Pro-life response to health care bill was non-partisan and praiseworthy, defenders say


Responding to claims that pro-life groups opportunistically used pro-life concerns to stop the recent health care reform bill’s passage, the editors of Public Discourse have defended the pro-lifers’ strategy as a non-partisan and “independent” response to the “hollowness” of the legislation’s treatment of abortion funding.

In comments made after the passage of the health care reform law, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) accused the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) of “hypocrisy” and of “just using the life issue to try to bring down health care reform.”

The editors of the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal were similarly critical, suggesting that pro-life groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were “lobbying groups hoping to stop Obamacare.”

Depicting Stupak as someone resisting “Republican efforts to sabotage health care reform,” the Commonweal bloggers claimed that Americans United for Life (AUL) had lost its credibility as a non-partisan pro-life organization.

The editors of the online journal Public Discourse replied to these charges in an April 28 essay, criticizing the “insinuation” that concern about the bill’s expansion of abortion was “a mere pretext.”

According to the journal's editors, the legislative picture was much less clear than the Commonweal editors depicted it.

The Stupak Amendment, the Discourse's editors wrote, found “skepticism or outright opposition” from many conservatives, who thought it would help the bill pass. One leading blogger dismissed it as just a way for conservative Democrats to “save face.”

For their part, pro-life groups “threatened to revoke the pro-life credentials” of any Republican voting against the amendment, Public Discourse said.

“This legislative arm-twisting effectively ensured the passage of the bill, and it did so with the votes of many who had adamantly opposed it,” the editors continued. “If pro-life organizations hadn’t forced GOP members to make this pro-life, pro-reform vote, there would likely be no health care bill today.   Congressman Stupak and the editors of Commonweal ought to pause for a moment to give that fact some consideration.”

After the Stupak Amendment passed the U.S. House, Republican strategists Erick Erickson and Patrick Ruffini said conservatives should “blame National Right to Life” for the passage of health care. Erickson also accused NRLC of undercutting conservatives to raise money, while the Wall Street Journal editorial board said Stupak had “played pro-lifers like a Stradivarius.”

In another show of independence, Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the Susan B. Anthony List, published an editorial threatening support for pro-life Democrats if Republicans fell short on abortion.

The editors of Public Discourse noted that the USCCB touted the superiority of the House bill over the Senate bill on all criteria, including pro-life concerns.

“Clearly, the pro-life organizations’ strategy was independent of a Democratic or Republican agenda. Little surprise, then, that it alienated partisans on both sides—the partisans at Commonweal included,” they wrote.

Public Discourse accused Commonweal of partisanship in their “persistent misrepresentation” of President Obama’s executive order on abortion funding, the funding of Community Health Centers, and the original Senate compromise language on insurance funding.

Commonweal’s praise for the executive order, they said, ignored court precedent defining Medicaid as including abortion services unless statutory law explicitly forbids it.

“The statutory requirement prevails over the executive order,” the Public Discourse editors said, noting the need for the language of the pro-life Hyde Amendment.

“The new legislation did not extend the Hyde Amendment to new funding streams,” they continued. “The House bill would have done that; the Senate bill did not. No wonder Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood made no real effort to resist the executive order. The order was, as she put it, merely ‘symbolic.’”

A gap in the health care funding restrictions also will result in funding for abortions at Community Health Care Centers, they warned. Further, the new health care law lacks a “critically important” clause of the Hyde Amendment which bars funding for health plans that include elective abortions.

“Over the course of the health care debate, the major pro-life groups and the Catholic bishops faithfully adhered to the cause of life. They recognized the hollowness of Obama’s executive order, anticipated the threat posed by funding of Community Health Centers, and saw through an insurance funding scheme that claims to honor the Hyde Amendment’s principle while gutting its policy and violating its spirit.”

These actions sometimes advanced or retarded health care, but their steadfastness in their principles “deserves praise,” the Public Discourse editors concluded.

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