Truth Is Indeed One of the First Casualties of War

Jon O’Brien

I agree with Jim Wallis that the truth has become a casualty in this war--because both Jim and the Catholic Bishops have twisted it. And if Jim Wallis and his conservative allies have their way, women will become another casualty.

This article was originally published on

Jim Wallis’ protracted lecture
on how abortion has become a central part of the health care reform
debate proves how truth is, indeed, one of the first casualties of
war–even a culture war. Here, I examine just a few of his statements
to show how his version of events is so far removed from reality that
we should reject his premises, arguments and conclusions in toto.

"The culture wars have begun again.

Jim is mistaken. Did the culture wars ever go away?
And if they did, who has reignited the flames? Throughout this process,
we in the pro-choice community have supported health care reform and
worked hard with Members of Congress to pass a comprehensive health
care reform package. We have stayed true to our core values, seeking to
overcome the struggles ordinary Americans have making ends meet. These
struggles mean that many cannot afford basic health care or have to
choose between maintaining their health and paying for other basic
necessities. The anti-choice lobby, with the US Conference of Catholic
Bishops and its Office of Prolife Activities at the helm, has shown
that it is willing to stop at nothing to ensure that its own views,
which are shared by very few Americans, held sway. This lobby, aided by
the 64 Democrats who voted to insert unfounded red herrings into a
critical life-and-death debate over the basic right of access to health
care, exploited the vulnerabilities of the Democratic Party. Wallis is
an exemplar of this lobby, seeking to limit access to abortion at every
turn. He was ably abetted by the self-described "progressive
pro-lifers" like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the
Common Good, whose comparisons of abortion to torture gained resonance
among those who are unyieldingly opposed to women’s reproductive
freedoms. We should not forget that Catholics United and Catholics in
Alliance for the Common Good were founded with the support of senior
Democratic strategists–whose main interest was in a Congressional
majority, and not the goals and principles supported by those who might
vote for such a majority.

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"Those of us who have worked hard to find some common ground in
this debate, it’s now becoming an all win-or-lose situation…. [We
have sought] to help forge some compromise."

Jim is mistaken. He is not interested in any
compromise that includes access to abortion. The pro-choice community
has been working hard to find a middle ground in the abortion debate.
There were those of us who were more than willing to refine the Capps
Amendment that was rejected by the anti-choice lobby, but Wallis and
his friends worked tirelessly to reject any compromise along those
lines. Jim Wallis’ limited discussions with the pro-choice community
have been obstructionist and unhelpful. As regards compromise, there
was, in reality, no room for compromise once the anti-choice movement
decided that it was willing to trade health care reform in their desire
to further restrict access to abortion.

"The bill that was passed by the House was a huge step toward one of
the greatest legislative accomplishments and victories for social
justice in a generation."

Jim is mistaken. The bill, as currently
constructed, is like passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, but
excluding the visually impaired from the protections in the
legislation. Leaving out what Jim coyly refers to, with quotes, as
"women’s health" is anathema to those of us who fight for improved
access to women’s health care services every day. If we exclude access
to abortion for women in this bill, all of the other advances are
compromised. Reproductive justice is the basis of women’s
equality–without it, women become second-class citizens.

"The bill that came out of the House achieves many of the goals
of the faith community by providing health care for 36 million more
people, or almost 96% of Americans."

Jim is mistaken. The reality is that health care
reform was not initiated to achieve the goals of the faith community.
The aim of the bill was to provide health care for those who did not
have it. Americans were promised that if people liked their existing
coverage, they would not lose it. That promise has been broken.

"While we still need to include everybody — especially
immigrants for whom this bill is still very inadequate — the House
vote was a major legislative achievement."

Jim is mistaken. Just as he is willing to throw
women’s health care under the bus, so is Wallis also willing to throw
immigrants’ health under the bus. The needs or rights of any group that
get in the way of Jim Wallis’ definition of what constitutes a "major
legislative achievement" are expendable.

"Although the Capps Amendment was meant as a good faith effort
to find common ground…it failed to address many pro-life
concerns…Capps might have been a fruitful starting point for

Jim is mistaken. Polling has shown that many
Americans are willing to support a compromise on this issue, such as
that outlined in the Capps Amendment. Polls by Catholics for Choice and the Mellman Group prove
this. However, this compromise was not enough for anti-choice
extremists such as Jim Wallis. We should also remember that it is not
always possible to meet people half way. And in such cases, the
majority should hold sway. Sadly, the Democratic leadership decided
that the minority view, and Bart Stupak’s opposition to abortion is the
view of a very small minority, would win the day. And American women
were the losers.

"Sojourners…worked very hard to find a solution here and were one of the very few groups really talking to both sides."

Jim is mistaken. Sojourners’ discussions with the
pro-choice side must have been in whispers, because few recall hearing
from them and as I noted above, what we did hear was described as
obstructionist and unhelpful.

