By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 13, 2009 ( – The brewing pro-abortion vitriol against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for their role in adding pro-life Hyde-amendment language to the House health care bill has evolved in the week since the bill's passage, with new claims surfacing that the pro-life amendment amounts to “religious discrimination” against faith systems that might allow abortion.

Gordon Newby of the liberal online magazine Religion Dispatches issued a column Friday affirming that the amendment banning federal abortion funding means that “many religious Americans will be unable to live and act according to their own religious consciences and beliefs.” He advances his argument by pointing to the Jewish Mishnah's ethical treatment of a life-threatening pregnancy, the ambiguity on abortion in Islam and Buddhism, and the historical Christian debate on when the soul enters the human body. 

“If the House health care bill is allowed to stand and becomes the basis for new legislation,” Newby concludes, “religious Americans across the spectrum of faiths will be subjected to limitations that will contravene their faith's most well-considered and cherished views about the major questions of life, reproduction, and freedom of religious conscience.”

RH Reality Check's senior political editor Jodi Jacobson hailed Newby's article as a “a clear – and overdue – case why the Stupak amendment undermines not only women's reproductive and sexual rights, but also abrogates the rights of all of us to freedom of religion.”

Others, however, questioned the logic of Newby's perception of religious freedom vis a vis the reality of the Stupak amendment.

“Nobody's religious exercises require federal funds to pay for [abortion],” Dr. William Marshner, a Catholic ethicist and professor of theology at Christendom College, told (LSN) on Friday. 

“The only thing that the bill does is apply the Hyde amendment to the new health care provisions – that's all,” he continued.  “Nobody gets prevented from doing anything their religion permits or requires. It's the rest of us federal taxpayers who are prevented from having to pay for it.”

Insider reports about last Saturday's House wranglings over healthcare have indicated that it was House Speaker Pelosi who courted the USCCB's input into the bill. This was widely recognized as a strategic move, a last-ditch effort necessary to scrape together enough pro-life Democratic votes for the struggling legislation.  Yet the pro-abortion lobby has made a scapegoat of the USCCB in a continuous deluge of attacks this week for the inclusion of the amendment: Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards called the bishops' involvement “an unconscionable power play,” while Democrat Rep. Diane Woolsey called for the IRS to investigate the bishops' involvement as “more than mere advocacy.”

In a Friday piece, New York Examiner columnist Marc Rubin took the concept further, criticizing Pelosi and President Obama for “cav[ing] in to political pressure by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who are credited with creating the anti-abortion language in the health care bill.”  At the Huffington Post Thursday, U. of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone complained about the Catholic Church's political involvement at large.  “We have a serious problem in our nation,” Stone concluded.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue, however, drew upon America's history of religious political involvement in a rebuttal against Stone.

“Perhaps the Chicago law professor forgot about Rev. Martin Luther King, the minister who took to the pulpit and lobbied for civil rights in the name of free speech and religious liberty. Should King have been muzzled as well?” Donohue asked.  “Or just today's bishops?”

Donohue also pointed to a long list of religious groups who have specifically called for the inclusion of abortion in the health care bill – thereby engaging in political advocacy, albeit against the position of the U.S. bishops.

“So why don't Stone and company want to gag these groups as well? Let's face it: they don't have a principled bone in their collective bodies,” he said.

See related coverage:

Pro-Abortion Lawmakers Demand Meeting with Obama over Health Bill 

Backfire: Pro-Abort HuffPo Writer Rips NARAL and PP for Pro-Life Victory in Health Bill 

Obama: Health Bill's Handling of Abortion Needs “More Work”