Bishops and faithful credited with stunning pro-life victory
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a vote that left prolife supporters cheering and pro-abortion advocates gnashing their teeth.
On Nov. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act — HR 3962 — by a vote of only 220 to 215.
The measure barely passed only after House leadership allowed a vote on the Stupak amendment, authored by pro-life Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan. This amendment continues current federal policy of prohibiting the federal funding of abortion and health benefit packages that include abortion.
There was some doubt the House leadership would even allow a vote on the amendment, but public pressure and pro-life Democrats forced the issue.
The vote was a stunner — the Stupak amendment passed 240 to 194, with 64 pro-life Democrats voting “yes.” Three members of the Kansas delegation voted “yes”: Todd Tiahrt, Lynn Jenkins, and Jerry Moran. Dennis Moore voted “no.”
Intensive lobbying efforts by the U.S. bishops, and the strong response by millions of Catholics, are being credited for the greatest pro-life victory the U.S. Congress has seen in years.
The bishops had been warning President Obama and House leaders for months that they would oppose national health care legislation that did not protect conscience rights, and created abortion funding mandates.
In late October and early November, the bishops launched a huge effort to ask Catholics to contact their legislators.
And it worked.
“I’d like to thank all of the people of the archdiocese who took the time to write, e-mail, call or fax their elected representatives to encourage them to support the pro-life amendment to health care reform,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. “I think what happened over the weekend really shows the difference [made by] those forms of communication.”
The passage of the health care act with the Stupak amendment is important in two ways, said Michael Schutloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
“This is one of the most important votes on the abortion issue that Congress has voted on in the past 30 years,” he said. “This was an immensely important vote, and we prevailed.”
“Secondly, [this effort] was an antidote to cynicism,” he continued. “People made a difference. Too often, people think that our elected officials are going to do what they’re going to do regardless of what the people want or say. This goes to show that’s not the case. Concerned citizens made a difference.”
People on both sides of the abortion issue recognize the key role played by the U.S. bishops.
“It was an amazing development, and a surprise,” said Schuttloffel. “Every singe media report I’ve seen on the vote for the Stupak amendment has made reference to the role the Catholic Church had in influencing that outcome.”
The most encouraging aspect of the vote was the decisive role played by pro-life Democrats.
“That’s a really welcome development,” said Schuttloffel, “and a small taste of where we would be if we had a properly ordered political system where politicians just proceeded from the assumption that human life should be protected. . . . Then, instead of getting bogged down on this divisive issue, we could just talk about health care reform and the merits of this bill.”
By no means is the issue settled with this vote in the House. Another bill awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate.
“We have to wait for the Senate to act,” said Schuttloffel. “There’s talk of final Senate action being pushed into 2010. So, it could be a while before the Senate is at the stage the House is now.”
This is where things get interesting again.
“When both the House and Senate have passed their bills, the leadership will appoint . . . members to go into a conference committee,” he said. “These House and Senate negotiators take these two bills and merge them into one. That process is not very transparent. It’s the proverbial ‘smoke-filled room.’ A lot of bad things can happen in a conference committee.”
There’s no guarantee the Stupak amendment will survive the conference committee. Angry abortion-rights supporters, such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., have said that they will attempt to strip the Stupak amendment out of the legislation at this stage.
“We need to recognize that this [fight] is not over,” said Schuttloffel. “This is just the beginning. We need to continue to strengthen the resolve of people who voted the right way.”
“We need Catholics in northeastern Kansas to strongly communicate to Congressman Dennis Moore that his vote on this issue was unacceptable,” he continued, “and we need to strongly and respectfully encourage him to reconsider his position on this.”
As the action moves to the Senate, Catholics need to be vigilant, to thank those in Congress who supported them in the past, and encourage senators to vote to adopt their own version of the Stupak amendment, said Schuttloffel.
“I would also like to encourage everyone to persevere in being vigilant about this bill as it continues through the legislative process,” said Archbishop Naumann, “that it keeps strong prolife language in any heath care reform legislation.”