Will A Methodist Hold Up Health Care for the Catholic Bishops?

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), a Methodist, reportedly sought the stamp of approval of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for his anti-abortion amendment to the Senate health care bill. Although the amendment, which mirrors the Stupak-Pitts amendment on the House side, is unlikely to pass the Senate, Nelson says he won’t vote to end debate on the bill if his amendment isn’t included. That means that Majority Leader Harry Reid will need the assistance of at least one Republican to obtain the 60 votes he needs for cloture, or ending debate (and that’s assuming that all other Democrats vote the party line).

Nelson is expected to introduce his amendment today, and the vote on it will likely be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Meanwhile, 13 religious organizations have written an open letter urging the Senate to “maintain the status quo” with regard to abortion funding in health care reform. Catholics for Choice, Disciples Justice Action Center, The Episcopal Church, Jewish Women International, NA’AMAT USA, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The Religious Institute, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, the United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society, and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations all signed the letter — highlighting that if Congress were to yield to the wishes of the USCCB, it would be enshrining one religious ideology into law, favoring one over many others.

The letter reads, in part:

Unfortunately, the House-passed version of health reform includes language that imposes significant new restrictions on access to abortion services. This provision would result in women losing health coverage they currently have, an unfortunate contradiction to the basic guiding principle of health care reform . . . . Providing affordable, accessible health care to all Americans is a moral imperative that unites Americans of many faith traditions. The selective withdrawal of critical health coverage from women is both a violation of this imperative and a betrayal of the public good.

The use of this legislation to advance new restrictions on abortion services that surpass those in current law will serve only to derail this important bill. The Senate bill is already abortion neutral, an appropriate reflection of the fact that it is intended to serve Americans of many diverse religious and moral views. The bill includes compromise language that maintains current law, prohibiting federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services, while still allowing women the option to use their own private funds to pay for abortion care.  American families should have the opportunity to choose health coverage that reflects their own values and medical needs, a principle that should not be sacrificed in service of any political agenda.

In a full page ad in the Washington Post last week, Catholics for Choice highlighted what health care would look like if the USCCB has its way, citing Catholic doctrinal statements: no abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, no in vitro fertilization, and no contraception. The bishops wrote the law on the House side, although it doesn’t look like they’ll succeed on the Senate side. But if their pressure on Nelson prevents a bill from passing at all, the “seamless garment” sure will have a lot of holes.

UPDATE: Nelson has filed his amendment (co-sponsored by several Republicans and Democrat Bob Casey, who has said he will vote for a final bill even without it).

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