Jesus Christ entered the world in human flesh as a babe in a manger, the ultimate display of humility, innocence, and dependence. His incarnation was made possible by the consent of his earthly mother, who, facing a most unexpected crisis pregnancy, said “yes” nonetheless, and, in turn, risked not only public humiliation but public stoning. It is a most blessed example of selflessness.
Most Christians spent the Christmas season celebrating this mystery. But some spent it pushing for the inclusion of taxpayer funding of abortion in the “health care reform” bill advanced through the Congress by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and President Barack Obama. Sadly, all of this was made possible on November 4, 2008 when a decisive majority of Catholic voters gave Obama the margin of victory he needed to win the presidency.
The difficulty with the abortion question in this debate—as emphasized repeatedly by Americans United for Life—is that unless approved amendments (to approved health care bills) are introduced that explicitly forbid abortion funding, courts at the local level will mandate the funding, regardless of what language is contained in the bills. Because of that, an amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives, the Stupak- Pitts amendment, to prohibit abortion funding in the health care reform package approved by the House. It passed comfortably on November 8, by a vote of 240-194.
As this article is being written, it is not entirely clear where all of this is ultimately headed. But this much is abundantly clear: certain Christian groups have been nothing short of abominable on this issue. In October, as Catholics marked Sanctity of Life month and honored the Blessed Virgin Mary, a coalition of mainline Protestant clergy operating under the umbrella of an organization called the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing—which represents 4,800 clergy— signed a letter urging Congress to include abortion funding in its health care reform. The letter deemed abortion a “morally justifiable decision,” and adamantly rejected any proposed House or Senate amendments to prohibit funding.
The Rev. Debra Hafner, executive director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, complained that federal policy already “unfairly prevents low-income women and federal employees from receiving subsidized” abortions. This was a reference to the Hyde amendment, named for the late Representative Henry Hyde (R-Il.), a committed Catholic, which has long spared American taxpayers the ignominy of funding abortion. Yet, in the minds of Hafner and her colleagues, this has long been an injustice. They were hoping that the Democrats would abolish the Hyde amendment, at long last bringing fairness and compassion to the American health care system. As Hafner and the endorsers to the Religious Institute letter stated, more “bans” and “restrictions” on abortion funding would constitute a “serious moral injustice.”
Taking their argument to a theological level, the signers of the letter declared that abortion is a moral decision based on free will and respect for the dignity of women: “We affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right, and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a “prochoice Catholic,” often makes this same argument. “To me it isn’t even a question,” she says of her “pro-choice” position: “God has given us a free will.”
The clergy that signed this letter came from a wide swath of religious denominations—roughly 40 in total. They hailed from the American Baptist Churches, the Church of the Brethren, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Methodist Church, among many others.
In this particular statement, the clergy represented themselves and not their denominations (at least not formally). In other instances, however, denominations came forward with statements. Some of these statements have been clear, whereas others have been difficult to dissect, if not outright deceptive.
An example of a clear statement was a November 9 joint declaration by religious leaders who were livid over the passing of the Stupak-Pitts amendment. “We come together to condemn the passage of the Stupak amendment,” said the statement, “which if passed by the Senate will effectively deny coverage for abortion services to women covered by the new federal health care plan.”
The statement was signed by Rev. Ignacio Castuera, the “national chaplain” of Planned Parenthood; by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice; by Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and by Rev. Debra Hafner of the Religious Institute. This statement, which the signers claimed represented over 10,000 clergy, resolved:
We are appalled that religious leaders intervened to impose their specific religious doctrine into health care reform, not recognizing that women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith in making the decision as to whether or not abortion is appropriate in their specific circumstances. Further, we decry those who sought to use abortion as a way to scuttle much needed health care reform. We call on the president and the United States Senate to ensure that the final bill that passes does not include any specific prohibition on the use of federal funds for reproductive health care services. We pray for a renewed commitment to relational and reproductive justice for all.
Similar statements from other groups followed, ranging in their levels of ferocity and mendacity. One particularly troubling assertion came from Barack Obama’s denomination, the United Church of Christ, which has over 5,300 churches throughout America, including that of his former longtime pastor, the incendiary Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On December 7, the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries, speaking for the denomination, released a statement called “Choice for Everyone,” authored by Executive Minister Linda Jaramillo.
“Just when I thought there was a glimmer of hope for women to really have equal rights in America,” vented Jaramillo, “backroom politics once again favors those who make decisions ‘for women’ rather than ‘with women.’” In America, complained Jaramillo, we might “tout the rhetoric of self-determination,” but “self-determination does not seem to play for anyone but the rich and powerful.”
“Sadly,” she said, “Congressmen Stupak and Pitts persuaded the House that the only way to pass the health care reform bill was to limit women’s access to reproductive services. These two men from Michigan and Pennsylvania used a narrow religious moral argument to convince their colleagues.” Jaramillo’s UCC statement affirmed: “The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has for 40 years supported the full range of reproductive health care for women, including access to abortion. And yet, once again, women’s health and well-being have been compromised away in the halls of Congress.”
This blowback against the Stupak- Pitts amendment in the House played out again when health care reform went to the Senate, where an amendment by Ben Nelson of Nebraska was introduced to attempt to prevent abortion funding from inclusion in its version of the bill. This time, the opposition from the “pro-choice” religious groups was much more deceptive. The drafters of the various statements often opted for confusing press releases rather than blatantly transparent tirades.
One such statement was released on December 4, posted at the website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization that
has long supported the most insidious forms of legalized abortion. The release was titled, “Religious Denominations Support Maintaining the Status Quo on Abortion in Healthcare Reform.”
It was signed by 13 religious organizations, including: Catholics for Choice, the Episcopal Church, the Religious Institute, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Presbyterian Church USA’s Washington Office (the public policy and advocacy office of the general assembly of PCUSA), the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society (the political arm of the church), the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
In essence, it rejected the Nelson amendment and the Stupak-Pitts amendment, but claimed to support the “abortion neutral” Senate bill, arguing that passage of a Senate amendment similar to the House amendment “would result in women losing health coverage.” It claimed that the current Senate bill “includes compromise language that maintains current law, prohibiting federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services.”
As previously noted, however, unless amendments are passed that explicitly forbid this funding, the funding will be ultimately mandated. In fact, supporters of the Nelson amendment, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), correctly noted that the current health care bill might seem (to some) to have “language that looks like it is protective [against abortion funding], but it is not. That’s what we’re trying to do, is close the loophole in that language, and get it so that we live up to the Hyde amendment, which has been in the law since 1977.” Likewise, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) insisted: “Make no mistake about it, the Reid bill will allow federal tax dollars to be used to fund abortions.”
And that’s exactly how these religious groups hoped the legislation would turn out. In the past, they spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” But the truth is they seek much more than that. They want all Americans to pay for it.
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