Do Catholic Bishops Run the United States Government?

By Jodi Jacobson

Last week, with the aid of some 60 Democrats, women's rights were effectively negated by the US Congress as the House passed the Stupak amendment to HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care Act of 2009.
More in-depth analysis of how we got here is forthcoming.  But one thing is clear: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) apparently is running the US government, aided by a cadre of "faith-based advocacy groups," the House Democratic leadership, the White House and members of the Senate.
If you didn't know that before, be clear about it.  Know it now.
And this is particularly true when it comes to women's rights.  Any time there is an "important" vote that implicates women's rights and onto which a politician has hitched their political star--in this case President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi among them--you can bet that the Bishops will be wielding huge influence to make sure no "gains" can be made unless women are screwed.  You will hear a lot tomorrow and in the days ahead as to how "this important bill" could not be "held hostage" to any one issue, "it's not perfect," and how "compromises needed to be made," in order to "get things done." 
Wait for it.
Yet the Stupak Amendment was not considered to be viable until this week when suddenly the Bishops ratcheted up the heat in Congress and through a "mass"-ive campaign in conservative parishes. 
For some reason, when the Bishops pay a call, the entire House leadership shudders, and for some reason, the fact that the Bishops endorsed the bill suddenly became an important "stamp" on a bill that is about public health.
On Friday night, for example, according to several news reports, representatives of the USCCB met with House Democratic Leadership to demand that language be included or an amendment to the House health care reform bill be passed effectively banning private insurance companies from covering abortion care. And apparently as a result of these meetings, the House leadership effectively caved to these demands, jettisoned an alternative amendment offered by Congressman Brad Ellsworth, a pro-life Democrat from Indiana, and agreed to allow an "up or down" vote on the Stupak amendment.
The agenda of the USCCB has been carried out for some time by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak for whom the amendment is named, joined by Pennsylvania Republican Joseph Pitts. Stupak had been threatening the health reform effort for a couple of months.  His amendment bars coverage of abortion care in private plans that are part of an insurance exchange created by the federal government even where private premiums paid for abortion coverage and funds are kept separate. 
In sum, this amendment robs women of the right to private insurance coverage of abortion care even with their own money paying the premiums.  
Thank you Catholic Bishops.
That the USSCB has been wielding great influence in the debate was evident in at least one comment by a leading Democrat, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA).
“I would like the [U.S. Conference of Catholic] Bishops, who as I understand it want a bill, to help us work out a plan where we don't have winners and losers,” Waxman said. “Because the losers will make us lose the bill and the winners won't have won anything.”
I am sorry, but as someone who otherwise respects Henry Waxman, why is it important for the USCCB to be "working out a plan" that affects the lives and health and basic human rights of millions of women in this country?  Has anyone noticed that the Bishops are not exactly down with women's rights?  Does anyone remember that this same group supported denying an abortion to a 10-year-old girl in Brazil pregnant with twins by her own father?  And there is that small issue of pedophilia.
Again, I have to ask: Why when millions of women need basic sexual and reproductive health care is it important for the USCCB to be "working out" any plan?  What does Henry Waxman, Nancy Pelosi or any other member of Congress owe the Catholic Bishops that they do not owe the majority of women in this country?  What does Obama owe the Bishops that he does not owe you and me, for example, most of those of us who gave money and time and our lives to his campaign?
Do we live in a theocracy?
Honestly: I would like an answer. From the White House.  From the House Leadership.  And you should want one too.
And be assured this is not the first time women have been sold in the cause of the "greater good," whatever that is when the rights of half the population are trampled.
Last year, after literally 18 months of efforts by tens of advocacy groups to craft a reauthorization of the US Global AIDS Act that corrected failed programs by removing abstinence-only until marriage programs and ensuring that HIV positive women could get access to a full range of reproductive health care, the Bishops stepped in in the 11th hour and insisted on changes. 
What were they?  Banning US global funding from supporting contraceptive services for HIV-positive women in Africa who wanted to avoid another pregnancy in no small part because they likely would not be alive to support another child; reinserting language on abstinence until marriage and requiring reports to Congress wherever at least 50 percent of funds were not spent on abstinence; and ensuring conscience langauge so sweeping that groups who did not "like" gays or sex workers would not be "forced" to serve them either with prevention or treatment.
And despite the opposition of public health groups and advocacy groups and despite the fact that these changes to the bill put women at even greater risk of HIV especially in Africa, Congressman Howard Berman caved to the Bishops.  Why?
Not a single aspect of the demands by the Bishops were based on evidence.  In fact, totally to the contrary: the evidence proved that everything they demanded would only increase new infections and suffering from HIV and AIDS.  But once again, the ideology of the Catholic Church was written into law.
With your tax dollars.
The Bishops don't act alone.  They are aided sometimes by HIV and AIDS groups that want their part of the agenda passed no matter what.  They are aided by groups such as Catholics United which is run by men passes itself off as "moderate" and which today issued a statement that said:
“Catholics United today urged House lawmakers to vote yes for H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.  Passage of the bill will ensure that 96% of Americans have access to affordable health insurance and will constitute a major victory for Catholic values of life and human dignity.  The vote comes at a time of historic support for health care reform among mainstream Catholics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops”.
This particular set of "Catholic" values neither jibes with the real lives of the majority of Catholics, nor does it respect women in the least.
And I am left to wonder...why?
Who do they represent?  Less than a quarter of the entire US population identifies as Catholic.  Of those women who identify as Catholic, well over 80 percent use contraception, and Catholic women use abortion services at the same rate as the rest of the population.  The majority of Catholics believe that the issue of birth control and abortion is a personal one, best left up to the woman, her partner, her doctor and, if she has one, her own faith.
I want to know...why are the Bishops running the country?
And have you had enough yet of Democrats that you elect selling you down the river?  Are you angry enough?
What are we going to do about it?
Originally published in RH Reality Check.


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