By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 6, 2009 ( – A sound condemnation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has helped dash the chances that the latest purported “compromise” on abortion in the health care overhaul proposed by Democrats could be smuggled through as a legitimately pro-life option.

The amendment in question, proposed by Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth this week, purports to remove “federal funding for abortion” in H.R. 3962 by hiring contractors to issue checks for abortion – essentially putting one more procedural step between abortion and those who pay for them through the government plan. 

The USCCB memo told congressional staff Thursday that U.S. bishops did not consider the amendment sufficient – that it does not, in fact, address any of the pro-life concerns in the health bill.

“On examination, it is not a meaningful compromise. It addresses none of the substantial criticisms offered by the Catholic bishops' conference and other pro-life advocates for health care reform,” wrote Richard Doerflinger, secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, in the memo.

In a column discussing the U.S. bishops' attitude towards the health bill, Denver auxiliary bishop James Conley noted that the U.S. bishops' have diligently worked to establish true pro-life language to the bill; but, “as of November 5, all those efforts have failed.”  “'Common ground' thinking in Washington apparently has more reality as public relations than as public policy,” wrote Conley.

The response by the USCCB may have a significant impact on pro-life lawmakers' resolve to block the abortion-expanding bill: Bloomberg reports that, according to Ellsworth, several pro-life representatives were waiting to hear the bishops' assessment before making up their mind about the language.
According to Rules Committee chairwoman Rep. Louise Slaughter, the “rule” or parameters for voting on the House bill will allow a vote on the Ellsworth amendment – but will not allow a vote on the Stupak/Pitts amendment, which would secure long-standing federal policy against abortion funding.  A vote on the rule is expected Friday evening.

“[The Ellsworth amendment] serves no purpose except to assist Speaker Pelosi in peeling votes away from an amendment that would flatly prohibit the public plan from paying for elective abortions,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Johnson called the Ellsworth Amendment “a political fig leaf made out of cellophane.”

“It directs the federal Secretary of Health to hire a contractor to deliver to abortion providers the payments for elective abortions, payments that are explicitly authorized by the bill [on page 110],” he said. ”This is a money-laundering scheme—a federally funded 'bag man' will deliver government funds to abortionists.  This is federal funding of elective abortion.”

Pro-life Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) called Ellsworth's proposal equivalent to the government “taking out a contract on the unborn.” 

Shortly before Ellsworth introduced his amendment, Smith had warned thousands of pro-lifers tuned into a Stop the Abortion Mandate webcast Monday to be on guard against phony compromises designed to strip support away from the critical Stupak/Pitts amendment. 

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See related coverage:

Pro-Life Lawmakers Condemn 'Sham' Health Bill Abortion Compromise 

11,000 on Abortion Mandate Webcast Warned against Phony Compromises in Healthcare Bill