Honest debate imperative for healthcare

Health care reform has been the law of the land for a month now, and opponents of the landmark legislation are hard at work using misinformation about federal funding of abortion to exact punishment against pro-life members of Congress who voted for the bill. This effort started before the ink of President Obama’s signature was even dry, and it will continue until November. They’re just getting warmed up.

As a pro-life Catholic Sister who supported the healthcare bill because it provides needed care for the uninsured and the unborn, I find these attacks especially troubling not only because they aren’t true, but also because they are made to serve purely partisan ends.  Honest debate isn’t just the foundation of a healthy democracy, it’s a moral imperative.

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The political manipulations of abortion in healthcare are myriad. The National Republican Campaign Committee has unveiled its efforts to unseat the “Stupak sellouts” – pro-life Democrats who allegedly sold out their values by supporting healthcare reform.  The Family Research Council Action PAC is targeting 20 pro-life Democrats with radio ads falsely claiming healthcare reform includes federal funding for abortion. The Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser went so far as to say that no Democrat who supported healthcare reform can claim to be pro-life.  At the state-level, Indiana Right to Life took it even further, announcing following the healthcare vote that they will no longer endorse any Democrats, regardless of their voting records or positions on abortion. While we might disagree on a political stance, we cannot categorically judge each other’s belief systems.

These partisan actions have three purposes: to punish pro-life Democrats at the ballot box, to continue to use abortion as a political issue without addressing how we actually reduce the number of abortions, and to spread falsehoods about a bill they did not support. Take the oft-repeated claim that a vote for healthcare reform was a vote for federal funding for abortion. Analysis by sources ranging from health policy experts to independent news outlets to pro-life healthcare providers such as the Catholic Health Association concluded these claims were not true, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Politifact.com called it a “pants-on-fire” lie. Here are the facts: People who receive federal subsidies to purchase health insurance who choose plans that include abortion coverage will have to pay separate premiums out of their own pockets for the abortion coverage. This premium will have to cover the full cost of the abortion coverage and be kept in a separate audited account.

In addition to safeguards against federal funding of abortion, the healthcare bill contains numerous provisions that are likely to reduce the incidence of abortion, a goal we can all wholeheartedly embrace, by supporting economically vulnerable women. The legislation does this by investing $250 million to support pregnant teenagers and young mothers, allowing them to complete their education and carry their pregnancies to term. It also provides $11 billion for community health centers, which, since first receiving federal funding in 1976, cannot and have never provided abortion services, but can and will provide pre-natal and pediatric care in low-income communities across the U.S.

None of that matters to the political operatives fanning out across the country with false messages to convince pro-life voters that their representatives voted to open the floodgates of federal funding for abortion. Contrary to their posturing about abortion, their strategy of making the 2010 election a referendum about a lie shows that they regard pro-life principles as a tool for advancing their political interests. It’s outrageous that pro-life Democrats who took a moral stand for life-affirming healthcare reform must now face dishonest attacks from purportedly pro-life advocates and organizations. I thank God that these dissemblers failed to deter courageous pro-life members of Congress from the most important vote they might ever take. I pray the bearers of false witness desist. After the divisive healthcare debate, we need honesty and healing, not a continuation of distortion and vitriol.

Campbell , Executive Director of NEWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, organized the letter of support for health care reform that was sent to every Member of Congress from heads of religious orders representing more than 50,000 nuns, in the lead-up to the vote.