Today the South Bend Tribune confirmed that former Notre Dame president and civil rights pioneer Fr. Theodore Hesburgh encouraged Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) to vote for the final health care bill. Donnelly, whose district includes the Notre Dame campus and who graduated from Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law, was among the “Stupakers” who hesitated to vote for the bill because of the included federal subsidies for abortions. According to the Tribune and to AP reports, the 92-year-old Hesburgh called Donnelly to convince him to vote for the final bill at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request.
The Tribune reports that Donnelly said that “one of the deciding factors that led him to support reform was President Barack Obama’s promise to sign an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions.” His vote, however — and Fr. Hesburgh’s advice — came after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops updated their statement opposing the bill on pro-life grounds with the specific warning that the executive order did not change the fact that the bill would fund abortions. National Right to Life also maintained their opposition to the bill, stating that “A lawmaker who votes for this bill is voting to require federal agencies to subsidize and administer health plans that will pay for elective abortion, and voting to undermine longstanding pro-life policies in other ways as well.”
The revelation that Pelosi got Fr. Hesburgh to lobby Donnelly to vote for the bill comes at a time when the Notre Dame administration is trying to bolster its pro-life credentials. After facing criticism for inviting President Obama to be the commencement speaker in 2009, the administration, led by president Fr. John Jenkins, has undertaken a number of measures to highlight the administration’s pro-life stance, including Fr. Jenkins’s attendance at the 2010 March for Life in Washington, D.C. Even that event was controversial, however, as Fr. Jenkins was confronted along the march route by people upset at the administration’s refusal to drop trespassing charges against the “Notre Dame 88” who had been arrested in protest of Obama’s commencement address.