The passage of a health reform bill in the U.S. House of Representatives last weekend represented classic political compromise: among the crucial bloc of Democrats, each side got a bit of what it wanted, and everybody held their nose. Congressional pro-lifers, representatives of the U.S. Bishops Conference and others worked until the House approved a bill that would extend health care to 96 percent of Americans who do not now have it.
Catholics need not agree with the bill’s provisions to feel a sense of pride that the Church had a voice at the table and used it to positive effect when discussion on the bill concluded. That presence and a call last weekend for Catholic parish pastors and faithful to keep the pressure on lawmakers to deny funding for abortion in the effort to reform health care paid off.
Thanks to an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and supported by Chester County’s own Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), the bill ensures that no federal funds will be used for abortions. The amendment was considered the key to passing the bill.
The Church’s influence on this issue was significant. It resulted in a bill that met to some degree the U.S. Bishops’ goals of expanding affordable health care to all Americans and limiting the expansion of abortion. The bill remains problematic, such as a lack of conscience protection for health care workers and no provision for health care for immigrants.
The Senate will tackle these issues and more as it debates its own health care reform bill. Catholics should call upon Pennsylvania’s Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey Jr. to include a pro-life amendment to the Senate bill at least as strong as the House bill. Assuming such a bill passes, it’s on to a committee to rectify differences in the two bills.
That’s when it will be essential for lawmakers to resist “horse trading” provisions like the Stupak Amendment (excluding it to gain the support a political bloc) in seeking agreement on a compromise bill between the two chambers, and proceed to a final vote. Much advocacy work remains for Catholics and all Americans of good will as development of health care policy reaches its climactic stage.
Adequate health care is the right of every person in America but a reformed system must be both affordable and not expand abortion. Rather, legislation must reflect the vision of the human person – in every stage of life – as possessing a God-given life and dignity deserving of the proper care that each person is due.