In the last two days before the vote on the House health reform bill that in the end included the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops worked hard to defeat compromise language that would have created an accounting system for segregation of federal funds from private premiums in the case of insurance coverage for abortion.
Writing on WonkRoom.com Igor Volsky points out what others have as well: By rejecting the compromise the Bishops also laid the groundwork for a case that their own system of accounting is not sufficient as a firewall to protect federal funds provided to Catholic institutions from being used for religious purposes.
The organization also rejected a compromise offered by Brad Ellsworth (D-IN),
which would have established “clear, strict rules for separating public
funds from the premiums of private individuals” and allowed the public
option to provide abortion coverage if it hired “a private contractor to pay abortion providers,
thus avoiding direct federal payments.” The Bishops maintained that
once funds enter the federal treasury, they cannot be properly
segregated. If that’s the case, then the organization is, by its very
own definition, condemning its very own accounting practices.
The Conference works to “unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States;
to organize and conduct religious, charitable and social welfare work
at home and abroad; to aid in education; to care for immigrants; and
generally to enter into and promote by education, publication and
direction the objects of its being.” The Bishops receive federal grants
to finance their “charitable and social work at home and abroad,” but,
by law, they must segregate those funds from efforts “to organize and
conduct religious” work. In fact, the Bishops provide subgrants to organizations that directly serve
disadvantaged individuals and ensure that public funds are not spent on
religious purposes. This is a practice that’s strikingly similar to
what the public option could have done under the Ellsworth amendment.
Volsky concludes: "If [these Catholic] agencies are incapable of properly segregating funds, then perhaps they should stop receiving them."