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Kennedy Takes Catholic Church to Task on Health Care

Patrick Kennedy, in an interview with conservative news outlet CNS News, takes the Catholic Church to task for plans to oppose the final health care bill if it does not include an explicit ban on federal funding for abortion.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I) told CNSNews.com that the Catholic Church is doing nothing but fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” by taking the position that it will oppose the health-care reform bill under consideration in Congress unless it is amended to explicitly prohibit funding of abortion.

“I can’t understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time, where the very dignity of the human person is being respected by the fact that we’re caring and giving health care to the human person--that right now we have 50 million people who are uninsured,” Kennedy told CNSNews.com when asked about a letter the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had sent to members of Congress stating the bishops' position on abortion funding in the health-care bill.

“You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is going to be denying those people life saving health care? I thought they were pro-life?” said Kennedy. “If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health care reform because it’s going to provide health care that are going to keep people alive. So this is an absolute red herring and I don’t think that it does anything but to fan the flames of dissent and discord and I don’t think it’s productive at all."

The abortion debate presents a stealth threat to legislation that appears to be building steam. Here's how The New York Times described the dynamic in a story last month.

WASHINGTON — As if it were not complicated enough, the debate over health care in Congress is becoming a battlefield in the fight over abortion.

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions.

Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up. Nearly half of those with employer-sponsored health plans now have policies that cover abortion, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The question looms as a test of President Obama’s campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not. Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means.

Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.

But opponents say that is not good enough, because only a line on an insurers’ accounting ledger would divide the federal money from the payments for abortions. The subsidies would still help people afford health coverage that included abortion.

Lawmakers pushing the abortion restrictions say they feel the momentum is on their side, especially because the restlessness of other Democratic moderates is making every vote count.

At least 31 House Democrats have signed various recent letters to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, urging her to allow a vote on a measure to restrict use of the subsidies to pay for abortion, including 25 who joined more than 100 Republicans on a letter delivered Monday.

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