Bishops Played Key Role in Abortion Amendment

Monday, 09 Nov 2009 11:14 PM

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WASHINGTON — A forceful lobbying effort by Roman Catholic bishops is being credited with the restriction on abortion coverage that was added late Saturday to the healthcare bill passed by the House.

The provision would block the use of federal subsidies for insurance that covers elective abortions, according to The New York Times.

The provision would apply only to insurance policies purchased with the federal subsidies that the health legislation would create to help low- and middle-income people. It would also apply to policies sold by a government-run insurance plan that would be created by the legislation.

But this is a large segment of the population. The subsidized market would be large because anyone earning less than $88,000 for a family of four — four times the poverty level — would be eligible for a subsidy under the House bill.

The bishops’ role was especially pivotal in part because many Democrats had expected them to be an ally, the Times reported. They had pushed for decades for universal health insurance.

“We think that providing healthcare is itself a pro-life thing, and we think that, by and large, providing better health coverage to women could reduce abortions,” said Richard M. Doerflinger, a spokesman for the anti-abortion division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“But we don’t make these decisions statistically, and to get to that good we cannot do something seriously evil.”

The bishops began issuing a series of increasingly stern letters in July to lawmakers making clear that they saw the abortion-financing issue as pre-eminent, a deal-breaker.

At the funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy in August, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, stole a private moment with Mr. Obama to deliver the same warning: The bishops very much wanted to support his healthcare overhaul but not if it provided for abortions. The president “listened intently,” the cardinal reported on his blog.

The letters were backed by bishops who implored priests and parishioners to also call lawmakers. The criteria set by the bishops pushed conservative Democrats negotiating over the issue with party leaders. On Oct. 8 three members of the bishops conference wrote on its behalf to lawmakers, “If the final legislation does not meet our principles, we will have no choice but to oppose the bill.”

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