Since When Did the House Need a Bishop Blessing?

Last Saturday night, while you and I were drinking away the pain of another sleepless school week, the House of Representatives was busy working out the nitty-gritty details of a bill that plans to overhaul our nation’s health-care system. The long-awaited bill passed by a slim margin of 220 to 215 votes. Cue resounding applause, cheers and high-fives: victory at last. Except for one crucial detail. A few hours before the vote, an amendment that prohibits federal money from going toward insurance policies that cover abortions was tacked onto the bill — largely a result of pressure from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who negotiated with top officials in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Friday, and who made personal appeals to their congressmen and even President Barack Obama. Their resistance is rooted in the Catholic conviction that life begins at fertilization, and that ending a human life — even before birth — is morally wrong. The bishops absurdly condemned the pre-amendment plan as an “accounting gimmick,” seeing as the bill as proposed would fund abortion-covering insurers, but wouldn’t actually use tax dollars to pay for abortions. The group threatened to withdraw support for the legislation unless the bill included a stipulation that prohibited federal money from going to any insurance provider that covered abortion — “forcing” Democrats who needed an official OK from those pointy-hatted zealots to withdraw their support for the bill. So much for separation of church and state. The USCCB wields this ridiculous upper hand thanks to voting clout of 68 million Catholics in the U.S., as well as the fervent political activism of its members — who are regularly in contact with lawmakers — upon whom they don’t hesitate to rain input. Recently, the group distributed fliers to every parish in the nation asking churchgoers to pray for abortion restrictions and contact representatives, encouraging them to push for bills in their favor. The amendment’s very real inclusion transcends the often theoretical church-state separation debate. Should it become law, the measure would likely force insurers (87 percent of which currently cover abortions) to drop abortions from their plans in order to meet the new health-care market. The final bill reveals the disconcerting influence our country’s religious leaders have over their government. Bishops now have even more proof that they can be a dominating force in politics — a disturbing prospect that threatens the separation of church and state. So — despite considerable bipartisan support — the USCCB’s heavy behind-the-scenes lobbying and grassroots organization left the bill tainted by religious doctrine. And suddenly, thanks to some influential pamphleteers, the health-care discussion has morphed into an abortion debate. Ironic: What could be more pro-life than guaranteed health care? Let’s get something straight: Abortion is a medical procedure to which every woman has the right. It is just as medically legitimate as heart surgery or cancer treatment. This fundamental reproductive right shouldn’t be trampled on by the moral teachings of the religious community. On the other hand, I accept that abortion is a polarizing national issue — a recent poll by the Pew Research Group reported that only 45 percent of Americans said abortion should even be legal — so I admit that it probably shouldn’t be funded by our tax dollars. But the amendment goes much further than to just ensure federal money won’t pay for abortions — which doesn’t happen currently anyway (and wouldn’t have, were the amendment not hastily slapped on the bill). By limiting the availability of a medical procedure 1.3 million American women need every year, the bill would deal the biggest blow to abortion since partial-birth abortions were outlawed in 2003. Angry Democrats held their noses and voted in favor of the bill anyway, arguing that passing the bill would give them an opportunity to hash out the details on the Senate floor later. Diffusing the issue for now may have allowed the bill to get past the House, but with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years, it’s time Democrats stop cowering at religious leaders’ bullying and take a firm stand in favor of abortion rights. Yes, this legislation is historic. Yes, it’s a monumental victory in a long battle toward universal health care. But at the end of the day, in a country that seems to be slowly turning its back on a woman’s right to choose, it’s just as important to make sure we don’t lose that battle in the future just to win the health-care war today.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2505
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2505
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal