That the House of Representatives managed not to fund abortions while passing the new health-care bill is the good news. That it managed to pass the health-care bill without funding abortion is the bad news, too. In an odd way, it’s maybe even worse news than if the leading Democrats in the House had succeeded at including abortion funding, which is clearly what they wanted to do.
Planned Parenthood and NARAL both screamed at the passing of the Democratic pro-life Congressman Bart Stupak’s amendment, insisting that it would strip women of health care—though, in fact, federal funding of abortions was something the health-care bill would have created. How, in the Age of Obama, could there exist a pro-life majority in the Congress of the United States? The nefarious Catholics must be behind the sixty-four Democrats who joined the Republicans in passing the amendment. “One thing is clear,” fumed an abortion group, “The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) apparently is running the US government.”
Back on less insane ground, the Republicans faced a problem with the Stupak Amendment: Support it, and thereby give cover for pro-life Democrats to vote for the final bill? Or oppose it, and thereby chance federal funding for abortion in the final bill—while giving the Democrats a talking-point about Republican hypocrisy? In the end, only one Republican voted “Present,” with the rest voting for the amendment, and it passed.
The question, of course, is why it passed. Why did Pelosi allow Stupak’s amendment to come to the floor? She had streams of representatives through her office on Friday and Saturday demanding that she not allow it a vote, but she added up her chances, and she decided that she needed the pro-life Democrats to support the final bill.
Of course, what kind of Democratic bill is it, if it doesn’t include funding for abortion?
The answer is the reason this bill should never have been passed—the reason that all of us must urge our senators to stop this kind of health-care reform in the Senate. For if the sheer passage of the bill was all that was needed, even without abortion coverage, then the bill was never a serious bill to begin with. Or, at least, it was never serious about its actual content. The desire was, rather, to pass something—to create the Federal bureaucracy that would eventually create all the rest of the pieces of a socialized medical system.
There has been some backlash against Stupak’s amendment already. The Washington Post reported this morning that “Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said she has collected more than 40 signatures from House Democrats vowing to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment—enough to block passage.” The Democrats in the Senate are, generally, less pro-life than the Democrats in the House, but the entire bill is going to prove harder to move through the Senate, which operates under more constraints. If, however, the Senate manages to pass something, it may well include abortion funding—which would allow the reconciliation process to strip out the Stupak Amendment. Either way Pelosi may have a problem, getting a reconciled bill through a second House vote.
Except that she won’t. The point was never to get everything they wanted in the bill. The point was to pass a bill that would grow in time to include everything they want.
Why is the United States doing this? Why are we trying to create a bureaucracy with a $3 trillion price tag, at a time of deep financial trouble? Why are we aiming at governmental management of a huge sector of the American economy at a time when the government is proving itself incompetent to manage the American economy? And why are we giving the culture of Washington new powers of life and death—making ourselves “God’s Partners,” in President Obama’s language—at a time when that culture has proved itself so vague and so deluded about all the issues of life and death that have come before it: war, and embryos, and the unborn, and the weak, and the vulnerable?
That the health-care system in the United States is inequitable seems undeniable. That it is amazingly innovative and robust is also undeniable. The great goal of competent government would be to cure the one and preserve the other. The bill the House of Representatives passed this weekend will do neither.
Tell your senator to stop this now.
Joseph Bottum is editor of First Things.