Activists and politicians opposed to reproductive choice and for extending the Hyde Amendment to ensure that not one fraction of one penny of taxpayer money might go to pay a premium to an insurance company that might cover someone’s abortion have claimed that it’s the voters who demand such stringency: they are opposed to abortion and opposed to paying for anyone else’s. The argument has been great cover for representatives voting for the Stupak amendment (or holding out for something similar in the Senate) when in fact it’s religious activists like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Stop the Abortion Mandate who have been applying the pressure.
Now Catholics for Choice — which for months has been contesting the notion that rank and file Catholics agree with the bishops on this issue — has released a poll from four Congressional districts represented by Democrats who voted for the Stupak amendment. The results: their constituents are not opposed to funding abortion in health care reform.
According to an analysis by CFC:
The polling, taken in the districts of Maine’s 2nd (Michael Michaud), Ohio’s 9th (Marcy Kaptur), Pennsylvania’s 14th (Mike Doyle) and Texas’ 16th (Silvestre Reyes) shows that the electorate does support insurance coverage for abortion in healthcare reform. When combined with those who either support direct federal coverage or private coverage that would be included in federal plans, majorities in Pennsylvania (69%), Maine (61%), Ohio (56%) and Texas (51%) favor making abortion coverage available in a government-subsidized health insurance plan.
The American electorate wants their representatives to listen to them, not to the Catholic bishops. Majorities in three of the four districts: Maine (61%), Pennsylvania (55%) and Ohio (54%), oppose the Catholic bishop in their area having much of an influence on how their member of Congress votes on healthcare reform. Only in Texas does a slim majority want the local bishop to have much influence (51%).
CFC’s president, Jon O’Brien, told me yesterday that he sees a “huge gap between decisions people in the Democratic Party are making and where voters are,” adding that these new polls “reaffirm” the organization’s earlier polling showing the Bishops out of step with rank and file Catholics.
“The role that the bishops are playing is not a role Americans feel comfortable with,” said O’Brien. “The bishops have influence because people in power allow them to have that influence . . . . it’s unbelievable that politicians would be held hostage by one group of religious leaders that don’t actually have backing of their own bloc.”
The fate of abortion funding in the final bill remains unclear as members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership meet this week to try to harmonize the two bills. While the pro- and anti-choice camps are at loggerheads over the Stupak amendment that ended up in the House bill, neither camp likes the Nelson-Casey compromise in the Senate bill (with anti-choicers taking to the Washington Times today to reiterate how the amendment is a “betrayal” and a “phony compromise”). While the pro-choice argument against the Nelson-Casey compromise is less compelling than its argument against Stupak-Pitts (essentially contending that writing a regular premium check and a separate one for abortion coverage is cumbersome), there is evidence that such a scheme would over time create a system that, over time would be no different from Stupak: shrinking to zero insurance coverage for abortion for women needing federal subsidies to buy insurance, or covered by any (currently theoretical) public option.