Parsing the abortion language

So it appears that we are staggering to the finish line on this health-care reform bill -- maybe. To no one's surprise, or, at least, no one who has paid any attention to American politics for several decades, the key dividing line continues to be abortion. Your GetReligionistas have been talking about this particular issue for about a year. I have, of course, often confessed my bias on that issue. I am a pro-life Democrat and this is a story that, from the beginning, has centered on whether the Democratic mainstream will be able to defeat, not the GOP, but the small circle of liberal, moderate and conservative pro-life Democrats in their midst.

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether the language in the current U.S. Senate bill violates the principles found in the long existing Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal tax dollars to fund abortions.

Supporters of abortion rights insist that the Senate bill maintains the status quo and, thus, pro-lifers should be able to vote for it. The U.S. Catholic bishops, National Right to Life and a host of other groups that oppose abortion insist that, by opposing the Senate bill, they are defending the status quo and the principles of the Hyde Amendment.

The problem, of course, is that this massive bill moves everyone light years into new territory, way off the maps of the old status quo.

Still, it is interesting to note that those who support the use of Hyde Amendment language insist that the existing bill lacks it. Those who have always opposed the Hyde Amendment, and would get rid of it at the first possible minute if they could, insist that the current bill defends the Hyde Amendment. Go figure.

It has been hard to follow the debate in the mainstream press for a simple reason: Most news reports have simply reproduced the talking points of the politicos who oppose the pro-life Democrats who want tighter language. I have been searching for a single story -- in a mainstream report, not niche-news sites -- that allows the point to even be debated, with both sides of the debate clearly making their case in their own language. Did I miss something?

Here is a perfect example of what we are seeing, drawn from the Los Angeles Times:

Friday, a group of socially conservative Democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan demanded a vote on a resolution that could prohibit women from buying a health plan that covers abortion services if they receive any federal insurance subsidies. Millions of low- and middle-income Americans who would be required to buy insurance if they do not get it through their employer could be eligible for these subsidies.

Leading antiabortion groups, including the Family Research Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have demanded this restriction.

The Senate healthcare bill now requires any woman who buys an insurance plan with the help of a federal subsidy to send her insurer a separate check to pay for any abortion benefit that is included in the health plan. Many conservative lawmakers and religious groups have said that arrangement is sufficient to ensure that there is no public funding of abortion.

However, if you were reading carefully you might have a few questions:

* What is the actual language being sought by Stupak, the U.S. bishops and others? Would it be possible for readers to compare the language in the two legislative options? Would Stupak and other opponents agree with the accuracy of the LA Times summary? Are there, in fact, sides in the debate. Correct?

* When this citizen who receives the subsidy writes these two checks, how in the world would government leaders know that tax dollars were or were not used to write the second check? Isn't the money all in that person's wallet, so to speak?

* Who are the "many conservative lawmakers" who oppose tighter abortion language? Also, note the grammar. Does the adjective "conservative" also describe these "religious groups" who back the White House position?

Let's try the language in the Washington Post:

The Senate's version included slightly less stringent restrictions. State-run insurance exchanges created under the legislation would be permitted to bar abortion coverage in the policies they offer, but recipients of federal tax credits for insurance would be permitted to buy policies with abortion coverage if it were available. Their tax credit would finance the bulk of their policy, but they would have to write a separate check, with their own money, to pay for the part of the policy that covers elective abortions.

"They'll send you two bills, and you'll write two checks," said Timothy Jost, a legal and health policy expert at the Washington and Lee School of Law who has studied the legislation. Jost, who appeared Friday at a news conference organized by antiabortion groups that support the Senate language, said he expects that few people will buy the extra coverage, particularly if they get insurance through an employer.

Once again, what do people on the other side of the issue think? Would they agree with the Post paraphrase, especially the inclusion of the "with their own money" phrase? How would they explain their stance, in their own language?

Meanwhile, who are these "antiabortion groups" that now support the Senate language? Might we have a few names? That wouldn't happen to be the Catholic Health Association, the coalition of Catholic nuns (many of whom keep clashing with the Vatican on other doctrinal issues), the pro-White House Catholics United group and a few others who consistently oppose the bishops?

Here is my crucial journalistic point, once again: There are articulate, principled people on both sides of this Hyde Amendment status quo issue. To understand this final act in the health-care drama, it could really help if the major players in the mainstream press allowed voices on both sides to state their own cases.

Yes, there is a debate going on and journalists need to cover both sides of it. Or have the leaders of these newsrooms already decided which side of the debate is in the right?

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