All posts from “Health Care”

March 17, 2011

Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama continues to campaign for her “Let's Move” initiative, which aims to help parents and caregivers decrease childhood obesity in the United States. Over the last three decades, the level of obesity double among preschool children and tripled for school aged children, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly one in five school-aged children are obese.

Some conservatives, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have criticized Obama’s effort as a big-government solution. However, other Republican leaders, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, defended the First Lady's efforts saying that the public should work to decrease childhood obesity rates.

A February 22-March 1 poll suggested that evangelicals were suspicious of government efforts on childhood obesity. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 1,504 adults, “Should government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?” Among evangelicals, 56 percent said that government should not have a significant role. Among non-evangelicals, 35 percent said this.

0317Child%20Obesity%20Figure.JPG

Evangelicals composed the only religious tradition that had a majority saying government should not play a significant role on this issue. Mainline Protestants were split over the question but leaned toward a stronger government role. A vast majority of Catholics, Black Protestants, and those with no religion said government should have a significant role to play.

Whether this means that a majority of evangelicals would side with Palin over Huckabee on the issue depends on what is meant by a “significant role” for government. Both Huckabee and Obama said that parents are responsible for children, but that government can provide information to help them.

Huckabee interviewed Michelle Obama on his February 21 Fox News show. He asked Obama about criticisms by some that her proposals were going to lead to a nanny-state.

"I’ve spoken to a lot of experts about this issue, and the one thing that they haven’t said is that government telling people what to do is the answer. This is not government intervention," said Obama. "This is not an initiative that is about telling people what to do. It’s giving people the tools to make the decisions that make sense for them."

>After the interview, Huckabee said he angered some conservatives by having the First Lady on his show. Speaking to talk show host Sean Hannity, Huckabee said that he disagrees with the administration on many issues but not the efforts to curb childhood obesity.

“No doubt [President Obama is] way left of you and me. No doubt about that. But, on this issue, I think the first lady is right,” said Huckabee. “And she is not taking a leftist position on it. And the conservatives are going to immediately say, 'Oh, we're against this.' They need to listen and be part of the solution.”

Huckabee is not new to the issue of obesity—personally or politically. As governor of Arkansas, he made national news for losing over 100 pounds and implementing policies designed to improve childhood nutrition. During his time in office Arkansas was the only state to reduce its level of childhood obesity, Huckabee says.

Continue reading Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity...

February 18, 2011

Obama Admin. Changes Bush 'Conscience' Provision for Health Workers

The Obama administration has changed a George W. Bush provision that was created to allow health workers to opt out of services they find objectionable on religious grounds, Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports. The change maintains the provision that allows workers to refrain from performing abortions.

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women.

Calling the Bush-era rule "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope," the new, much narrower version essentially leaves in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the Bush rule's formal process for workers to file complaints.

President Bush had announced the provision, supported by the Christian Medical Association (CMA), just before leaving office. Before he took office, Obama had expressed objections to the provision.

The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement:

The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. Strong conscience laws make it clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion. Many of these strong conscience laws have been in existence for more than 30 years. The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process.

Dr. J. Scott Ries, CMA's vice president, said in a statement that the decision "threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care."

The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification. The administration presented no evidence of any problems in healthcare access, prescriptions or procedures that have occurred in the two years since the original regulation's enactment that would justify any change in this protective regulation.

The executive order puts the burden back on Congress to enact conscience provisions for health care workers. HR 358, the Protect Life Act, (see Tuesday's post) includes language identical to that found in Bush's executive order.

The House is expected to vote today on whether Planned Parenthood should receive federal funds. CT will be posting a story on evangelicals' attitudes towards the federal budget shortly.

(This post has been updated at 1:30 p.m.)

January 28, 2011

Obama Admin. Pulls Faith Leaders on Health Care Bill

As Republicans work to repeal the health care law, the Obama administration is recruiting faith leaders to reaffirm the law passed in March.

“Being a pastor is like being a parent: You’re only doing as good as your most vulnerable family member,” the Rev. Joel Hunter said Thursday in a conference call supporting the Affordable Care Act.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hosted the conference call including leaders from several denominations. The HHS Department believes that faith and community leaders play an important role influencing community opinion on the health care reform bill.

Faith leaders on the call seemed to affirm Sebelius’ stance that the health care bill is already helping members of their congregations. All affirmed their commitment to educate their congregations about the benefits of the health care reform bill.

