Obama: There Is A Tradition of No Public Funding of Abortions

Obama has finally weighed in on the abortion funding controversy in an interview with Katie Couric:

Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?

President Obama: What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we’re still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

Winters on Gibbs

Michael Sean Winters on the recent statement made by Obama Administration spokeperson Robert Gibbs “that decisions on specific benefits such as abortion coverage should be ‘left to medical experts in the field,’ referring to a proposed advisory board that would recommend minimum levels of coverage for private insurers”:

The White House should insist that health care reform not be used as a vehicle for the pro-life or for the pro-choice groups to advance their agendas. Health care reform should be abortion-neutral, neither making the procedure more available nor more difficult to procure. Beset by arguments about how to save costs, how to pay for the overhaul, and all the various other aspects of the complicated reform effort, the last thing those who favor reform need is a debate about abortion which brings such powerful passions into play.

There is an easy way to achieve this. Policies that are to receive federal subsidies can’t provide abortion services in their basic policies but the consumer who is selecting the policy and receiving the subsidy can, with his or her own money, get a “rider” to the policy that covers abortion. This way, no federal dollars will be used for procuring insurance that covers abortion services and no woman would be in a different situation from the situation she is in currently. The federal option, if it passes, could follow a similar path of using “out-of-pocket” riders for abortion coverage.

Those on Capitol Hill who think they can hoodwink us with a “board of medical experts” should understand that many of us Catholics who voted for Democratic congressional candidates and for Barack Obama did so because we believed the party as a whole was becoming more sensitive to our concern that, despite the clear wording of the text, Roe has created an “abortion-on-demand” legal regime in this country. We responded to candidate Obama’s call for a reduction in the abortion rate through non-coercive policies of support for women facing crisis pregnancies. We cheered, and some of us cried, when pro-life Sen. Bob Casey, unlike his father, was permitted to address the Democratic National Convention. All that good will goes out the window if the Congress and the White House try to skate around the Hyde Amendment. It would be a cruel irony if, having supported efforts to achieve universal health insurance together since the 1940s, the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church would be prevented from working together at this moment because pro-choice lobbyists want to use health care reform as a vehicle for expanding abortion.

Building a Culture of Life without Overturning Roe?

Evangelical Catholicism has a post asking the following question:

if our legal system, that is based on the common law model that relies heavily on precedence, has ratified the “right to privacy” as constitutional twice (Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey), then what are our realistic solutions to overturn abortion rights in this legal framework? In other words, if an abortion case were to be heard by the Supreme court and a majority were to ignore the preceding decisions on the matter and overturn Roe v. Wade, how can the majority of justices justify their decision? Or instead of overturning Roe v. Wade, how could they (given the preceding decisions) push the decision on state courts?

My first thought is that there is no possibility for creating a legal regime that protects fetal life unless Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overturned.  The Supreme Court’s holdings in those cases effectively preclude legal restrictions on almost all abortions.  So, the prolife movement must necessarily be committed to overturning those decisions, either by constitutional amendment or by having the Supreme Court reverse itself in some future decision – the principle of stare decisis notwithstanding.  (There is nothing improper or even unusual about the Supreme Court reversing istelf and overturning its own prior decision).

But on further reflection, although I certainly think that the prolife movement should seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there is a great deal more room to make progress even without constitutional change. 

The trick is to understand the goal of the prolife movement  to be broader than merely prohibiting abortion, but includes changing laws and institutions that discourage women from carrying unintended pregnancies to term.  Unlike prohibiting abortion, there aren’t any consitutional impediments these changes. 

It is clear, for example, that some women seek abortions because they fear that they will face discrimination from employers because of their pregnancy, and others because they fear that they will be unable to combine motherhood and career.  There are changes to existing legal doctrine, as well as proposed new laws, that address these concerns.  (See this pamphlet from Femminists for Life for more info).   

