Trying to persuade usually pro-life Democratic Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to back Obamacare, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey offered a so-called compromise on abortion funding that Nelson initially rejected. But liberal evangelicals and Catholics who profess to be pro-life publicly endorsed the Casey compromise as a "way forward" and are urging "all other pro-life people of good will to give it the careful consideration it deserves."
Nelson later accepted a somewhat different compromise allowing states to opt out of abortion coverage. Undoubtedly this religious coalition will heartily back this new deal as the price for advancing Obamacare, while more stalwart pro-lifers will point out that it still undermines the 33 year restriction against federal funding for abortion.
Obamacare, in any form, has become such a totem for many religionists that they are straining to embrace almost accommodation to ensure passage.
In contrast, National Right to Life and the U.S. Catholic Bishops quickly rejected the Casey language for failing specifically to prohibit government funded abortions in any health care legislation. "Senator Casey's good-faith effort to allow individuals to 'opt out' of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy," warned Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities. "Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm. In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm."
Objections by the Catholic bishops to the Casey compromise almost certainly will apply to what Nelson has now accepted. But professing pro-life liberal evangelicals and Catholics in their December 18 declaration evidently were undisturbed by these warnings by the Catholic bishops and NRLC.
"As Christian leaders moved by our faith to protect life at all stages, we applaud Sen. Robert Casey's efforts to ensure that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prohibits federal funding of abortion, ensures conscience protections, and provides funding for long-needed support for pregnant women and children," some 3 dozen pastors, theologians and activists fulsomely opined in a letter. "We believe that with this direction, Congress is closer than ever to reforming an unjust healthcare system that for too long has cost too much while delivering too little."
The liberal Christians accepted the claims by Casey and others that his proposal would ensure that "no federal funds pay for abortions in any way; and no premium dollars from individuals who opt out of abortion coverage will be used to fund abortions." They also "enthusiastically" praised Casey's proposed adoption tax credit and new federal funds for "children, pregnant women and parenting teens and college students." They additionally insisted that expanding health insurance would "very likely" reduce abortions. It's no surprise that these liberal religionists like Casey's additional social spending. Church activists who favor Obamacare typically argue that an enlarged welfare state, a cherished goal in itself, will mystically reduce abortions without the nuisance of specific prohibitions.
Evangelical signers include leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), though not the NAE itself, such as Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Christianity Today editor David Neff, and immigration activist Samuel Rodriguez. Others are Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Emerging Church guru Brian McLaren, along with NAE's controversial former spokesman and Global Warming activist Richard Cizik, now employed by George Soros' Open Society Institute. Critics of U.S. "torture" policies David Gushee of Mercer University and Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary, also signed. Sojourners activist Jim Wallis is apparently a signer too.
Catholic signers include Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine Law School and Obama's nominated ambassador to Malta, Simone Campbell of NETWORK, a liberal Catholic activist group, Sister Marlene Weisenbeck of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and numerous academics from Fordham, Notre Dame, Catholic University and Boston College among others. The Catholic Health Association also endorsed it.
On his website, Senator Casey boasted of the religious endorsements. "We have worked long and hard to develop meaningful language that would meet the requirements of long-standing prohibitions on federal funding of abortion and apply it to the new structures created in health care reform," he said. Having voted for Senator Nelson's failed attempt to specifically prohibit abortion funding, Casey was "determined not to give up, but to find another way." Casey and his religious supporters asserted that federal funding of abortion under Obamacare, would be avoided by "segregation of private premium funds from federal taxpayer subsidies, with segregation of funds conducted by insurance companies which will have annual audits." The Catholic bishops, National Right to Life, and Senator Nelson--prior to his Saturday reversal--have described this segregation, which is part of the new compromise, as largely a fiction to facilitate at least indirect government support for abortion.
A group of Nebraskan clergy has also urged Senator Nelson to back the Casey proposal. Nelson is a United Methodist, and his denomination's lobby office on Capitol Hill strongly supports government funded abortions. There's little evidence that Nelson pays them any heed, and instead he reportedly consulted the Catholic bishops about his own attempted prohibition on abortion funding in Obamacare. Clearly Nelson was not consulting the bishops when accepting the December 19 proposal offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Maybe the liberal evangelicals and Catholics backing the Casey proposal helped grease the way for Nelson's eventual compromise on abortion and support for moving Obamacare forward in the Senate. At very least, their activism illustrates that some professing pro-life religionists seem to prioritize passage of any government health care plan over robust legislative protections against government funded abortions.
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church.