“We have been told that it’s very important for us to lead in sharing for our church the affirmation of health care reform and how the health benefits are improving the lives of people and protecting all of our citizens,” said the Rev. Barry Howe, an Episcopal bishop of west Missouri.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Minnesota’s Temple Israel shared a personal example of using her discretionary fund to underwrite a woman’s desperate need for prescription medicine. “The religious community cannot foot this bill. It has to be the federal government,” she said, indicating that the needs are vast.

Hunter said he was “grateful” for the protections the health care bill offered to the vulnerable members of his congregation. He choked up briefly as he spoke about his own granddaughter, who recently succumbed to a rare form of brain cancer. “I cannot imagine adding financial worries of financial ruin to the grief that we had to go through,” said Hunter, who is pastor of a megachurch in Florida. “And that’s what a lot of our families do. It’s just not right from a pastoral standpoint.”

A Politico reporter attempted to ask Hunter how he handles division in his congregation over lingering concerns with federal abortion funding, but Hunter did not remain on the call for questions.

Repeal proponents are expected to tackle specific points in the health care bill if full repeal efforts stall, and abortion is expected to become a debate point again as lawmakers also draft replacement legislation to coordinate with repeal efforts. Republicans introduced the No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act last week.

Sebelius reiterated the comments President Obama made affirming the Affordable Care Act in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward,” Obama said in his speech.

However, on Thursday Senators Jim DeMint and Mitch McConnell introduced separate repeal bills following the House’s vote to repeal earlier this month. “It’s time to start over,” DeMint said of health care reform.

January 6, 2011

Obama Admin. Reverses Course on End-of-Life Provision

On New Year’s Day, the government implemented new Medicare fee policies for physicians including a “voluntary end-of-life care” provision that would reimburse doctors for advising patients on end-of-life care. The following Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the revised regulations would remove the provision, effectively halting renewed controversy almost before it began.

The controversy threatened to re-ignite shortly after a memo from the office of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) became public. (Blumenauer wrote the original end-of-life provision.) The memo celebrated the inclusion of the end-of-life provision in the Medicare regulations, which were released November 29 with little scrutiny. “The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it,” according to the memo. The memo advised proponents to keep the inclusion “quiet” in order to avoid “the ‘death panel’ myth.”

A similar provision was dropped from the health care reform bill before it passed in 2009. At the time, detractors such as Republican congressmen John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) protested funding end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients as the first step on a slippery slope toward “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Sarah Palin also stirred controversy over the end-of-life provision in the health care reform bill calling it a “death panel” mandate.

The National Right to Life Center indicated similar concerns with both versions of the provision. "The danger is that subsidized advance care planning will not just discover and implement patient treatment preferences but rather be used to nudge or pressure older people to agree to less treatment because that is less expensive," Burke Balch, director of NRLC's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said in a recent statement.

Opponents accused the Obama administration of achieving their goal to implement Medicare funding of end-of-life care through regulation rather than legislation. However, former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, an outspoken critic of end-of-life provisions in health legislation proposed in the early 1990s as well as 2009, drew a distinction between the Medicare funding policy and health care legislation. Medicare should provide reimbursement for voluntary end-of-life counseling, she said. "But government should never prescribe what is discussed between doctor and patient, or pressure doctors financially to push their patients into living wills and advanced directives.”

The proposed new Medicare rules released last July did not include the end-of-life provision. However, the provision was included in the policies as released November 29. “We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically,” an administration official said Tuesday.

The New York Times speculated that White House administrators did not want a “distraction” to their defense of health care reform laws from the incoming Republican majority in the House.

The House is expected to vote on a proposed repeal of the health care reform bill next week. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will introduce the repeal bill, which calls the 2009 health care reform bill a “job-killing health care law.” Republican leaders expect the repeal to pass the House, where they now hold the majority, but Democrats warn it will stall in the Senate.

December 1, 2010

Judge Rejects Liberty's Health Care Lawsuit

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit from Liberty University that said the health care reform law is unconstitutional and would permit the religious institution’s insurance payments to cover abortions, Politico reports.

“The Act explicitly states that no plan is required to cover any form of abortion services,” Judge Norman K. Moon wrote in his order Monday.

The White House praised the ruling. “The judge’s ruling today only underscores the importance of the law’s individual responsibility provision,” Stephanie Cutter wrote in a White House blog post Tuesday.

