Catholic Church Wants Health Care Overhaul To Ban Abortions

Bishops representing the Catholic Church are aggressively lobbying on Capitol Hill. They hope to persuade lawmakers to ban coverage for abortion procedures from any public insurance plan included resulting from legislation to overhaul the nation's health care system. Blogger Michael Sean Winters, who writes for the Catholic Weekly magazine America, explains the church's concern.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting weve asked one of the leading thinkers on Islam and the West: What, if anything, does Muslim identity have to do with what happened at Fort Hood? His answer may surprise you. Well have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, were going to continue our conversation about health care legislation and abortion. The nations Catholic bishops have been lobbying intensely to make sure that any kind of health care overhaul includes restrictions on abortions. Joining us now to talk more about this is Michael Sean Winters. He writes a daily political blog for the largest circulation Catholic weekly magazine, America. Michael, welcome to program. Welcome back, I should say.

Mr. MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS (Columnist, America Magazine): Always good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Michael, many liberals whom weve heard from in recent days have been outraged about the Catholic Churchs lobbying intensely on this abortion restriction question. And so, can you just - they say they dont understand why it is that a religious organization is allowed to, if I can use that phrasing, to participate so directly in a legislative process in that way. So can you just talk a little more about that?

Mr. WINTERS: You know, the bishops speak for the Catholic Church. And there is, you know, millions of Catholics in this country. Theyre not just speaking for themselves, exercising their First Amendment rights, although they have the right to do that, but theyre speaking for millions of pro-life Catholics who both want health care reform, but are deeply opposed to seeing the Hyde Amendment thrown under the bus and want to see the federal government continue its current policy of not providing federal funds for abortion.

MARTIN: And you heard Congresswoman Diana DeGette argue that the Stupak Amendment, which applies to the health care overhaul legislation, goes beyond the Hyde Amendment and would restrict a woman from using even their own money to pay for abortion coverage. What is the bishops perspective on that? Do they think that thats true?

Mr. WINTERS: I think she missed something. You know, the Hyde Amendment was not designed to save money. The Hyde Amendment and the Stupak Amendment reflect the deep ambivalence of most Americans. And the congresswoman, like a sliver of the electorate is, you know, adamantly pro-choice and theres a sliver thats adamantly pro-life.

But I think the center of the electorate is just deeply ambivalent. And they dont want abortion to be illegal. No one wants to go back to the back alley days. But they also dont want to encourage it through federal subsidies. And you know, when she says, oh, abortion is just like any other medical procedure, thats not true. It is fraught with a moral content that I cant think of any other medical procedure that carries that moral weight.

MARTIN: There are those though who would argue that this is a sectarian this is a religious value not a civic value thats being imposed on those who do not share those religious values. What would the bishops say about that?

Mr. WINTERS: They would point to the Declaration of Independence, which states right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And say, what about life? You know, whats going on there? And theyre deeply committed to the defense of life from conception to natural death. And, you know, for us this just is really not a negotiable item. And the Catholic Church has a mission called Project Rachel that works with women whove been traumatized by abortions and have feelings of guilt and all that. You know, I just dont believe that ignoring the moral content of this issue really serves it. And to be still invoking the Caps Amendment, which was too clever by half if, Michel, you and I go

MARTIN: Youd have to explain what that is, Im afraid, as briefly as you can.

Mr. WINTERS: The Caps Amendment, the congresswoman was saying that that actually extended Hyde to the health care and it didnt. The Caps Amendment says, well, the public subsidies will be kept separate from the individuals own money to pay for the same plan. But if you and I go out for pizza and I give you $10 and you pay $10 dollars of your own, Im not buying the cheese or the crust. What the Church is saying is abortion in that analogy would be like an add on, like a pepperoni, and youve got to pay your own $2 by using these riders and you are free to do so under the Stupak Amendment.

MARTIN: And - Im sorry, I have just one more point that I have to get to before we let you go and that is the question that weve been asking everybody who weve - the lawmakers particularly who are involved in this debate, were asking, whats your bottom line? And the question for, as you heard Diana DeGette say, that she is not willing to vote for a bill that, in her view, takes the Hyde Amendment too far.

And at the end of the day, health care reform, even if it means some form of subsidies for abortions would benefit millions of Americans and the Catholic Church has been deeply concerned about the lack of health coverage for these millions of Americans who dont have it. Are they willing to see the bill die rather than go forward with this language - without this language, forgive me.

Mr. WINTERS: I would say this, I think, you know, and certainly President Obama has to know that if all of the Stupak language goes that he is imperiling all of his outreach to moderist, centrist, pro-life and Catholic voters that hes worked very, very hard on. I think theres one part of Stupak that needs to be clarified, which is this issue of the riders.

And I suspect if they were to add additional language that insists one of the plans not available for public subsidies, but one of the plans in these exchanges must cover abortion or must have a rider so that it is absolutely available for a women who is paying with her own money, I think that may be the final compromise. But on the issue of federal - of the public option but also federally-subsidized plans, thats a deal breaker.

MARTIN: Michael Sean Winters writes a daily political blog for the largest circulation Catholic weekly magazine, America. He was kind enough to join us from KCUR in Kansas City. Mr. Michael Sean, always good to hear from you.

Mr. WINTERS: Have a good day, Michel.

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