The Stupak Amendment

November 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In writing this blog, I am violating one of the basic rules of survival in reform Catholic politics. That rule is “Never mention abortion.”

This is not to say that Catholics (and others) on the right and Catholics (and others) on the left don’t talk about abortion  a lot. In fact, almost all the time, it sometimes seems. But those of us in the middle, working to get women ordained, or to get the lectionary readings to be less sexist, or to get the bishops to pay more attention to peace and justice, tend to avoid it.

I remember when I was on the Women’s Ordination Conference Board of Directors, circa 1999. Something terrible happened to our national office–a fire or a flood or something.  Frances Kissling’s organization, Catholics for a Free Choice, whose offices were nearby, offered to let the WOC staff use their space. Or maybe they offered to let the board meet there. I can’t remember the details. What I do remember is how some of the board members reacted: better we should meet out on the sidewalk. In winter. We were to have nothing to do with those people. Period.

Now I should perhaps say that I am not an unambiguous advocate of abortion. I have never belonged to the “mere fetal tissue” camp. Something happens when women have abortions, something at the very least that most of them will remember and have feelings about for years to come. I would much prefer that women have easy access to contraception and sex education and not get pregnant in the first place.

But it is also the case that I am not a member of the “abortion is qualitatively different from all the other evils of the world” camp. I think that an early abortion is much less serious, than, for example, children in sub-Saharan Africa being allowed to starve to death or die of horrific diseases, (deaths we Americans could do a lot to stop with the trillion plus dollars we spend annually on war) .

That being said, it would appear that the Stupak amendment to the House version of the health care bill, passed on November 6, will make abortion considerably less available for a not insignificant number of women in the US.  Admittedly, as Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times writes, the amendment would  “restrict only the new insurance marketplace (a.k.a. the “exchange”) that the bill would create for uninsured individuals and small businesses. It would have no direct effect on the group insurance policies that cover many American workers and their families.” And it may well not have much effect on very poor women, at least in the seventeen states that provide abortion coverage through Medicaid, or on women of means. (That last one’s a big surprise!) 

What the amendment does do, as Healey explains, is threaten the availability of insurance coverage for abortions for the working poor and lower middle class — “those who would receive subsidies under the House bill to buy insurance through the exchange: those making 150% to 400% of the federal poverty line — up to $43,000 for a single woman. ”

It’s also pretty clear that the  Bishops’  lobby and some Roman Catholic congressmen were pivotal in getting this amendment passed. During negotiations over the amendment, according to an article in the New York Times,

“…representatives of the nation’s bishops made clear they would fight the bill if there were not restrictions on abortion. In an extraordinary effort over the last 10 days, the bishops conference told priests across the country to talk about the legislation in church, mobilizing parishioners to contact Congress and to pray for the success of anti-abortion amendments.

“The bishops sent out information to be ‘announced at all Masses’ and included in parish bulletins, and urged priests and parishioners to tell House members: ‘Please support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns.’ They added: ‘If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.'”

I will leave you to think about this for yourself. But not, of course, without a few closing observations: 1) The US Catholic Bishops have been to a massive extent unsuccessful at “selling” the church’s position on contraception and abortion to American Catholic women. The last time I checked, Catholic women got abortions at exactly the same rate as other American women.    2) They are also unable to do anything about Americans in upper-middle and upper income brackets having abortions so 3) They have decided to do all they can to prevent women who earn $43,000 and under from having abortions and 4) If they don’t get what they want in this regard, they will do everything they can to defeat legislation that would provide coverage for something on the order of forty million Americans currently without health insurance.

As I said, I will leave you to think about this for yourself.

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