A Critical Test for DemocratsCOLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL
Critics of Obamacare have argued that the Democratic Party's health care reform plan is a stalking horse for socialized medicine and taxpayer-funded abortion.
By supporting an amendment to the House health care bill that bars the use of federal funds for insurance coverage of abortion, moderate Democrats have given their party leaders a perfect opportunity to refute the second part of that claim -- if only those leaders would take it.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and supported by 174 Republicans and 64 Democrats, was a late addition to the sweeping House health care bill that narrowly passed Saturday night -- an addition without which that bill may not have passed. The principle behind the Stupak amendment is simple: Abortion is not health care, and taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize it as such.
That principle enjoys strong public support. According to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, nearly half of Americans believe that any government-subsidized health care plan should be prohibited from covering abortions, while only 13 percent believe such plans should be required to cover abortions.
Those numbers reflect a larger national shift toward pro-life attitudes in recent years, one that has propelled many moderate, pro-life Democrats to office despite the abortion-rights orthodoxy that reigns in their party's leadership ranks. A Gallup Poll taken in May found that, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, a majority of Americans now identify themselves as "pro-life" rather than "pro-choice."
The House Democrats who joined Republicans in supporting the Stupak amendment have been paying attention to such polls and to constituents who do not want to see their tax dollars paying for other people's abortions. In pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow a vote on the amendment and threatening to reject the House health care bill without it, these moderates fulfilled their campaign promises to seek reasonable solutions to contentious cultural issues.
The Stupak amendment is, after all, a modest measure. Its ban on the use of federal funds for abortion coverage applies to the government-run plan, or "public option," and to insurers who sell plans through a proposed health insurance exchange. Consumers still may purchase abortion coverage as long as no federal subsidies or Medicaid matching funds are used. And the funding restrictions do not apply to abortions performed in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Even these minimal limits have incensed the Democratic Party's powerful abortion lobby. After months of lecturing Americans about the vital need for this health care legislation while publicly downplaying the abortion angle, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Organization for Women have declared their opposition to the health care bill because of the amendment. Obama, who said earlier that Americans should "not get distracted" by concern about abortion funding when contemplating his health care plan, now says that the very amendment that removes that distraction needs "more work" -- an indication that he aims to fulfill his 2007 pledge to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund to put "reproductive care ... at the heart of the plan that I propose" for health care. Meanwhile, some 40 Democratic lawmakers are threatening to torpedo the health care legislation they once championed if the Stupak amendment survives.
The looming Senate debate over abortion funding will force Democratic leaders to decide which they value more: the creation of a big-tent party that welcomes moderates and respects the concerns of America's burgeoning pro-life majority or the appeasement of a small band of ideologues who consider abortion funding the party's top legislative goal. Party leaders may not be grateful to the moderates who backed the Stupak amendment, but voters who want to know the truth about the party's priorities should be.
Colleen Carroll Campbell. "A Critical Test for Democrats." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (November 12, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.
Copyright © 2009 Colleen Carroll Campbell
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