When All Else Fails, Play the Abortion Card

When All Else Fails, Play the Abortion Card September 28, 2007

Bush has been saying quite clearly that he would veto the bipartisan S-CHIP re-authorization bill on the grounds that it went too far, and would divert some children from private to public insurance. But, according to the National Catholic Register (NCR), Bush was really trying to stop S-CHIP from opening the abortion floodgates. Funny, if that were truly the case, you would think Bush would be trumpeting this loudly. Does the NCR know something we don’t?

Eh, no. Here’s NCR’s story: S-CHIP was founded in 1997 to provide health care to poor children, but the current re-authorization is “taking dollars from U.S. taxpayers’ paychecks and using them to pay for abortions”. In its words:

“So why is it being vetoed now? Because when the Congress changed hands in 2005, new legislators were put in charge, and they decided to make two significant changes in the S-CHIP program. First, lawmakers changed the definition of “children.” Republicans had made sure the previous S-CHIP program defined children as anyone “from conception to age 19.” That meant that pre-natal care was available to pregnant woman — for the sake of the children. The new Congress removed that definition. Second, lawmakers added “pregnancy services” to the bill. Through this program, money withheld from your paycheck for taxes could now end up in the paycheck of an abortionist living in one of 17 states.”

Conclusion: “it shows how crucially important it is that we have a pro-life president.” I kid you not, that’s the language used. A president proves his pro-life credentials by vetoing a bill to provide heath care to uninsured children.

Needless to say, the NCR is hopelessly off the mark. Here’s the real story: after S-CHIP was implemented, it became clear that, although a child born to low-income parents would receive care after birth, the mother would not receive any prenatal care. As as result, there were numerous proposals to extend S-CHIP funds to pregnant women. In 2002, the Bush administration circumvented the issue by defining a child from the moment of conception. To be sure, the pro-life lobby saw this as a direct challenge. But for others too, there were more practical considerations, the most important one being the distinction created between mother and child. The professional organizations (including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics) all favored treating the mother and the unborn child together. The were some serious grey areas: what about anesthesia during delivery? What if the mother required care after birth? It was quite clear that women were not covered for postpartum care “because they are not services for an eligible child”.

The key issue for the NCR is the proposed change in the definition of “child”, reverting to the pre-2002 standard while covering pregnant women. And since even the most ardent pro-abortion supporters acknowledged that the 2002 change has no impact on abortion, it is hard to see how undoing that change will have any effect either. For sure, both sides are playing charged political games with the definition of “child”.  I will not deny that the changing definition has a political intent: it would not be difficult to retain the definition of child from conception and also provide care for the mother. But that is largely a side show, a diversion from the issue at hand. As regards abortion, the S-CHIP rules seem particularly explicit: only “to save the life of the mother, or to terminate a pregnancy resulting from an act of rape or incest”.

It’s one thing to argue, as Richard Doerflinger did, that S-CHIP should be re-authorized, but that members of Congress should try to retain the unborn child clause. It’s another thing altogether to obfuscate and claim that a re-authorized S-CHIP would lead to a flurry of abortions, and that Bush is vetoing on these grounds. Shame on NCR for taking such liberties with the facts.

What are the Catholic organizations saying? Well, Catholic Charities is urging passage of the bill, with Fr. Larry Snyder noting that:

“It would be unconscionable if the White House and Congress weakened this valuable program- leaving millions of children without health coverage- when everyone agrees that the program works– that is wrong, and it sends the wrong message about our nation’s values… We are extremely disappointed that the president-just last week-reiterated his intent to veto this bi-partisan bill. Mr. President, we call on you to keep your promise to America’s children and sign this bill into law “

The Catholic Health Association also threw its weight behind the bipartisan compromise and urged Bush to change his mind and sign. And the Washington State Catholic Conferencealso called for the bill to be supported, as the bipartisan compromise included “many, but not all” of the components in the USCCB and Catholic Charities’ priorities.

So what’s going on here? This is an attempt to derail an important piece of social legislation by playing the abortion card. Sadly, many in the organized pro-life movement serve the role of “useful idiots” in a broader political movement more concerned with keeping the grubby hands of government away from private wealth than with supporting respect for life and human dignity. This movement seems to enjoy great success in convincing the pro-life lobby to oppose the role of the state in universal health care provision. For example, many fear single payer systems because they think it will mandate abortion. Other examples abound.

As for the most ludicrous example of all: as I noted before, the National Right to Life Committee lists opposition to government negotiation with drug companies to bring down the price of medicine as one of the main items on its agenda. They claim that the rationing of health care may foster euthanasia. I’m glad they are worried about rationing. But they have little to say about the 47 million without health insurance, the 40 percent of Americans who stayed away from a doctor in the past few years based on cost, or the fact that waiting lists are no shorter in America that in countries with universal health care. They do not seem to be aware that all insurance providers negotiate with drug companies, and the use of monopsony power to attain lower prices is standard market practice. It has nothing to do with rationing. It has everything to do with subsidizing the drug companies (it’s no surprise that person who pushed the Medicare part D bill– forbidding any such negotiation– through Congress, Billy Tauzin, resigned immediately after the passage of the bill to become head of the major trade group for pharmaceutical companies). Useful idiots, indeed.

What’s next, I wonder? Reducing carbon emissions will cause people to abort their children and kill their grandparents. Ending the war in Iraq means Al Qaeda will target American unborn children? Gun control stops a woman from protecting the child in her womb? If these examples sound ridiculous, well, that is exactly the point.


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  • Curious. If the program is works and is good. Which it may well be, why doesn’t the legislature leave it as-is, and know that it will make it past the presidents desk? I know it may seem silly to you to demand that the child be defined from conception rather than simply referring to pregnancy, but the fact of the matter is those terms are extremely important. The people who opt to get rid of the “conception” language and focus on the “pregnancy” language are people who use those terms to promote abortion “rights”. It’s very important, especially when one considers that for the “health of the pregnant mother the pregnancy must be terminated.”

    Other factors that might get it past the presidents desk are things like keeping the program restricted to poor children rather than expanding it to upper-middle class adults. I know you are aware of those genuine and legitimate concerns, MM, maybe you should fault those who would rather play politics than get legitimate assistance to poor children. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

  • It’s All a Socialist Plot

    Amen, bro. Bush’s veto of S-Chip will hand the Democrats a motherlode of amunition for next year’s election ads. As the saying goes: Republicans care about people from conception to birth and after that you’re on your own, Jack.

    “Sadly, many in the organized pro-life movement serve the role of “useful idiots” in a broader political movement more concerned with keeping the grubby hands of government away from private wealth than with supporting respect for life and human dignity.”

    Precisely. Useful idiots indeed. Not many babies being saved these days but sales of private jets and luxury condos in Hawaii couldn’t be better.

  • Why not address Rick’s question? The people playing politics with SCHIP are not Bush and the pro-lifers, but those who are trying to turn the existing program into something it was never meant to be.

  • Kurt

    The program was meant to be one that made sure children without health insurance had coverage. Millions of children with families above the current qualification ceilings still do not have health insurance and there is no massive movement of their parents’ employers to cover them nor private initatives to do the same. Therefore, the bipartisan bill vetoed by Bush is perfectly in line with the intentions of the original bill.

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