More details come from the New York Times and Politico (blockquote below).

Liberty – and five individuals who joined the suit — also argued that the employer and individual coverage requirements are beyond Congress’s powers and violate the First, Fifth and Tenth amendments. The suit claimed that the law is an illegal direct tax, violates the Constitution’s promise of a republic form of government and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The university argued that it would face significant fines – of about $1.1 million— if the employer requirements are kept in place. The legislation requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance coverage to workers or face additional taxes.

The federal government countered that the university didn’t have a right to file the suit and that the issues aren’t ripe for trial.

Politico writes that oral arguments in the most high-profile case, a suit backed by 20 states and expected to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, are scheduled for December 16.

November 2, 2010

States Vote on Health Care Measures

Three states voted on healthcare measures, indicating the ongoing effects of the health care reform bill.

Voters in Arizona (Prop 106), Colorado (Amendment 63) and Oklahoma (Question 756) decided whether they wanted to be able to opt-out of the federal insurance mandate. Oklahoma voted to opt out of the insurance. On the other hand, the Denver Post was reporting that with tallies still coming in, Colorado was against the amendment.

Similar measures have already passed in Missouri, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, and Virginia. Some believe the cumulative effect of these state decisions could “embolden legislative action to repeal or defund legislative provisions" of the federal health law, according to Robert Alt, deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

November 1, 2010

Report: Federal Health Care Could Provide Free Contraception

A panel of experts will meet in November to consider the kinds of preventive care for women should be covered under the new health care law, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., author of the women's health amendment, says the clear intent was to include family planning.

But is birth control preventive medicine?

Conflicting answers frame what could be the next clash over moral values and a health law that passed only after a difficult compromise restricting the use of public money for abortions.

U.S. Catholic bishops opposes a requirement to cover contraceptives or sterilization as preventive care, the AP reports.

So far, most other religious conservatives have stayed out of the debate, though that could change. Some say they are concerned about any requirement that might include the morning-after pill. The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as birth control; some religious conservatives see it as an abortion drug.

Jeanne Monahan, a health policy expert at the conservative Family Research Council, said her group would oppose any mandate that lacks a conscience exemption for moral and religious reasons. She said there's "great suspicion" that a major abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is leading the push for free birth control.

As recently as the 1990s, many health insurance plans didn't even cover birth control. Protests, court cases, and new state laws led to dramatic changes. Today, almost all plans now cover prescription contraceptives. So does Medicaid, the health care program for low-income people.

The department must make a decision by next August.

March 31, 2010

Health Care Bill Restores Abstinence Ed. Funding

The health care bill signed into law restores $50 million in funding for five years for abstinence-only programs. As we wrote earlier, the federal budget signed by President Obama does not include funds directed towards them.

CNN reports today that Guttmacher Institute isn't happy about the newly directed funds. However, a federally funded study released in February suggested that programs that encourage teenagers to delay having sex have been effective. Rob Stein of the Washington Post offers some background:

A University of Pennsylvania researcher reported last month that a carefully designed, morally neutral abstinence-focused approach can work. But the program does not earmark funding for programs focused on maintaining virginity.

During the health legislation debate in the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) added $50 million in annual funding for five years to states for abstinence programs -- a provision that survived the tumultuous process that ensued.

March 26, 2010

Dem. Pro-life Group is Dissenting Voice

When the House sent a sweeping health care bill to President Obama Sunday, most of the nation's leading pro-life groups slammed it as a proposal that would liberalize the nation's abortion laws and increase the abortion rate.

But Democrats for Life America and its executive director Kristen Day were casting a dramatically different message, arguing that the bill was not only pro-life but that the nation's abortion rate likely would decrease.

For months, Democrats for Life had been working on the same side of organizations such as National Right to Life, the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in trying to ensure that the health care bill maintained the status quo on abortion law and did not federally fund the procedure. Yet when Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan announced a deal Sunday that lent his support if Obama pledged to sign an executive order, Democrats for Life was the only group not disappointed. It sent out a press release hours later saying it was "proud to support this historic health care legislation."

"The goal was always to pass a health care reform bill," Day told Baptist Press. "All these [pro-life] members and Democrats for Life supported health care reform, and the point of contention obviously was the abortion issue.... We're proud that this health care legislation passed and we're proud of the work that Bart did. We appreciate that the president signed this executive order that says the Hyde Amendment is the law of the land."

