Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Rep. Bart Stupak, who stood strong for life throughout the long and contentious battle over abortion funding in health care reform, caved in at the eleventh hour to a phony deal with the White House that pro-life groups – and the U.S. bishops say – will do nothing to protect the unborn.
The House of Representatives passed the pro-abortion Senate health care reform bill last night on a 219-212 vote, which means Rep. Stupaks’ group of five Democrats who switched their vote at the last minute enabled the bill to pass. The group changed their vote because the President offered an Executive Order that supposedly corrects the language in the Senate bill which Rep. Stupak believed did not go far enough to ensure that no taxpayer funding could be used for abortion.
“We’ve consulted with legal experts on the specific idea of resolving the abortion funding problems in the Senate bill through executive order,” said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a memo sent this morning to key Congressional members and staff.
“We know members have been looking into this in good faith, in the hope of limiting the damage done by abortion provisions in the bill. Unfortunately, this proposal does not begin to address the problem, which arises from decades of federal appellate rulings that apply the principles of Roe v. Wade to federal health legislation,” Doerflinger explains.
“According to these rulings, such health legislation creates a statutory requirement for abortion funding, unless Congress clearly forbids such funding,” Doerflinger continues. “That is why the Hyde amendment was needed in 1976, to stop Medicaid from funding 300,000 abortions a year.”
He concluded: “The statutory mandate construed by the courts would override any executive order or regulation. This is the unanimous view of our legal advisors and of the experts we have consulted on abortion jurisprudence.”
Changing the Senate bill is the only way to truly prevent taxpayer money from funding abortion, he says.
“The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect,” said the National Right to Life Committee in a statement released this morning. “It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says.”
Stupak admitted that he would have preferred to change the Senate bill, but this wasn’t possible because there are no more than 45 pro-life Senators. “We cannot get more than 45 pro-life votes in the Senate,” he said.
“The bishops are right, statutory law is better than an executive order. We can’t get there,” Stupak said. “So what do you have, nothing? Or do you want the same executive order that has the force of law? I’ll take the executive order.”
After months of championing the cause for life, the handful of lawmakers who spoke up the loudest for life will now be remembered as the people responsible for allowing the largest expansion of abortion rights since the passage of Roe v. Wade.
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