Has it really come to this in our country? That congressional leadership and the White House are willing to gamble much-needed reform of our health care system on their unyielding demand for expansion of abortion access and funding? 

Despite breathtakingly brazen denials and semantic gymnastics, that’s precisely what the Senate’s health care reform bill, on which the White House’s reform proposal is based, would do. Every fair analysis of the 2,700-page bill, including by the nonpartisan PolitiFact.com, comes to that inescapable conclusion. 

The bill “clearly expands abortion services, despite suggestions by some political leaders to the contrary,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life secretariat, in a statement late last month. 

“While the Senate bill includes some language limiting the direct use of tax credits to subsidize abortion coverage, it still violates long-standing federal precedent on abortion funding” by failing to restrict all sources of federal funding — not just tax credits — for abortions. It also “allows subsidies for overall health plans that cover elective abortions. ... The bill requires each American purchasing such a plan to make a separate payment to the insurer every month, solely to pay for other people’s abortions,” Doerflinger said. 

And so we’re left with some awful ironies. 

Health care reform has had no greater champion than the Catholic Church in this country (in a recent letter to Congress, the bishops again called health care reform “a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority”), and yet the U.S. bishops’ conference has been forced into lobbying against the bill. 

The Catholic Church, both now and historically, has been one of the largest providers of health care in this country, certainly earning it a voice in this discussion. Yet its position has been virtually ignored by the White House and congressional leaders, and it has been accused of interference for insisting that the health care reform be “neutral” with regard to abortions. 

Among the proudest public champions of this abortion service expansion are Catholic politicians: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), to name but a few. 

President Barack Obama, the “common ground” leader who vowed to work with pro-lifers on reducing the number of abortions and to keep federal funding out of the health care reform bill, has done an about-face, retreating into ideological rigidity even though it puts his program in jeopardy and is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans. 

Cynicism about our elected leaders and the entire process would appear to be amply justified. But as Catholics and Americans, we know we must continue to insist that our politicians work for the common good and enact health care reform consistent with the inviolability of human life and dignity. That means, as the bishops keep repeating, according to these principles: 

  • Truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity 
  •  Access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of immigrants 
  •  Pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options 
  • Restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.