“Kennedy accused the church of fanning ‘flames of dissent and discord’ on Capitol Hill”

An Irish Times report identifies one potential rock upon which US President Obama’s Public Government Health Insurance Bill might founder.

It was a Democratic congressman, Bart Stupak from Michigan, who put forward an amendment demanding not only that the government insurance option in the healthcare Bill be banned from covering abortion, but that private insurance companies participating in an insurance market or exchange to be established under the Bill also be forbidden from paying for abortions.

The Bill would give subsidies to companies in the exchange and tax credits to any family of four with an income of less than $88,000 a year purchasing insurance. Companies participating in the exchange would have to drop abortion coverage and women receiving tax credits would not be eligible for abortion coverage, unless purchased privately outside the exchange, dramatically reducing the availability of the procedure to poor women.

As the report adds

Now pro-choice and anti- abortion Democrats threaten to hold healthcare reform hostage to the abortion question.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette this week presented Pelosi with a letter signed by 40 House Democrats saying they would vote against the final Bill if it contained the restrictions of the Stupak amendment.

For his part, Stupak threatened “there will be hell to pay” if his fellow Democrats “double cross” him and that he too could muster 40 No votes.


The American Conference of Bishops has long campaigned for universal healthcare in the US, but they were also the driving force behind the Stupak amendment, instructing priests to mobilise parishioners and openly lobbying for the House vote.

Critics say the presence of four envoys from the bishops’ conference on the Hill on November 7th was a violation of the separation of church and state and have suggested the church should lose its tax-exempt status.

The dispute became personal in Rhode Island, where representative Patrick Kennedy, son of the late senator Ted Kennedy, clashed with Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence.

Kennedy accused the church of fanning “flames of dissent and discord” on Capitol Hill and asked “how the Catholic church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time”.

Bishop Tobin called Kennedy “a disappointment to the church” and suggested he should be denied Communion.

“If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things,” the Bishop said on a Providence radio station.

“If you cannot do all that in conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.”

Although, to take a slight tangent, not apparently if you’re an Irish Catholic bishop.

As another Irish Times report notes

In his wide-ranging address, the bishop said he “lacks any enthusiasm for the Latin Mass” and was “saddened” that he could not feel free to take part in Communion at Church of Ireland services because of the rules in his own church. This was despite the fact that “in Ennis it was never suggested that Church of Ireland people are not welcome to receive in our church.”

He said he always had difficulties when told by the church that certain subjects were not for discussion. He was unhappy generally about exclusion by the church, citing the issues of second unions and homosexuality as examples.