Thursday, December 03, 2009

Stupak Amendment Will Strip Abortion Coverage from All Health Insurance Policies

The National Catholic Reporter, for decades a voice of reason and restraint in the debate about how far the Catholic Church may go in turning its teaching on abortion into U.S. law, suddenly has departed from that stance. In an editorial posted November 23rd, NCR praised the U.S. bishops for lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives into adopting the Stupak Amendment to its health care reform bill.

According to the editorial, "The Stupak Amendment articulated a position that the Catholic bishops had rightly and forcefully advanced in the run-up to the final vote... The hope is that the bishops, having won a restriction on abortion, will argue as forcefully and expend the same energy in rallying the Catholic community to push for approval of a similar bill in the Senate."

But whether the position adopted in Stupak is one that the bishops had the right to advance is hardly a foregone conclusion. It is even called into question by a separate analysis by NCR contributor Michael Sean Winters, which NCR posted the same day. Winters wrote:

"The amendment did more than bar federal funding for abortion in both the public option and in any plans purchased through the “exchanges,” the markets the legislation sets up if those plans were subsidized by the federal government. The bill requires that any insurance company plan that covers abortion offered in the exchanges, even one being purchased by someone with their own money and no federal subsidy, has to be matched with an identical plan that does not include such coverage.

"The Stupak Amendment does not forbid the purchase of plans that cover abortion, but the actuary for the insurance companies said that functionally no companies would offer such plans because the pool of applicants would be too small to make them economically feasible." (The bold-face is mine.)

So it is inaccurate and disingenuous for anyone to assert that the Stupak Amendment aims merely to ensure that there is no expansion of federal support for abortion. In fact, the bishops have already been quite successful in ensuring that currently there is no such federal support.

Stupak, however, construes the existing federal exemption of employer payments for health insurance as de facto federal support for abortion (for those private policies that cover it). And Stupak tries to stop that too. Indeed, by making it financially impossible for insurance companies to offer plans with abortion coverage, it denies women the right to purchase any abortion coverage whatsoever, even if they have the means and the desire to use their own taxable income. And, of course, it prevents women who lack such means from having a medically safe abortion anywhere. Obviously this is a massive new contraction of women's ability to exercise a right which the Supreme Court has ruled they have.

So Stupak is much more than "a restriction on abortion," as the NCR editorial so meekly describes it. In fact it is a radical new tactic for the bishops to gain through health care reform legislation what they have been unable to gain through decades of electoral politics, relentless lobbying and court cases: imposing the Catholic moral teaching on abortion on Americans whose religions and individual consciences do not accept it.

How does that not violate the First Amendment's clause that Congress may not establish a particular religion? How does that not violate the First Amendment's clause that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion?

Once more, in the name of stopping abortions, the bishops are pushing an assault on the U.S. Constitution. In the past, the National Catholic Reporter has consistently understood that such action is completely out of bounds. What makes it laudable now?

1 comment:

colkoch said...

I am so glad you posted on this. I was shocked with that NCR editorial. My mind went right to the threat from Cardinal George to interfere with Catholic media. I strongly suspect the editorial policy of the NCR will swing to the right, while the blog writers like Winters-not exactly a progressive- and the youngsters will have to carry the progressive banner--until they too are shut down.