The Hyde Amendment -- which must be renewed annually -- prevents Medicaid from funding elective abortions. President Obama signed the bill, named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law Tuesday.

Generally, groups that oppose abortion have divided into two camps in theorizing how the bill will impact the nation's abortion rates. National Right to Life and others argue that the nation likely will see an increase in abortions because lower-income women who currently are uninsured will be able to use tax subsidies to purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortion, making the procedure affordable and more accessible. (The new law's allowance of tax dollars to go toward insurance plans that cover elective abortions is a break from longstanding policy.) Democrats for Life, though, says the abortion rate likely will decrease because uninsured women who previously would have had an abortion for financial reasons will be less likely to do so because they and their baby now have insurance coverage.

Continue reading Dem. Pro-life Group is Dissenting Voice ...

March 24, 2010

Liberty University to File Suit to Halt Health Care Legislation

Liberty University has announced that it will file a lawsuit challenging the federal health care legislation.

"Congress does not have unlimited authority to regulate private actions,” Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, said in a statement. “If the Constitution does not give Congress the power to act, then Congress cannot act. Congress clearly lacks the constitutional authority to force individuals to have, or private businesses to provide, health insurance.”

Alex Isenstadt of Politico reports that thanks to the health care debates, abortion is poised to make a political comeback.

The Family Research Council, which has already spent nearly $2 million this cycle backing anti-abortion candidates across the country, is now considering wading into battles against anti-abortion Democrats like Pennsylvania Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper, Virginia Rep. Thomas Perriello, Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth and West Virginia Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall — all of whom voted for the health care bill Sunday.

... NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan told POLITICO that the lesson learned from the health care battle was that the abortion-rights movement, which has lacked the votes needed to shut down abortion funding language from anti-abortion Democrats throughout the health care reform push, needs more allies in Congress.

William McGurn writes about the death of the pro-life Democrats for the Wall Street Journal as Kathleen Parker looks at Stupak's fall from pro-life grace for the Washington Post.

President Obama will sign an executive order today that says that existing limits on the federal funding of abortion will remain under the new legislation. The event will be closed to the news media. The New York Times reports that Representative Bart Stupak (D-Michigan and Senator Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania) will attend.

March 21, 2010

House Passes Health Care Bill

Congress just passed the Senate's health care bill 219 to 212.

The bill will require most Americans to have health insurance, it would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, and add 16 million people to Medicaid, according to The New York Times. It will cost the government $938 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Earlier today, Rep. Bart Stupak announced his support for the bill, and President Obama will sign an executive order on abortion language.

March 21, 2010

Stupak's Group to Vote for Health Care Bill

Rep. Bart Stupak just announced that President Obama will sign an executive order on abortion language after the bill is voted on today in the House.

"I've always supported health-care reform," Stupak said at a press conference. "There was a principal that meant more to us than anything, and that was the sanctity of life."

He said he believes the Democrats had enough votes to pass the bill before he agreed to vote for it. Stupak led a House effort to bar funding for abortion in health care legislation, but the House is considering the Senate's version of the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been in negotiations with Stupak to discuss specific restrictions on abortion funding in the bill, but she said no amendments would be considered.

Here's a statement from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins:

"Pro-life lawmakers would be making a serious mistake to trust those who have repeatedly attempted to mislead the American people into believing that abortion is not in the bill," Perkins said. "The President could also lift such an executive order at any time with a stroke of a pen."

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser also issued a statement:

The very idea is a slap in the face to the pro-life movement and should be offensive to all pro-life Members of Congress," she said. "The courts could and have a history of trumping executive orders."

SBA launched a $250,000 television ad campaign in the districts of six pro-life Democrats.

Update: Dannenfelser told Politico that the group was set to give Stupak the group's "Defender of Life" award, but "we’re going to be working hard to see who we can find to run against him.”

“In a completely cynical move, they have made this bill passable and each of them are going to pay individually," she said. "And that’s what we do. That’s what we love to do is unelect people who say they're for life and then completely betray the movement.”

Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the following statement:

"The statutory mandate construed by the courts would override any executive order or regulation," Doerflinger said. "This is the unanimous view of our legal advisors and of the experts we have consulted on abortion jurisprudence. Only a change in the law enacted by Congress, not an executive order, can begin to address this very serious problem in the legislation.”

