Catholic Hierarchy Continues Effort To Derail Heath-Care Legislation Over Abortion

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church continues its efforts to derail the health-care reform bill because it’s unhappy with how the proposed legislation treats abortion.

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ordered that bulletin inserts be placed in 19,000 Catholic churches, asking congregants to call Congress and demand that abortion be excluded from the measure and that health-care workers be shielded from procedures that violate their religious beliefs.

The dispute over abortion slowed down the bill last year. In the House of Representatives, U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) added an amendment that would have barred any insurance company taking part in public insurance exchanges from offering coverage for abortions.

Pro-choice advocates said the language went far beyond current provisions in federal law banning tax funds from paying for abortion and mounted a campaign to have the provision stripped from the bill.

Further complicating matters, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced he would not support any bill that covered abortion. Nelson’s support was crucial to passing the bill, so a compromise was forged.

The compromise allows states to require that no plans that provide abortion coverage be provided in their state. It would also permit individuals to pay for plans that provide abortion, as long as two separate checks were written.

Critics on both sides of the issue have blasted the Nelson compromise. Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Washington Post that no one is happy with the language because it is “crazy.”

The bishops say they back health-care reform but have threatened to drop their support unless they get the anti-abortion language they want. The bulletin inserts that have been released contain instructions for church members to reach Congress through the Catholic Conference’s Web site. The flyers are being printed in English and Spanish.

The Washington Times reported that this is the second time in three months that the church hierarchy has issued bulletin inserts on the issue of health care. The first went out in October and was signed by two cardinals and two bishops.

Church officials say the pressure was instrumental in getting the Stupak-Pitts abortion ban in the House version of the bill.