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Victims of Obamacare

Religious left support for abortion is imploding.

By 1.28.10

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Religious Left support for abortion funding in Obamacare will maybe be remembered as one of the last, embarrassing gasps of the religious abortion rights movement. Socialized medicine has been almost a messianic dream for liberal religionists across much of the 20th century, while abortion rights emerged about 40 years ago. Focused strategic thinking would have compelled the Religious Left to swallow abortion restrictions in favor of any expansion of government directed health care. But almost until the very end, the Religious Left insisted that abortion coverage was crucial to any health care legislation. They even fired salvos at more traditional religionists who objected to abortion funding.

"Let us admit that in this debate faith leaders of various stripes have placed their ideological and financial agendas ahead of the needs of the American people," complained United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler, without any apparent sense of irony, at a December press conference with Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Ben Cardin (Md.). "These faith leaders have attempted to roll back the rights of women to determine their own reproductive health. This is not acceptable."

Winkler and other Religious Left lobbyists strongly condemned the Pitts-Stupak language in the U.S. House of Representatives version of Obamacare that prohibited abortion funding. Likewise, they opposed Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson's original attempt to replicate that restriction in the Senate version. Of course, Nelson, himself United Methodist, later compromised by supporting the Senate's final version, which would have permitted indirect funding of abortion.

At a December Obamacare rally on Capitol Hill sponsored by United Methodists, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, liberal Roman Catholics, plus Moveon.org, Winkler insisted: "The Senate bill should be abortion-neutral," by which he meant it should not restrict abortion funding. "American families should have the opportunity to choose health coverage that reflects their own values and medical needs," he added, "a principle that should not be sacrificed in service of any political agenda." 

Trying to neutralize the influence of United Methodism's official lobbyist, a caucus of pro-lifers called Task Force for United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality this month urged Senator Nelson to adhere to his original strong pro-life stance. "The Senate's health care bill is unacceptable -- to us, to many if not most United Methodists, and to the clear majority of Americans -- since it would have the effect of facilitating, and thus increasing, the incidence of abortion in our society." The United Methodist pro-lifers also were "very concerned about the Senate bill's failure to include the House bill's conscience protections for health care providers who do not want to be coerced into participation in abortion." And they noted to Nelson that "you have been the target of lobbying efforts by some United Methodist clergy and laity urging you to support the health care reform bill even if it means compromising your pro-life principles." They concluded: "Many, if not most, United Methodists in Nebraska and in the United States share our concerns." And they reminded him of Methodism's first principle from founder John Wesley: "Do no harm." (Their letter is here.)

How influenced Nelson was by his church's official lobbyists is unclear since he would know that the lobby is far to the left of most church members. He may have gotten more encouragement from liberal evangelicals. Shortly before the Senate vote in December, a group of liberal evangelicals compromised traditional evangelical pro-life convictions by backing a compromise on abortion funding from Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Casey. This compromise was quickly denounced by the Catholic bishops and other pro-lifers. But it presaged the ultimate abortion compromise that the Senate approved. The evangelicals who backed it, many of them officers in the National Association of Evangelicals, prioritized government directed health care over protections for the unborn. Their eagerness to create a more progressive image for evangelicals by attaching themselves to Obamacare and indirect abortion funding will likely sideline their influence among most evangelicals.

Meanwhile, nearly all the Mainline Protestant denominations, despite their pro-abortion elites, have vigorous pro-life caucuses. The Task Force for United Methodists annually convenes a pro-life service in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill on the Roe versus Wade anniversary. The nearly 90-year-old headquarters of official United Methodist lobbying is governed by Winkler's United Methodist Board of Church and Society, whose offices are upstairs from the chapel where the pro-lifers are permitted at least one morning of witness.

Foreshadowing the growing pro-life sentiment even in liberal-governed denominations, the Task Force has in recent years featured several bishops at its pro-life Capitol Hill service. This year, Kansas United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones was the preacher, and he was unequivocal in differing with his church's official lobby on abortion funding. "We need to recognize that access to an abortion is not a right. While we believe that persons have the right to health care, abortion is not normally a health care issue. Rather it is a sinful behavior." He added: "Proposals in the recent health-care debate to provide tax funding for abortions are very misguided. What you fund with tax dollars will increase." (For more on Bishop Jones' speech, go here).

Neither government-funded abortion, nor 1960s-style Big Government initiatives like Obamacare, are likely to inspire future generations of American church-goers, or even their elites. Obamacare's seeming collapse may also ultimately foretell the eventual implosion of much of the old Religious Left and the liberal Evangelicals who oddly want to imitate them.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.