"Because the pro-life side wasn’t really invited into a real
discussion about possible solutions, the "compromise" missed some
important things, misread the real situation, and failed to pass the
tests of maintaining current law, abortion neutrality, and the status

Jim is mistaken. The antiabortion side decided that it
was not interested in any compromise, hence the "my way or the highway"
showdown between on one side Bart Stupak and the US Conference of
Catholic Bishops and Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership on the
other. Therefore they pushed us beyond a compromise, "the current law,
abortion neutrality and the status quo." In fact, this is particularly
hard to fathom–given the demand by Bart Stupak and others that the
bill would fail if their language, and no version thereof was
acceptable, was not given a vote and included in the final bill to pass
the House of Representatives.

"Both sides had seemed to agree with the principle that no one
should be required to fund abortion if their conscience compels them
not to, and that no abortion should be paid for with federal funds."

Jim is mistaken. Both sides had agreed that we
would support a bill that would not further either side’s agenda.
Through our taxes, we are all forced to fund things with which we
disagree. For those who support immigration reform, including Jim
Wallis we understand, funding for unjust immigration policies should be
opposed. Yet we have never heard him support moves that would destroy
legislation over those issues. Why is abortion different?

"The pro-choice side acknowledges the conscience argument, but
wants to ensure access to legal abortion and believes that such access
should not be restricted by those who oppose the law on the grounds of
conscience. This tacit agreement also follows public opinion in that a
majority of the country doesn’t want to make all abortions illegal, but
doesn’t want public funds to pay for it."

Jim is mistaken. His approach to conscience
protections is very one-sided. In fact, we find that a majority of
Catholics supports federal funding for abortion, as do other cohorts of
the population. The claim that the public is unhappy with federal
funding is a myth propagated by those opposed to abortion. Would he
have us disregard the consciences of women and men who support abortion

"How to protect the consciences of both sides here — pro-life
tax payers and the women who want access to legal abortion — is a most
difficult issue to resolve."

Jim is mistaken. This is a false dichotomy. Prolife
taxpayers and pro-choice taxpayers might be a reasonable comparison, or
perhaps those who want to preserve access to legal abortion and those
who wish to deny access to legal abortion. The circle of people who
support choice extends beyond women who want access to legal
abortion–it includes men, women who are not able to or no longer able
to have children and a host of others. It is, in reality, a simple
issue to resolve. All insurance policies, federal and private, should
offer medical coverage for legal health services to those who want
them. If anybody is uncomfortable about what is offered, they can
choose not to avail of those services.

"More than 85% of those women, if present numbers hold up, will
pay for the abortion with private funds, and only 13% will use
health-care plans to pay for it."

Jim is mistaken. This is one of the many
misrepresentations by those who seek to minimize the impact of the
Stupak-Pitts amendment. The claim that only a few women will be
affected is irrelevant and wrong. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the claim is wrong on three counts:

Their study was of all women who had an abortion in 2001, including
women on Medicaid and those who are uninsured–who would not have been
able to access coverage for abortion. If we looked only at privately
insured women, the percentage of procedures billed directly to
insurance companies would be substantially higher than 13 percent.

The 13 percent statistic does not include women who pay for an
abortion up front and then seek reimbursement from their insurance
provider. This is common when a medical provider does not participate
in a patient’s insurance plan, as is often the case with small,
specialized providers, including abortion providers.

Some of the women identified as paying out of pocket would likely
have had insurance coverage for abortion care, but did not know they
had it or chose not to use it for reasons of confidentiality. Given the
stigma that still surrounds abortion, many women do not want their
insurer or employer–or their spouse or parent who may be the primary
policyholder–to learn that they had one.

"We could also take the two bills in Congress that seek to reduce
abortion by supporting low-income women in all kinds of practical ways
— one with support for contraception and one without."

Jim reveals his real agenda. Despite his carefully
nuanced positions, we know that Jim Wallis is anti-choice and opposes
access to comprehensive reproductive health services for women. In this
passage, Jim Wallis lets his guard down. In Jim Wallis’ world, women’s
health care services are expendable. We can see this in his willingness
to allow the debate over abortion to go even further and exclude access
to contraception as well. Is the Stupak amendment not enough for him?
No, it is not.

In short, Jim Wallis’ arguments repeat the talking points of those
who have sought to restrict access to abortion since it became legal in
1973. Wallis lays claim to the mantle of negotiator and centrist, the
voice of reason in an acrimonious and angry debate. In fact he is the
opposite. Wallis is antiabortion, and according to his essay, is open
to seeing health care reform go beyond the abortion issue and also
restrict access to contraception. His is not the voice of reason, but
that of a culture warrior in extremis. The fact that he wears clerical
garb should not distract us from the fact that he is more political
than pastoral and that one of his goals is to make abortion illegal.
Our mantra is "Safe, Legal and Accessible." His is "Dangerous, Illegal
and Inaccessible."

I agree with Jim Wallis that the truth has become a casualty in this
war. But if Jim Wallis and his conservative allies have their way,
women will become another casualty.

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