As we start off this week, the debate over reproductive rights restrictions in the U.S. House's proposed health-care legislation continues to rage.
Last Tuesday, my colleague Rob Boston blogged about how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops succeeded in including an amendment to the health-care bill that bars insurance companies that receive any government subsidies (including those participating in government-sponsored "insurance exchanges") from covering abortions.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director, described the Catholic bishops' actions as "horrific" and questioned why one religious group has the power to push its religious doctrine into our country's laws.
This morning, Lynn and a panel of religious leaders voiced their opposition to the bishops' amendment (introduced by Reps. Bart Stupak and Joseph Pitts), which would deprive millions of women of abortion coverage, including those who now have such insurance.
At a press conference at the National Press Club, leaders of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations called on U.S. senators not to include the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the Senate version of the bill.
The event included speakers from Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society, Catholics for Choice, National Council of Jewish Women, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries and AU's Lynn.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, made it clear that the 200 bishops that oversee the dioceses in the United States do not represent the views of 68 million Catholics in the United States.
"As Catholics," he said, "we understand that social justice means we are obliged to be concerned about and care for people who are poorer than we are, or marginalized, or those who don't have a voice in decisions that have an impact on their lives and the lives of their families."
"We understand that social justice includes extending health care to the whole person, not just some parts of people," he continued. "In fact, Catholic voters believe the U.S. Catholic bishops are wrong on health-care reform. Fifty-six percent think the bishops should not take a position on health-care reform legislation in Congress, and 68 percent disapprove of U.S. Catholic bishops saying that all Catholics should oppose the entire health-care reform plan if it includes coverage for abortion."
Methodist official Linda Bales Todd said the current House bill "establishes a two-tiered system of health delivery. It essentially penalizes women and immigrants with fewer economic resources."
Sammie Moshenberg, director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women, called the Stupak-Pitts amendment an "egregious assault on the rights of women and an enormous step backward for those who believe in the separation of religion and state. It enshrines one religion's view of abortion into law and enlists the federal government to enforce it."
Sandra Sorensen, director of the Washington Office of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, called on the pro-choice leadership in the House and Senate to "boldly stand up for women's reproductive health-care rights and join the majority of religious Americans who believe that decisions around the termination of a pregnancy are a private matter between a woman and her physician."
AU's Lynn expressed his outrage at the Catholic bishops' unquestioned and unrestricted lobbying power.
"Health-care reform that attacks the rights of more than half of the population by subjecting some of their basic and most intimate decisions to a large and powerful church's governing body is not reform at all," he said. "It is a huge step backward. It would be better to dump the entire bill than to allow it to become law with these noxious provisions intact."
Currently, neither of the Senate's two versions of the health-care bill includes the same language as the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Coalition leaders said they will continue the fight to keep this language at bay. (If you agree, let your members of Congress know.)
There is a lot at stake here – not only does this amendment pose a threat to women's rights, it also endangers the religious freedom of all Americans who do not carry the same belief system as the Catholic hierarchy.
The Rev. Dr. Carlton Veazey, Jr., president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Choice, asked this: If the Catholic Bishops can succeed in pushing this through, what will they be able to achieve next?
No faith group's religious viewpoint should ever dictate the laws of our country. Let's hope the Senate agrees and does not include this amendment in their final version of the bill.