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Paul Kiesel
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Bishops and Thugs: How the Catholic Church is Shaping Health Care Legislation

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From MSNBC:

WASHINGTON – Catholic bishops have emerged as a formidable force in the health care overhaul fight, using their clout with millions of Catholics and working behind the scenes in Congress to get strong abortion restrictions into the House bill.

They don’t spend a dime on what is legally defined as lobbying, but lawmakers and insiders recognize that the bishops’ voices matter — and they move votes. Representatives for the bishops were in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol suite negotiating with top officials last Friday evening as they reached final terms of the agreement. Earlier in the day, Pelosi, a Catholic and an abortion rights supporter, had been on the phone to Rome with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington’s former archbishop, on the subject.

It wasn’t the first time a high-ranking Catholic had weighed in with a key player on writing strict abortion curbs into the health measure. Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley personally appealed to President Barack Obama about it near the church altar at the early September funeral for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. Bishops quietly called their congressmen and senators to weigh in.

"The Catholic Church used their power — their clout, if you will — to influence this issue. They had to. It’s a basic teaching of the religion," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a leading abortion foe and architect of the health measure’s restrictions.

Bringing in the bishops’ staff
It was Stupak who told Pelosi last Friday that if she wanted a deal on the health bill, she’d be well advised to invite the bishops’ staff, who were already in his office, to her table. "I said, ‘Well, they’re here, and they’re one of the key groups you want to have on your side, so why don’t we just bring them in and work this out," Stupak said.

Pelosi did, and the result was a final measure that — much to the outrage of abortion rights supporters — bars a new government-run insurance plan from covering abortions, except in cases or rape, incest or the life of the mother being in danger, and prohibits any health plan that receives federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage. If women wanted to purchase abortion coverage through such plans, they’d have to buy it separately, as a so-called rider on their insurance policies.

The outcome has put Obama and Democratic leaders — already struggling for consensus on the complex and politically tricky health measure — in a tough spot. Democratic abortion foes in the Senate vow they won’t support health legislation that omits the strict restrictions approved by the House, while abortion rights champions say they can’t possibly vote for a bill that contains them.

Obama suggested Monday that he wants to strike a balance that doesn’t allow backdoor federal funding of abortions but preserves women’s insurance choices. For now, however, no such middle ground has been identified, and the bishops have served their notice that they will be a player — perhaps the dominant one — in the final outcome.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    At least this arm twisting is somewhat out in the open. Can you imagine how many interests are doing this behind the scenes? Funny, that we are being blamed as the real powers behind the bill. Ah, the reality.