White House Rebukes U.S. Bishops over Abortion Funding

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says U.S. Catholic bishops are wrong in their belief that abortion funded is included in health care reform, once again making the misleading claim that an existing amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion, known as the Hyde amendment, would prevent this from happening.

The exchange occurred the day after U.S. bishops sent another letter to members of Congress asking them to “exclude mandated coverage for abortion,” and instead include “policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.” 

The bishops noted that they “remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes. If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously,” they insisted.
The bishops’ assertions are based on the fact that the current form of the House legislation explicitly calls for funds gathered in the public plan to cover elective abortions, funds that are not covered under the Hyde amendment. The Hyde amendment only bars abortion funding for appropriations under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and therefore does not apply to the new bill, which creates an independent stream of government-appropriated funds.

In addition, many amendments to protect freedom of conscience for healthcare workers and to bar government funding for abortion have been defeated in committee votes, another point of concern voiced by the bishops.

During the Oct. 9 White House press briefing, a reporter for CNSNews.com confronted Gibbs with these concerns: “You said on Wednesday that the Hyde amendment would prevent abortion funding through the health bill. The Catholic bishops have repeatedly said that the Hyde amendment would not apply to the health care bill and yesterday in the letter that they sent to Congress they said that if language expressly prohibiting abortion funding is not added to the health care bill, they will vigorously–‘vigorously oppose’–that’s a quote–the bill.  My question on that, does the President support the bishops on this? And to eliminate this as an issue, will he call on Congress to have an explicit prohibition of abortion funding?”

Gibbs answered: “There may be a legal interpretation that has been lost here, but there’s a fairly clear federal law prohibiting the federal use of money for abortion. I think it is–again, it’s exceedingly clear in the law.”

The reporter followed up his question by asking: “But the Hyde amendment is only for direct appropriations for HHS, and that’s . . .”

But Gibbs interrupted, saying: “Again, I think that law is exceedingly clear.”

Several independent sources, such as FactCheck.org, the Associated Press and Time Magazine have confirmed  the bishops contention that abortion funding will be allowed under the new plans.

When Gibbs deflected the funding concern by appealing to the Hyde amendment once again, Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the NRLC, said that “Gibb’s statement is one more proof, if any more were needed, that the White House is actively engaged in a political smuggling operation — an attempt to achieve funding of elective abortion by the federal government, cloaked in smokescreens of contrived language and outright deception.”

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