by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Saturday evening (Nov. 7), for the first time in many weeks I did not have any public commitments. I was catching up on correspondence at my desk in my residence, when I received a phone call from a member of the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). She wanted me to make some phone calls to members of Congress urging them to vote for an amendment preventing funding of abortion in the health care reform bill.
I was surprised by the phone call. The last time I had checked on the status of the health care reform bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership were not going to allow Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan the opportunity to offer a pro-life amendment. However, on late Friday night, Pelosi agreed to allow the pro-life amendment to be offered. This was an amazing breakthrough!
I wish that I could tell you that Pelosi, a Catholic, had a change of heart, realizing the injustice of coercing Americans to pay for abortions under the guise of health care reform. In point of fact, Pelosi had come to the hard realization that health care reform legislation could not pass without her permitting a vote on the pro-life amendment.
The USCCB staff was concerned because one pro-life Republican had called for his colleagues to vote “present,” instead of “yes” on the Stupak amendment, in the hopes that failure of the pro-life amendment’s passage would bring down the entire Democratic health care reform bill. I made the few phone calls the staff had requested of me.
I turned on C-span to watch the debate and vote in the House of Representatives. While the vote was being tallied, the C-Span host interviewed a reporter, asking her what had changed the Democratic leadership’s position on allowing the amendment to be offered. The journalist said that the tipping point occurred when the Catholic bishops vowed to oppose the bill unless the pro-life language was added.
I was very proud of Cardinal George (of Chicago) and the conference of bishops for the firm and principled stand that we had taken. Even more, I was proud of the many American Catholics who had responded to the pleas of their bishops by communicating via Internet, fax, letter and phone with members of Congress expressing support for the pro-life amendment.
In the end, the Stupak amendment passed by a large margin: 240 in favor, 194 opposed, and only 1 voting present. Sixty-four pro-life Democrats joined every Republican, except the one voting present, in support of the amendment. The pro-life Democrats, who much to the frustration of their party’s leadership, pledged not to vote for the bill without the pro-life amendment, are true heroes.
Every member of the Kansas delegation, except Congressman Dennis Moore, voted for the pro-life amendment. Moore needs to hear from his constituents our outrage for his support of coercing Americans to pay for abortions as a component of health care reform.
President Obama has remained true to his campaign promises to support abortion. In January, President Obama, by executive order, reversed existing policy by allowing U.S. foreign aid dollars to fund international organizations that promote and/or provide abortions. Previously, the policy of the federal government was only to fund embryonic stem-cell research using existing embryonic stem-cell lines. In March, again by executive order, Obama removed any limitations on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Obama has ordered a review of existing government policies enforcing conscience protection laws preventing individuals and institutions from being coerced into participating in or referring for abortion.
Obama had also pledged to Planned Parenthood, before his election, that one of the first things he would do as president would be to sign the socalled Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). The version of FOCA that was in Congress at the time of his promise would have invalidated: 1) state laws requiring parental notification for minors receiving abortions; 2) the federal and state bans on partial-birth abortions; 3) state laws requiring those receiving abortions to be informed about fetal development, as well as the risks and consequences of abortion; and 4) bans on tax funding of abortions. Fortunately, FOCA was not something Obama could do by presidential order. He needed Congress to pass FOCA before he could sign it. A remarkable outpouring of grass-roots opposition has dissuaded Congress so far from considering FOCA.
It appeared that this intense opposition to FOCA caused the pro-abortion leadership to shift strategy. The plan seemed to be to try to pass FOCA in pieces rather than as a package. The first component of this piecemeal strategy was to provide federal funding for abortion through health care reform. The passage of the Stupak amendment was a tremendous setback for proabortion/pro-choice supporters.
This battle is far from over. It was reported that pro-abortion Democrats supported passage of the health care reform bill with the Stupak amendment because they were assured that the pro-life language would be removed in the Senate or in conference committee. We need to remain vigilant.
Members of Congress give consideration to the concerns of Catholic bishops when they understand that those concerns are shared by most of their Catholic constituents. Few believed on Friday that it was possible to get a prolife amendment added to the health care reform bill.
Your postcards, letters, e-mails and phone calls made a significant difference. Thank you!