Abortion Debate Shows the Catholic Bishops’ Growing Influence

In recent weeks, the bishops have shown impressive political clout

Posted December 17, 2009

Last month’s passage of a sweeping ban on federal funding for abortion in the House healthcare bill caught most of Washington by surprise. The Democratic House leadership is closely aligned with the party’s pro-abortion rights base, which alleged the ban would roll back abortion access for many women by keeping coverage for the procedure out of federally subsidized healthcare plans. And for abortion rights activists, the central role of the Roman Catholic bishops in pressing House leaders to allow a vote on the ban, known as the Stupak-Pitts amendment—and in helping prod 64 Democratic congressmen to support it—was as galling as the ban itself. “It is extremely unfortunate,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said at the time, “that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and antichoice opponents were able to hijack the healthcare reform bill in their dedicated attempt to ban all legal abortion in the United States.”

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Antiabortion activists were just as surprised. “I did not think the bishops would have that degree of success with Stupak,” says Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

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