I write as a minister and Bible teacher to urge pro-life members of Congress to vote for health insurance reform.
A recent study estimates that 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance. That figure does not count the number of pregnancies that end in miscarriage or the number of children born with life-threatening conditions because the mother lacks access to prenatal care. According to the 2009 CIA World Fact Book, the United States ranks dead last among industrialized countries in infant mortality rates. We are just behind Guam, Cuba, Italy, and the Isle of Man.
Thousands of children die at birth every year because their mothers can't get health care. This is a moral outrage for the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth.
We can end this slaughter of the innocents.
The health-care bill before Congress will cover 31 million people who do not currently have insurance.
I've heard that some of you may not vote for this bill because it's not as restrictive on abortion as the earlier House bill was.
I've read the pertinent section of the Senate bill (Section 1303. Special Rules) very carefully. It explicitly bans federal funding of abortion and requires people who want insurance that covers abortion to pay for that additional coverage out of their own pockets. Insurance companies even have to keep abortion insurance payments separate so they don't "mingle" with federal funds they receive for other things.
Faith-based soup kitchens know how to "segregate" public money from funds used for religious purposes to keep from violating the constitutional separation of church and state. Insurance companies can do the same to respect the ban on federal money for abortion. This is not rocket science.
State laws that require parental notification or restrict late-term abortions are preserved by this bill. Hospitals and doctors who refuse, for moral reasons, to provide abortion services are explicitly protected, and hundreds of millions of dollars are provided to support prenatal and infant care for pregnant teens and college students. More than a billion dollars is set aside to support adoptions.
On abortion, this bill keeps the legal status quo and actually makes it easier for women to choose to carry their pregnancies to full term.
The bill is not perfect, but it will save the lives of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans every year -- born and not-yet-born. This is the time for moral courage, not political calculation. "Yes" is the pro-life vote.
Rev. Dr. Richard Lowery is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. He is married to the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).