Some prolifers don’t like to talk about anything other than prohibiting abortion.  They have fallen victim to  a false dilemma:  either we work to prohibit abortion or we work to encourage women to chose not have abortions by changing laws and institutions to make carrying an unintended prgnancy to term less burdensome for women.  But, of course, there is no reason why we can’t do both. 

Another reason for the reluctance of many prolifers to expand the prolife agenda to include, for example, paid family leave is that doing so will put the prolife movement into conflict with the Republican party and the conservative movement.  The contingencies of partisan politics has caused the prolife movement to unduely narrow its agenda.

Update on Labor Law Reform

The NYT is reportingthat some Democratic Senators are working on a compromise version of labor law reform that would drop card check but inlcude other measures to make organizing fairer and less coercive.  The other measures include quick elections within 5 to 10 days of filing the petition; granting access to the employer’s property to nonemployee union organizers; and a ban on captive adudience meetings, where employers require employees to attend antiunion meetings.  There is some possibility that moderate Republicans may back a compromise version of labor law reform that does not include card check. 

Labor law is incredibly screwed up, so that there is lots of room for compromising on reform while still getting major improvements.  The specific changes discussed in the NYT article, for example, are all good ideas and would improve organizing significantly. 

Quick elections in particular is almost as good as card check.  Most employer antiunion campaigns do not really get off the ground until after the union files the petition and take some time before effectively eroding union support.  With only one or two weeks for employers to campaign against the union, unions’ win rates for elections will improve dramatically. 

Access to employer property and a ban on captive audience meetings will likewise improve unions’ win rates.  A major goal of employer antiunion campaigns is to delegitimizing the union, making it appear weak and ineffective.  Employers do this, in part, by banning the union from the property while permitting its own supervisors and outside union busters to campaign against the union on the property, and by forcing employees to attend antiunion meetings where they are forced to listen to antiunion propaganda and are prohibited from defending the union.  These reforms will make it easier for unions to survive antiunion campaigns.

The NYT article is not completely clear, but it looks like the other non-card check aspects of EFCA will also still be in the compromise version.  So, there will also be greater penalties for firing union supporters and arbitration of first contracts.

Health Care Reform and Abortion

Abortion has become an issue in the healthcare reform debate.  Prolife groups are understandably concerned that healthcare reform will mean changes to the status quo regarding abortion funding.  In particular, they are concerned that there will be changes to the longstanding public policies of (1) no public funding for abortions, and (2) no requirement that private insurers pay for abortions. 

Some Democrats and liberals seem to think that the healthcare reform effort has nothing to lose from this issue:  anyone that is conservative enough to be prolife won’t be supporting healthcare reform anyway.  This is a dangerous misconception.  Using healthcare reform to change the status quo regarding abortion funding is a clear case of ideological overreach.  Opposition to public funding of abortions is much, much greater than support for bans on performing abortions, and it includes many Democrats and groups who otherwise support healthcare reform.  For example, the US Bishops’ Conference strongly supports health care reform, provided it preserves the status quo regarding abortion funding.

Support for the status quo regarding abortion funding is also strong with Congressional Democrats.  A group of five House Democrats  recently sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi urging that healthcare reform legislation preserve the status quo on abortion funding.  As the Politico story notes, nineteen House Democrats signed an earlier letter to the same effect.  Thus, there are at least nineteen Democrats in the House prepared to vote against healthcrae reform legislation that threatens to change the status quo regarding abortion funding.  In the Senate, Sen. Max Baucus, a key player in the healthcare reform negotiations, has said that the Senate version would be “neutral – status quo” regarding abortion funding. 

Some Catholic Democrats and liberals believe that the Obama Administration knows that the abortion funding issue could threaten the ultimate passage of healthcare reform and will work behind the scenes to ensure that the final legislation preserves the status quo regarding abortion funding.  Let us hope so.  However, there is reason to be concerned, and Catholics should not rely entirely on the good sense so far demonstrated by the Obama Adminsration; rather, they should let the Obama Administation and the Democratic Congressional leadership know right now that failure to address this issue will cause the healthcare reform legislation to lose Catholic support and could result in its defeat.