Saturday, November 7, 2009


We need Tim Russert for health care reform. Russert could cut through bureaucratic nonsense. On the show he simplified complex matters and defended everyone’s right to speak. I’m sure he would be fascinated by the efforts of Representatives Stupak (Michigan), Ellsworth and others to get their amendment to the floor to clear up the abortion morass in the health care reform bill. The issue? A House rule that could close the bill to amendments. The reason for invoking the rule: the amendment would likely pass.

The health care reform bill as it is without the amendment would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate unlimited provision of federally funded abortion coverage in the "public option" (government-run health plan that will compete with private plans nationwide). And it allows federal funds to subsidize private health plans that cover unlimited abortion. The Stupak-Ellsworth amendment, in line with the Hyde amendment and similar language in other federal programs (e.g., federal employees health benefits program), prevents both these results.

The amendment would write into the health reform bill language that says health care reform money cannot be used for elective abortions, much as the Hyde Amendment has done for federal money from the Health and Human Services/Labor appropriations bill. Some politicians say such an amendment is not needed because the Hyde Amendment already exists. Others say it is needed and point out the contradictions between the proposed legislation and the Hyde Amendment. The simplest way to settle the matter is to write in language that says health reform legislation cannot be used for elective abortions, which is what the Stupak-Ellsworth Amendment proposes.

I think of Russert now because he objected 17 years ago when Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania was prevented from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Party convention because of his pro-life views. Russert challenged the fairness of that on Meet the Press shortly afterwards. I asked Russert what the reaction had been to his challenge.

“They ‘outed’ me,” he said. Those who would silence Governor Casey dismissed Russert’s argument saying, “Well, you know, he’s Catholic.” The implication annoyed Russert, who was a lawyer as well as journalist, because it suggested that he couldn’t defend Casey’s right to speak simply on the merits that all Americans have freedom of speech or that it denied that Russert might be pro-life from a basic moral conviction transcending any religious denomination.
People do not want to pay for other people’s abortions so accepting the Stupak-Ellsworth Amendment seems like a no-brainer politically. That is unless leaders have been made tone-deaf by the clamoring of those who want expanded abortion even at the cost of a much needed reform of health care, something the U.S. bishops have been working towards for decades, back at least to the days of President Harry Truman.

It would be unfortunate if Stupak, Ellsworth and others cannot be heard. It would be a blow to our fundamental right to speak out, perhaps a blow only exceeded by the loss of the opportunity to reform health care because some insisted on clinging to a minority’s wish to expand abortion rights. What a loss for everyone.


Catacomb Catholic Priest said...

The USCCB did just fine without Tim Russert, no need to resurrect him. On second thought since the USCCB has not come up with a way to pay for socialized medicine maybe we should resurrect him to get him back on the taxrolls.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, if the bill does not contain a public option, there is no need to debate public funding of abortion. Many other evils embodied in the current bills could be avoided as well. Some bishops have spoken out against the "public option" because it wrests control over very personal decisions from families. That would be an interesting position for the USCCB to stake out. How does the public option stand up against the Catholic concept of "subsidiarity"?