"Do no harm" is a vital political principle as much as it is a medical maxim. But the White House has abandoned such wisdom on both counts when it comes to its so-called healthcare-reform crusade.
No one bothered to ask the president about abortion or his political prescriptions when he held his primetime healthcare press conference in mid-July. And even if someone did, the president's answer, like everything else, would have been obscured by the controversy surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., which became a drama so hot only a "beer summit" would begin to squelch the flames of the media frenzy. Besides, President Obama has already gone on record saying that debates about abortion's place in the legislation are a "distraction." Details could be hashed out later -- say, in conference, where, by the way, the C-SPAN cameras aren't going.
But there is good reason to be alarmed. The two major healthcare bills that Congress is examining would, according to Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, "result in federally mandated coverage of abortion by nearly all health plans, federally mandated recruitment of abortionists by local health networks and nullification of many state abortion laws. They would also result in federal funding of abortion on a massive scale." In the House, all attempts to add to the bill amendments that would prevent any abortion-coverage mandates or federal subsidies for abortion have failed.
But most Americans probably have no idea this is happening. After all, "abortion" does not appear in any of the legislation making rounds on the Hill. And while the full texts of the House and Senate bills have yet to become available, and keeping track of all the moving parts of the much-talked-about Obama healthcare revolution is a full-time job, Johnson and others have been labeled liars by talking points making their way throughout the Internet. A Web site purportedly devoted to "information and analysis for reproductive health" has been chief among those wielding the L-word as a tactic. If you look past the administration's (and other people's) obfuscation, however, the truth becomes all too apparent.
The Associated Press has pointed out that the reforms would open up rivers of federal funding not bound by previous legislative restrictions relating to abortion, and Michael New, a University of Alabama professor and a visiting fellow at Princeton, has asserted that the bills' language opens the door for future regulations that would require private insurers to cover abortions.
"Few people realize that, as things stand, abortion could be a required benefit in all health-insurance plans, and it would be subsidized not only in healthcare premiums, but also through taxation," Dr. Louis Breschi, president of the Catholic Medical Association, has said.
A spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, admitted to a reporter: "The starting point for Rep. Slaughter on the healthcare debate was protecting abortion rights." Groups like Planned Parenthood know what they want out of healthcare reform: a platform to ensure that American women have easy access to abortion. The Democratic powerhouse in Washington is all too eager to comply.
Differing interpretations of social justice will mean different policy prescriptions, but on the essential moral issue of life, one thing is clear: Thou shall not kill. And this principle should be central in the discussion of Obamacare. Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, put it succinctly: "We want to see people who have no health insurance get it, but this is a sticking point. We don't want healthcare reform to be the vehicle for mandating abortion."
Right now, there is absolutely nothing keeping Obamacare from mandating abortion and violating the consciences of healthcare providers who are opposed to abortion. During the campaign and the first few months of the administration, pro-lifers tried focusing Americans' attention on the sweeping Freedom of Choice Act. But it's at this moment that we're facing the possibility of a sea change in our federal government's approach to abortion. Insisting on a clear and true debate is essential if we want to prevent deadly surprises. And you don't even have to be opposed to abortion to want to know what your government is making happen with your money.