Pro-life leaders: Senate bill bans conscientious exemption, allows billions for abortion

Tony Perkins, Richard Doerflinger and Douglas Johnson.
Tony Perkins, Richard Doerflinger and Douglas Johnson.


Pro-life leaders on Friday discussed the prospects of the Senate health care bill, warning that the present version will ban conscientious exemptions among private health care plans while making “billions” of dollars available for abortion.

They urged pro-life Democrats to “stand firm” until better legislation can be written.

Speaking in a Friday press conference Tom McClusky, the senior vice president of the Family Research Council (FRC), characterized the legislation as “the biggest expansion of government-funded abortion since Roe v. Wade.”

Also addressing the conference was Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat of Pro-life Activities.

The Catholic bishops, supporters of universal health care since 1919, wanted to support the bill, he commented. They did not seek an explicitly pro-life bill, but only a “neutral bill.”

However, the Senate legislation is “morally unacceptable,” with billions in community funding appropriated outside of the Hyde Amendment abortion funding restrictions and not covered “by any limitation.”

A very long line of federal court precedent holds that if abortion funding is not explicitly prohibited then it is required, Doerflinger warned. The statutory language, which trumps Department of Health and Human Services regulations, will free up “billions” for direct funding for abortions.

The Senate bill also lacks Hyde restrictions barring funding for benefits package that include abortion. Its attempt to segregate abortion funding actually creates a “really stunning new conscience problem.”

“If a private health plan … decides to cover abortion, it must collect from every enrollee a separate payment each month just to pay for other people’s abortions. That’s not the situation now,” he said.

At present health plans “carve out” options for Catholic organizations seeking insurance that does not cover abortion.

“This actually bans conscientious exemptions, it makes the situation worse than it is now.

“I didn’t think it was possible for health care reform to make things worse than insurance companies on a matter of conscience, but this one has.”

According to Doerflinger, the bill also lacks “Hyde-Weldon” language preventing government bodies from discriminating against pro-life health care providers that refuse to perform abortions.

“There’s not a reason in the world the Senate should have rejected it … they just can’t stand to have anything in there that actually shows some respect for the conscientious objections of Catholics and others who object to abortion.”

National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) legislative director Douglas Johnson said that pro-abortion groups wanted to use health care legislation to “greatly expand access to abortion.”

Many of the Democratic leadership’s proposed solutions disguised this, he charged, adding that the proposals were not subjected to much critical scrutiny by the media.

In his view, the Stupak Amendment was the “most bipartisan thing that’s happened the entire Congress.” One in four Democrats voted for the bill and only one Republican did not.

President Obama could have accepted the Stupak Amendment and ensured it a place in the base Senate bill. If he had done so, Johnson explained, 60 votes would have been required to remove the legislation from the Senate version.

“We wouldn’t be having this discussion today,” he continued.

“The president did just the opposite. He lamented the House vote. He expressed opposition to the Stupak Amendment. And he and his agents collaborated with the Senate Democratic leadership to make sure that it did not get into the base bill.”

Johnson said that this vote would be a factor on the NRLC candidate scorecard and indeed would be “a career-defining vote.”

“If they are voting to put this bill on the president’s desk, they own it.”

Tony Perkins, FRC president, said the abortion issue was the “single largest issue” for bipartisan opponents of the bill. He compared the legislation to the Roe v. Wade decision in its possible breadth of scope.

The issue will “dramatically” change the political landscape in the November elections, Perkins predicted, because many people are concerned not only about abortion but about “forcing everyone to fund it.”

He claimed that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said everybody will be “forced to contribute to funding, providing access to and subsidizing abortion through this plan.”

“We don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” he continued, discussing the scheduled vote on the bill, saying pro-life advocates will be working “aggressively” in 28 Congressional districts across the country.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter DiFazzio (D-Ore.) have unexpectedly opposed the bill with objections on grounds other than abortion, speakers told the press conference.

However, hard numbers were not available. Speakers warned that secure votes for the Senate bill were being announced to “create a perception of momentum” and were selectively reported in the media.

Perkins said that efforts against the bill are being made in hope that Congress will “yield and go back to the drawing board.”

“There are measures here that we would support. There are problems in our health care delivery system that need to be reformed, and there are ways to do that. We want to be a part of that, but not in way that jeopardizes human life, limits the freedom of Americans, and creates the tax burden on families that it will if enacted.”

Asked about speculation of separate Senate legislation to be passed after the health care passage, McClusky said they were “very wary” of any deal that “promised something down the road.” Perkins thought it would not fix the bill but was a “fig leaf” to allow pro-life Democrats to vote for this bill “thinking that the Senate is going to fix it.”

Doerflinger said it was “very important” that pro-life leaders “stand firm.”

Other topics at the press conference included tax resistance to mandatory abortion payments, the status of Catholic organizations which endorsed the bill contrary to the bishops’ position, and whether Catholic members of Congress could vote for the bill in good conscience.

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