The conscience of Cao

Indicted CongressmanLast week, Terry wrote about the curious absence of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in stories about health care reform. I looked at some of the media coverage describing abortion as an obstacle to passing reform. Last week there were a couple amendments dealing with abortion funding under reform efforts -- but they got very little coverage. Or, as reader Jerry N wrote, after saying he was looking for mainstream media coverage of the fate of these amendments:

Here's the thing. I knew of the amendments and more or less how the surnames of the sponsoring Representatives were spelled. I *still* had a hard time finding anything.

He found this Politico snippet but that was about it. The story was well covered in the ideological and religious media. But it didn't generate much interest in the mainstream media. Here's The Hill's version of events by reporter David Shalleck-Klein:

In a series of late night votes Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed, then went on to reject, an amendment that would prevent a healthcare "public option" from covering abortion.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Stupak (D-Mich.), Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), originally passed 31 to 27. Republicans voted unanimously for the measure. On the Democratic side, all but one Blue Dog-Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) who did not vote-supported the amendment. ("I just missed the first vote," said Space, who went on to vote against the amendment.)

But before the first round of voting closed, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) changed his vote from NO to YES. The switch let him to take advantage of a House rule that allows supporters to bring an amendment back for consideration later. The tactic paid off: Waxman brought the amendment up for another vote, and the committee defeated it 30-29.

The amendment would have prevented the public plan from covering abortion unless the mother's life was at risk.

"I misunderstood it the first time," said Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who originally voted for the amendment but opposed against it the second time around.

Here's the Associated Press saying much the same thing.

One mainstream report, however, did a great job of covering the story of the defeat of this amendment -- the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Reporter Jonathan Tilove elicits some great religion-infused quotes to boot. The story gives a play-by-play of the procedural vote described above. But first it says that Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon voted in committee against the health care reform bill Friday night over, among other things, concerns about opening the door to public funding of abortion. He says that he is "personally pro-life and represents a deeply pro-life constituency" and is worried that the bill doesn't ensure that taxpayer funds wouldn't be used to fund abortion. But this was the section I found captivating:

Earlier in the day, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans, the only member of the Louisiana House delegation who had not weighed in on where he stands on the health reform bill, said that he cannot support any bill that permits public money to be spent on abortion.

"At the end of the day if the health care reform bill does not have strong language prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortion, then the bill is really a no-go for me," said Cao, who studied to be a Jesuit priest.

"Being a Jesuit, I very much adhere to the notion of social justice," Cao said. "I do fully understand the need of providing everyone with access to health care, but to me personally, I cannot be privy to a law that will allow the potential of destroying thousands of innocent lives.

"I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career," Cao said, "but I have to live with myself, and I always reflect on the phrase of the New Testament, 'How does it profit a man's life to gain the world but to lose his soul.' "

To understand that powerful last quote, the story explains that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had just announced that Cao would be targeted with radio ads.

The day after Terry wrote about the absence of the Catholic Bishops, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, who chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote to the Energy and Commerce Committee about his concerns with the bill. To my knowledge, the only mainstream paper to cover that was the Washington Post.

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