Bishops Originally Asked for “Abortion Neutral” Health Reform Package

Jessica Arons

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was among the first to call for an “abortion-neutral” health care bill in July, defined as maintaining current policies on funding, mandates, and conscience protections. But then they reneged on the deal.

This article was originally published by Think Progress and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

On Monday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama reminded Congress that “this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill.” When asked about the Stupak Amendment,
he responded that “there needs to be some more work before we get to
the point where we’re not changing the status quo,” implicitly
acknowledging that the measure does not preserve the status quo on laws
related to abortion funding. “I want to make sure that the provision
that emerges meets that test — that we are not in some way sneaking in
funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we’re not
restricting women’s insurance choices,” he said.


Ironically, it was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was among the first to call for an “abortion-neutral” health care bill back in July. It defined abortion-neutral as maintaining current policies on funding, mandates, and conscience protections:

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Any legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported
current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience
protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and
political reality. Making the legislation “abortion-neutral” in this sense will be essential for widely accepted reform.

The Capps Amendment, which was in the original House bill and is still in Senate legislation, meets all of these criteria:

– The Hyde Amendment ban on Medicaid funding for abortion would remain unchanged.

– The Hyde Amendment would be applied to all public and private
plans in the Exchange by segregating private premiums and government
subsidies and ensuring that only private premiums be used to pay for

– No abortions could be mandated as part of the minimum benefits package, even those allowed by Hyde.

– Evenhanded conscience provisions protect those willing and unwilling to provide abortion care, counseling, and referrals.

But the Bishops lobbied against this compromise and demanded that the far-reaching Stupak Amendment be adopted. This measure:

– Goes beyond the Hyde Amendment by preventing women from using
their own money to buy an insurance plan that includes abortion, even
though no public funding would be spent on abortion services.

– Gives insurance companies an incentive to discriminate against low- and moderate-income women.

– Limits insurance companies in deciding what benefits to offer their customers

– Provides for the purchase of flimsy abortion-only riders that are unlikely to be offered or purchased.

– Allows for discrimination against health care providers who are willing to offer abortion services

The Capps Amendment involved a number of concessions from abortion
rights advocates and ought to satisfy the demands of abortion rights
opponents. If the true goal is health reform and not to undermine that
reform or advance an ideologically-rigid agenda, then we need both sides to meet in the middle.

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