The text of the executive order on abortion language from the White House is below.

Continue reading Stupak's Group to Vote for Health Care Bill...

March 18, 2010

Democrats Battle for Health Care Votes

Democrats secured more votes yesterday and could vote on health care reform as early as Sunday, The New York Times reports.

Rep. James E. Clyburn said the legislation would reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion in the next decade from reductions in the growth of Medicare spending, new fees and tax increases.

Three self-described pro-life Congressmen who voted for the Stupak amendment, Tom Perriello (D-Virginia), Dale Kildee (D-Michigan) and Jim Oberstar (D-Michigan), have declared their support for the Senate's health care legislation.

In the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus argues that the fight over abortion is minor.

If anything, both versions would end up restricting abortion coverage more than under current law. Some women whose insurance covers abortion would lose that benefit as their policies move to the new insurance exchanges.

If anything, health-care reform would reduce the number of abortions. More women would have coverage that includes contraception. Pregnant women would know that their medical care, and that of their child, would be covered.

Michael Gerson argues that proponents of health care have muddled important moral debates to get the legislation passed.

The Senate bill would allow federal subsidies to go to health plans that cover elective abortions -- under two conditions. First, the coverage would be paid for by a separate premium check required of all enrollees. Second, there would have to be at least one alternative in any regional health exchange that doesn’t offer abortion coverage.

...If the health-care reform abortion debate is really a trivial mix-up, then what are the motivations of, say, the Catholic bishops? They have been one of the most consistent supporters of universal health care in America. They view it as a matter of social justice. It is difficult to accuse them of wanting to show their political “muscle” by defeating health care or Obama. Actually, it would be libelous.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich also announced yesterday he would change his no vote on the House measure to yes on the Senate bill.

December 28, 2009

Senate's Health Care Bill Includes Abstinence Ed. Funding

The health-care reform bill passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve includes $50 million for states to use for abstinence education funding, the Washington Post reports. Under President Bush, abstinence programs received about $150 million per year but the federal budget signed by President Obama does not include funds directed towards them.

The initiative includes $25 million for new, innovative programs that could potentially embrace those encouraging abstinence. But it does not earmark funding for programs focused on maintaining virginity. Some said the move was aimed at mollifying conservative critics, but [Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association] and others remained skeptical.

"There is absolutely no priority given to risk avoidance," Huber said. "So there is no certainty that even one dollar would go to this approach."

Huber estimated that more than 130 programs around the country, serving perhaps 1.5 million youths, will lose funding by September unless at least some money is restored through the health-reform legislation.

In September, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pushed for the inclusion of an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee bill that would provide the funds for abstinence education programs.

"I was as surprised as anyone to see abstinence-only education programs funded in the final Reid health care bill. There must have been some Democrats who wanted to see the abstinence-only language included," Hatch said in a statement.

The House and Senate still must reconcile their versions of health-care legislation. According to the Post, the House bill includes $50 million to fund sex education programs while the Senate's version includes $75 million for additional sex education programs.

December 21, 2009

Senate Passes Test Vote as Sen. Nelson Announces Support

Conservatives lash out against Nelson who had said he would filibuster the proposal because he said it funded abortions.

The Senate voted for cloture this morning on an $871 billion bill to extend health care coverage to most Americans.

Senator Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, the last holdout, said Saturday that he would support the bill after Senate Majority leader Harry Reid unveiled his final package of changes. Nelson had said he would filibuster the bill because it federally funded abortions.

Here's the difference between abortion funding in the House and the Senate versions of the health care proposal, according to Paul Kane of the Washington Post.

Under the new abortion provisions, states can opt out of allowing plans to cover abortion in the insurance exchanges the bill would set up. The exchanges are designed to serve individuals who lack coverage through their jobs, with most receiving federal subsidies to buy insurance. Enrollees in plans that cover abortion procedures would pay with separate checks -- one for abortion, one for any other health-care services.

This was an effort to comport with the 32-year prohibition against federal funding for abortions, but the Nelson compromise is a softening of the House language, which was written by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). The Stupak amendment forbid any insurer in the exchange "to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion" -- a position that abortion rights advocates suggested would have led to many insurance providers dropping abortion coverage.

The Associated Press also offers a summary of the differences.

Conservative groups like Americans United for Life (AUL) and Family Research Council (FRC) sent out e-mails in opposition to Nelson's support.

