Sr. Mary Ann is Wrong

Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB, writing in reply to NCR’s coverage of the health care debate, has done the best she can with a bad hand. Her article repeats arguments the USCCB made in their opposition to the health care bill, and states those arguments as persuasively as they can be stated. But, they do not persuade.

There are two difficulties. First, on the application of the Hyde Amendment, the USCCB refuses to acknowledge that the original Stupak Amendment went beyond Hyde in its consequences. The actuary for the insurance companies said as much during negotiations: The language would have resulted in insurance companies being unable to offer abortion coverage in plans paid for entirely without federal subsidies but purchased on the exchanges. At the time, the USCCB was content to say that they could not predict what insurance companies would do, and that there was no statutory prevention of such policies. Now, the USCCB relies on just such projections to justify its opposition to the bill. What neither the USCCB nor the pro-choice advocates wanted to admit was that fitting Hyde to the health care exchanges was more complicated than it appears.

As well, the USCCB has to choose which argument it wants to make. Either it is unjust that people should have to pay for abortion coverage with their own money in the exchanges, because there is no individual opt-out, or the coverage is being funded by federal funds. It can’t be both. Yet, Sr. Mary Ann uses both arguments in her article.

Finally, there is the concern about whether or not monies that go to the community health centers will cover abortion. The USCCB is not satisfied that these health centers do not, never have, and have no intention of providing abortions. They insist that they could be forced to do so, and cite several court rulings that support such a conclusion. But, they forget about the little noticed parliamentary procedure that occurred on the floor of the House during the final day of debate. There was a colloquy. Congressman Bart Stupak and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer referred to this concern, and to the President’s Executive Order stating that the funds for community health centers would not be used to pay for abortions. The reason for the colloquy was to ensure that if pro-choice groups bring a suit to force the community health centers to do what they have no intention of doing, a court would have to look to the legislative intent of the law, and that the intent of this funding was clearly not to provide funding for abortions. The USCCB’s failure to acknowledge this does not inspire confidence in their conclusions about this legislation.

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