direct appropriations for HHS, and that's...”

Gibbs replied quickly, “Again, I think that law is exceedingly clear.”

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