As the Divine Ms. MZ mentioned the other day in her "Nightmare on Capitol Hill" post, abortion is the issue that simply will not die in the ongoing debates about health-care reform. Right to life issues also hover in the background in those arguments about care of the elderly, too. Politicians can compromise on all kinds of things, but journalists continue to struggle with the fact that there are absolute truths involved in these fights, issues that are hard to decide through compromises in those formerly-smoke-filled cloak rooms. This is true for those who back abortion rights and for those who oppose abortion and, yes, this has something to do with two different approaches to ancient Christian doctrines linked to the sanctity of human life.
In the center of all of this is U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak and a circle of pro-life Democrats -- the GOP is basically irrelevant, once again, in the House. Here is a key section of a New York Times report on the math that is driving all of this. The votes are so close that the coalition of secular activists and pro-abortion-rights religious groups will almost certainly pull their votes if anything stronger than the U.S. Senate compromise language is floated. Meanwhile, Stupak and the pro-life Democrats continue to want to see the current state of the law -- the Hyde Amendment -- applied to the new reality that is health-care reform. Thus, we read:
Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and the author of the anti-abortion provisions in the House bill, said Monday, "It would be extremely difficult for me to vote for a bill" taking the Senate approach on abortion.
The House, more liberal than the Senate on many issues, would impose more stringent restrictions, barring coverage of abortion by any health plan bought even partly with federal subsidies. Under the bill that is likely to be approved this week by the Senate, health plans could cover abortion. But people who enroll in such plans would have to write two premium checks, one for abortion coverage and one for everything else. Insurers would have to keep separate accounts, and state officials would police the "segregation of funds."
Douglas D. Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said it was difficult to envision a compromise because "people opposed to abortion see it as the taking of innocent human life."
Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California insists that any compromise that is attacked by activists on both sides must be a true compromise.
Then, once again, you have the reality that is the math.
Sixty-four House Democrats, representing one-fourth of the House Democratic caucus, voted for stringent restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion. And 41 of them voted for passage of the House bill, so they constitute a crucial bloc. The bill was approved, 220 to 215, on Nov. 7. But leading supporters of abortion rights in the House said they would not vote for a final bill if it included those restrictions, which they fear would curtail access to abortion for many women who already have insurance.
So what does this have to do with getting religion?
If abortion is the key in this gigantic story and religion is a major factor in the conflict -- and ask the pro-life Democrats, who are largely Catholics and Southern evangelicals, if it is -- then some major, major newsroom (I nominate the Times) needs to do a news feature explaining the actual doctrinal views of the religious groups that are playing major roles in this drama.
By the way, here is the latest from the bishops -- who are not buying the Senate compromise, even though they still want to see a health-care reform bill reach the president.
You see, there's no way to avoid the religious conflicts in this story, if journalists truly want to cover the facts of the story. So why try to avoid the religious conflicts? Why not explain them? Why not do a 50-50 report about the viewpoints on each side. Just do it.