Steve Schneck, a policy analyst at Catholic University of America, has posted a thoughtful narrative of his involvement with the House and Senate health insurance reform bills in the comments section of a post I placed over at Mirror of Justice. Because it seems apt to be of interest to our RLL readers as well, I add it here as a post in its own right.
I thought it might be useful to recount how I came to support this bill. And, let me say in advance, that despite some of my friends including my name among “Catholic leaders,” my role has been very limited.
I am, though, strongly pro-life. I’m a regular at Washington’s January marches for life. I continue to advocate for overturning Roe. Moreover, I’ve been a supporter for just about every policy proposal to limit access to abortion. Despite my support for other aspects of the Obama administration, very early on I spoke publicly against its Mexico City reversal and against its handling of stem cell policies. At the same time, for me, being pro-life extends far beyond abortion to incorporate the whole of Catholic moral and social teachings.
It’s in the latter sense that I have also been a lifelong advocate for comprehensive health care for America. I see this as a moral imperative. In my estimation the failure of our society to provide for the health care needs of so many of our brethren reflects the same anti-life values behind abortion. And, I do believe—albeit without sufficient data—that comprehensive health care would reduce abortion rates.
It was in this spirit that I was an early advocate for the administration’s plan to move health care legislation. When the first bills began to be hammered out last spring, however, I was dismayed. Despite pledges by all sides that the legislation would respect Hyde, all five of the initial bills (two in the Senate and three in the House) fell short of the spirit of Hyde. With many other pro-life advocates I objected loudly. In response to our concerns, on the House side (in the circle around Henry Waxman) language was crafted to separate federal funding from abortion. It was introduced by Lois Capps and came to be called the Capps amendment.
Despite being a good faith effort, in fact the Capps language allowed significant mingling of federal funds in the exchanges that permitted abortions. This was unacceptable to me and in print and media I spoke out in opposition to the Capps amendment, working with others against it.
It was about at this time that nineteen pro-life Democrats in the House went public with a declaration that they would not vote for a bill that included such mingling. Along with Kristen Day of Democrats for Life and several other pro-life progressives I went public with my praise and support for these courageous nineteen Democrats. Among the nineteen was Bart Stupak, who was something of the leader among the group. Over the next few months, I did a few radio shows and media interviews defending and promoting Stupak’s efforts.
When these pro-life Democrats ultimately succeeded in forcing the House to amend its version of the health care legislation to respect Hyde by forbidding insurance coverage of any abortions (with the usual exceptions) in the exchanges. I rejoiced and celebrated this tremendous victory, again in print and in media interviews.
As the legislative ball moved to the Senate side, however, things began to look dire for pro-life concerns and I feared that I might not be able to support the legislation. Stupak’s language, (introduced by Democratic Sens. Casey and Nelson, and the Republican Hatch) failed overwhelmingly, with even many Republicans voting against it. But taking advantage of the need for sixty votes, tough negotiations by Nelson and especially Casey pushed back against their own leadership for hard won pro-life changes to the bill. In November, Casey crafted a new mechanism for segregating federal funds from abortion in the exchanges that required rigorous accounting mechanisms and even separately written “abortion checks” so that all abortion coverage would be paid not by federal dollars but privately and out of pocket. And, thanks to Nelson, states were given the opportunity to opt out of offering any abortion coverage in their respective exchanges. I still preferred Stupak’s approach for incorporating Hyde, but saw some legitimacy in the Casey-Nelson approach. What did win me over to the Senate bill, though, was what else Casey and friends achieved. They used their leverage to write into the Senate bill all the key provisions of the Pregnant Women Support Act, which puts in place a ton of money to encourage at risk women to carry their babies to term and provided generous incentives for adoption. Coupled with the Senate bill’s greater largess to the health care needs of the poorest of the poor, I concluded that Senate bill was more pro-life than the House bill. I endorsed it at that time and beginning in early December began to speak publicly on its behalf.
Throughout my engagement with this legislative effort, pro-life advocates negotiated and contested stridently with pro-choice advocates. Anyone who has ever worked in Washington’s policy-making can imagine how tough this was. I was continually struck, however, with the sensitivity that the administration evidenced for the concerns of the pro-life side in regard to this legislation. In my encounters with administration people working on this legislation, I found them to be very seriously attentive to my pro-life concerns, even when we disagreed.
This is probably much more than any of us want to hear about the pro-life history of this legislation. I offer this level of detail, frankly, in an effort to allay the questions of integrity that have been raised. As I said at the outset, the moral questions at issue here are very difficult and not to be taken lightly. I utterly respect any fellow pro-lifer who comes to a different determination.
I thank Bob for this wonderful site and wish very best wishes to you all!