Continue reading Senate Passes Test Vote as Sen. Nelson Announces Support...

December 8, 2009

Breaking: Senate Rejects Abortion Restrictions in Health Bill

Majority leader Harry Reid may not have the necessary votes to move health-care reform bill to passage without key prolife Dem.

The Washington Post and ABC News reported just a few minutes ago that the Senate defeated Senator Ben Nelson's amendment that would have restricted abortion coverage in insurance policies purchased by people receiving federal subsidies under the Senate's proposed health-care reform bill. The amendment was defeated 54-45.

Nelson had threatened to filibuster the bill unless the abortion restrictions were added. Without Nelson's vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may not have the necessary votes to move the bill toward passage. Reid hinted that he may try to find another way to satisfy Nelson's concerns and win his vote.

November 18, 2009

Abortion Remains Central in Health Care Debates

Debates over whether the federal government should fund abortion became central in passing final health care legislation after the House passed the Stupak amendment, which bans funding abortion. “The simple math in the House suggests the health bill wouldn't have passed without the votes of the moderates who came to the ‘yes’ side after the Stupak amendment,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Some pro-choice critics of the amendment say that it goes far beyond previous limits placed on federal funding of abortions, diminishing the legal standing of abortion based on Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice advocates are determined to stop the bill from passing the Senate with the amendment attached. Tuesday, the pro-choice Center for Reproductive Rights launched a new ad aimed at warning viewers that Congress could “ban abortion coverage millions of women already have.”

The Conference of Catholic Bishops is pushing back against pro-choice lobbyists in order to retain the amendment, denying in a recent assessment that the Stupak amendment would affect existing access to abortion because it only applies to the use of government money and not private insurance options. (The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio also break down the terms of the amendment and agree that the affect of the amendment will be minimal.) The Los Angeles Times noted that the Catholic organization, which has been lobbying the federal government to provide universal health insurance for the past three decades, wielded significant influence in the addition of the amendment because the organization will not support a bill that covers abortion.

Continue reading Abortion Remains Central in Health Care Debates...

November 7, 2009

House Passes Health Care Bill, Bars Funding for Abortion

The House just voted 220-215 to approve health care legislation that would create a public health insurance option and require employers to offer health insurance.

Before the final vote, the House also voted 240-194 to bar federal funding of abortion in the proposed government-run health care plan.

Sixty-four Democrats voted in favor of the amendment led by Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), while Republican Rep. John Shadegg voted present in an effort to derail the bill. Here's the full description of the Stupak amendment.

The amendment prohibits federal funds for abortion services in the public option. It also prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. However, it allows individuals, both who receive affordability credits and who do not, to separately purchase with their own funds plans that cover elective abortions. It also clarifies that private plans may still offer elective abortions.

Here's analysis from the Associated Press:

Under the Stupak amendment, people who do not receive federal insurance subsidies could buy private insurance plans in the exchange that include abortion coverage. People who receive federal subsidies could buy separate policies covering only abortions if they use only their own money to do it.

Companies selling insurance policies covering abortions would be required to offer identical policies without the abortion coverage.

...A health overhaul bill pending in the Senate also bars federal funding for abortion, but the language is less stringent. Discrepancies between the House and Senate measures would have to be reconciled before any final bill is passed.

Continue reading House Passes Health Care Bill, Bars Funding for Abortion...

November 5, 2009

C. Everett Koop's Letter Shuts Down Reid's Office

His letter was protesting federally funded abortion under health care legislation.

An unstamped letter from former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop caused a security scare when Capitol Police shut down Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s for 45 minutes office yesterday.

koop.jpg

Koop's letter, addressed to Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, protested federal funding of abortion in health care legislation.

"More specifically, I am troubled about the possibility of federal dollars being used to pay for elective abortions and Americans being forced to subsidize them," Koop wrote. "I firmly believe that strong protections must be included in this legislation so that health care providers are not forced to participate in abortions against their will."

Roll Call reports that the letter was stampless with "C. Everett Koop" written in the upper-left corner, and staffers reported it as a suspicious package to the police.

Reached at his home Wednesday, Koop confirmed that he wrote a few “beautifully typed” pages on his views of the health care legislation. The fact that it caused a Capitol Hill scare is “nonsense,” he said.

“I wasn’t aware that sending a hand-delivered letter was an offense,” he said, later adding: “I did it over a weekend. I don’t have a lot of secretarial help and I’m 93.”

