Stupak Is Back, But Moderate Catholic Group Says His Amendment “Goes Too Far”

Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat best known for insisting on the inclusion of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops-approved abortion restriction in the House health care bill, is back on a media blitz, insisting he has enough Democratic allies in the House to kill the health care reform proposal headed for reconciliation because it insufficiently restricts abortion.

But a Catholic group that in the past has allied itself with the teachings of the church hierarchy opposes Stupak’s efforts to derail health care reform over the abortion issue. Catholics United, an advocacy group founded in 2004 “to promote the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 2003 document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” has launched a campaign to urge the bishops to support the bill. 

The bill being finalized by Democratic leaders includes the abortion amendment included in the Senate version of the bill passed in December, insisted upon by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Although widely thought to be less restrictive than the Stupak amendment, it could, over time, cause insurance companies to not cover abortion services, according to Sara Rosenbaum, Chair of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University.

In a statement released yesterday, Planned Parenthood Federation of American president Cecile Richards called on Congress to “fix the Nelson provision as part of health care reform and guarantee that reform will not result in women losing benefits they currently have” and to “ensure that the Stupak ban will not be enacted through any legislative bill or amendment related to health care reform or any other legislative or regulatory vehicle.”

Although Nelson’s amendment was intended to appease anti-abortion activists, including the Catholic bishops, the USCCB remains opposed to it, claiming in a bulletin insert sent to 19,000 parishes in December that the Senate bill “requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions through a separate payment solely to pay for abortion.”

Stupak told The Hill yesterday and reiterated on Good Morning America today that there are 12 other House Democrats who voted for the House bill with his abortion language but will not vote for a bill with the Nelson language.

The Stop the Abortion Mandate coalition, a group of about 40 anti-choice groups, most of which also oppose health care reform, sent an email to followers this morning declaring, “this is the BIG ONE. Everything we’ve been working for comes down to this moment.” The email claimed, without basis, that the bill “includes government funding of abortion” and “would result in the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.”

Chris Korzen, Catholics United’s executive director, told me this morning, “The fact that many on the pro-life side are opposing Nelson language suggests that they’re not really serious about finding a workable solution.” Even though Catholics United believes that the Nelson language also goes too far in restricting abortion coverage, Korzen added, “I understand that can’t be addressed through [reconciliation] so it’s probably not worth holding up health care reform over.”

Korzen said a survey of Catholics United members showed 48% of them believed the Nelson amendment goes too far in restricting abortion. A survey conducted earlier this year by Catholics for Choice showed that majorities of Catholics in the districts of four pro-Stupak amendment Democrats actually favored covering abortion in health care reform.