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The USCCB gambit on health care

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 14, 2009

 Last week, in response to President Obama's speech on health-care reform, Richard Doerflinger-- a veteran staff member for the US bishops' pro-life committee-- said:

We especially welcome the President’s commitment to exclude federal funding of abortion, and to maintain existing federal laws protecting conscience rights in health care.

But if you read the President's speech carefully, you'll notice that the relevant section did not make any commitment. On the contrary, Obama was addressing what he described as misconceptions about the legislation that's now being considered:

One more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.

In context, then, President Obama didn't seem to be promising to exclude abortion funding from his health-care package; he seemed to be claiming that it was already excluded-- which, in fact, it isn't.

In comments to the Catholic News Agency, Doerflinger acknowledged that the legislation on the table includes funding for abortion; he indicated that he hopes Obama will call for changes before the bill comes up for a vote. "We have to wait and see what is actually in the bill before judging whether we agree," he told CNA.

President Obama, in his televised speech, never actually specified what specific piece of legislation-- if any-- he was defending. Although Obama referred to "our plan," no White House plan has been unveiled. So maybe the President's plan will differ from the legislation now pending in Congress. Then again, maybe not.

Richard Doerflinger is a solid citizen, widely respected among pro-life activists in DC. But he's playing a dangerous game here. If the White House is ready to propose amendments to existing legislation, and if the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill will accept those amendments, then maybe the US bishops' conference can hope to derail the plans for abortion funding. But if the White House and/or the Democratic majority push forward with the existing legislation, Doerflinger's words will be cited to justify Catholic acceptance of an unacceptable program.

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  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Oct. 09, 2009 9:42 PM ET USA

    Doug Johnson's observations (Nat'l Right to Life Committee) that the Obama backed House bill would explicitly authorize the federal government insurance plan to pay for elective abortions belies the President's rhetoric. Did not the House vote to reject an anti-abortion amendment to the federal health plan? Given President Obama's strong abortion credentials and the support of Congress for abortion services it is difficult to believe that abortion coverage will not be part of the nat'l h-plan.

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