Continue reading C. Everett Koop's Letter Shuts Down Reid's Office...

October 28, 2009

House to Unveil Health Care Plan

Rep. Stupak, who has fought to keep federally-funded abortion out of health care reform, says he would probably vote for the bill at the end of the day.

healthcare.png

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to unveil a health care plan Thursday morning that could be up for a vote on the House floor next week.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Michigan) said Speaker Pelosi is not pleased with his effort to remove abortion from being funded through healthcare reform. "I'm comfortable with where I'm at," he said on CSPAN. "This is who I am. It's reflective of my district. If it costs me my seat, so be it."

Christianity Today posted an article last week that outlined how the issue is dividing Democrats. Focus on the Family Action is spending $400,000 to fight President Obama's health care proposals, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Update: Stupak says in a video released today by the Heritage Foundation blog that he would probably still vote for the health care at the end of the day.

“I offered an amendment that says no public funding for abortion; that’s been the law of the land for many many decades, and we lose that vote. Let’s say we lose that vote–we need 218 to win–let’s say we get 217, and we lose. Would I vote against health care? If I had a chance to vote my conscience on it, I probably would not. I probably would still vote for the health care bill at the end of the day.”

A man in the audience voiced his concern before Stupak defended his position again.

"If everything I want [is] in the final bill, I like everything in the bill except you have public funding for abortion, and we had a chance to run our amendment and we lost. OK, I voted my conscience, stayed true to my principles, stayed true to the beliefs of this district, could I vote for healthcare? Yes I still could."

In other news:

--President Obama signed the hate crimes legislation "to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are."

Continue reading House to Unveil Health Care Plan...

October 22, 2009

Senate Democrats Push Health Care, Climate Change on Moral Grounds

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats framed their health care and climate bills with moral appeals and complained about Republican roadblocks during a roundtable discussion with reporters Wednesday.

"I want to get this off my chest," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is continuing to head up work on a health care plan this week. "We're trying to move forward to do something to take care of Medicaid. There are dozens of things they've held us up on and they're doing that because they're betting on our failure."

Reid was joined by senators including Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Ben Cardin (Maryland) and Bob Casey (Penn.).

Failure to reform health care will create a heavier burden for the faith community to care for the poor, sick and elderly, said Sen. Ben Cardin.

"The faith community is being called upon to provide more resources and do more things that should be in our system collectively," Cardin said.

Continue reading Senate Democrats Push Health Care, Climate Change on Moral Grounds...

October 5, 2009

Poll: 18 Percent of Evangelicals Support Health Care Bills Before Congress

Americans appear nearly divided over the health care proposals before Congress, according to a September 2009 Pew Research Center poll. Forty-two percent of Americans favor the proposals before Congress while 44 percent who oppose them.

A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analysis reports that just 18 percent of white evangelicals favor the bills before Congress to reform health care.

A March 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center polling found 48 percent of white evangelicals favored a government guarantee of health insurance for all citizens, even if it would mean raising taxes. The survey found that 55 percent of Catholics, 56 percent of mainline Protestants, and 72 percent of religiously unaffiliated said the same thing.

The Pew Forum compares two coalitions of religious groups have staked out opposing positions on the issue: the Faith for Health, a progressive group that backs President Barack Obama, and the Freedom Federation, a conservative group that strongly opposes what it calls “the federalization of the health care industry.”

What do you think? Do you find hope in any of the health care bills before Congress?

August 19, 2009

Obama Attempts to Debunk Rumors in Call to Faith Leaders

President Obama pitched government-funded health care as a “a core ethical and moral obligation” in a conference call open to the public tonight, saying that some people are "bearing false witness."

"This notion that we are somehow setting up death panels that would decide on whether elderly people get to live or die. That is just an extraordinary lie," he said. "You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true."

Obama also said his opponents have claimed that elderly Americans that a new health insurance system could jeopardize Medicare.

"Many of you have older members of your congregations. They’re all now scared to death that someone is talking about cutting Medicare benefits," he said. "That is again simply not true."

Faith in Public Life estimated that 140,000 people participated in the call.

"These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation," Obama said. "And that is that we look out for one another. That I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper."

Sojourners President Jim Wallis, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes also spoke.

Continue reading Obama Attempts to Debunk Rumors in Call to Faith Leaders...

August 18, 2009

Obama's Call to Faith Leaders

President Obama will address health care concerns during a public call-in with religious leaders tomorrow at 5 p.m. Eastern, as reported last week.

The press release states that a "high-level administration official" will answer questions, but a Faith in Public Life spokeswoman declined to give more details pending confirmation.

The call will be open to the public, streamed live, and include various religious leaders, including Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton, and Sojourners President Jim Wallis.

To listen to “40 Minutes for Health Reform,” log on to www.faithforhealth.org at 5 p.m. Eastern or call 347-996-5501.

August 10, 2009

Obama to Call Faith Leaders on Health Care

President Obama has accepted an invitation to speak during a public call-in about health care reform on August 19. The call will be open to the public, streamed live, and include a coalition of religious groups ranging from Sojourners to Faith in Public Life to the National Baptist Convention. More details will be released this afternoon.

The coalition released the “40 Days for Health Reform” initiative this morning, including a national TV ad featuring Christians arguing for healthcare reform, prayer events, meetings with members of Congress, and a nationwide health care sermon weekend on August 28-30.


July 27, 2009

Pro-life Leaders Urge Action Against Abortion Health Care

If you tried to log on to the Stop the Abortion Mandate webcast Thursday night, your connection may have timed out like mine did. According to moderator David Bereit 36,187 people were all trying to stream the live event at the same time.

healthcare.png

Recent media coverage of the debate about abortion and health care reform may have heighted interest in the webcast. (Christianity Today has blogged about it here and here).

Pro-life leaders participating in the webcast included Kristen Day of Democrats for Life, James Dobson of Focus on the Family (with a pre-recorded message), Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), but not former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. His absence after originally being included in the list of participants was not explained, although he blogged against universal health care on the same day.

Webcast speakers focused on abortion. "What you probably haven't heard is that the health care bill being advanced by Democrats is the abortion industry's dream come true," said Dobson, who opened the presentation with his pre-recorded statement. He continued:

The health care bill will force taxpayers to fund a huge abortion industry bail-out, even though the majority of Americans oppose abortion. In addition, it will mandate that virtually every American will be coerced into a health plan that covers abortion, and it would require that health care providers that are opposed to abortion violate their own consciences by performing abortions at the risk of losing their own jobs. It will be a disaster for the sanctity of human life and an assault on the moral values of every American who is forced to support the killing of babies.

Continue reading Pro-life Leaders Urge Action Against Abortion Health Care...

July 22, 2009

Abortion Weighs Down Healthcare Debate

President Obama said the public should become less focused on whether abortion would be covered under federal healthcare in an interview with Katie Couric last night.

KATIE COURIC: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know-- the-- the-- the-- what I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we're still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I'm pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition-- of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of-- you know, government funded health care. And, you know, my-- you know, rather than wade into that issue at this point-- I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.


(h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Continue reading Abortion Weighs Down Healthcare Debate...

July 21, 2009

Health Care Reform With Abortion Strings Attached?

Pro-life organizations are launching efforts to combat proposed health care reform that could fund abortions. The groups' concern revolves around the definition of the "essential benefits" that would be mandated for all insurers to cover under any new plan.

The New York Times reported last weekend that an Obama administration official did not rule out the possibility that abortion could be covered. Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director, said: "I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate."

Pro-life groups are concerned that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood will succeed in defining abortion as an element of "women's basic health care." Several leaders will participate in "Stop the Abortion Mandate" webcast at 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. The speakers will include Mike Huckabee, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Kristen Day of Democrats for Life, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

Continue reading Health Care Reform With Abortion Strings Attached?...

April 8, 2009

Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections

Five members of President Obama's faith-based advisory council have joined the debate over his plan to rescind recent conscience protections for healthcare workers, but could not agree whether those rules should remain intact or be overturned.

Obama's Department of Health and Human Services has set a Thursday deadline for comments to be submitted on whether regulations former President Bush enacted in December should be overturned, as Obama plans to do.

The letter, signed by eight religious leaders and scholars, said upfront that some signers would urge HHS to retain the Bush regulations, while others would urge the Department to rescind them.

Continue reading Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections...

November 24, 2008

Blessed Are the Hungry? Not So Much

Food pantries are struggling. Food prices are up, donations are down, and need is growing.

(Examples: Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Oregon, North Carolina, Florida, to name a few.)

Charity navigators lists the best food pantries by location and rating.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)