Consider this a pre-update on a post that I was writing about Catholic conscience exemptions.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the Pelosi plan because of its federal funding for abortions.  Now that Pelosi has allowed the Stupak amendment to come to a vote today, a rider that would more forcefully ban any federal funding for abortion coverage, the USCCB has announced that it will endorse the Pelosi plan, according to Politico:

House leaders have won the backing of the nation’s Catholic bishops for health reform, a critical last-minute boost that could give the bill enough momentum – and enough votes – for passage as early as Saturday. …

“Passing this amendment allows the House to meet our criteria of preserving the existing protections against abortion funding in the new legislation,” the bishops wrote in a letter to individual members. “Most importantly, it will ensure that no government funds will be used for abortion or health plans which include abortion.”

It’s another bitter pill for liberal Democrats but party leaders are gambling that the amendment will be just the breakthrough they need to secure a majority. And in fact, most Democratic advocates of abortion rights appear likely to swallow hard and vote for a health care overhaul anyway.

“I don’t believe any of us believe we can hold up what we’ve been fighting for … and that’s health care,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

I’m not terribly surprised by that outcome.  The USCCB isn’t exactly a hotbed of libertarian thought.  The only surprise in this chapter of ObamaCare is that the bishops stood so strongly against the bill in the first place.  Most of them believe in a collective health-care approach rather than a free market, with a few notable exceptions.  That’s one reason to remember that their wisdom generally remains limited to the spiritual rather than the temporal in terms of political thought.

The big question is whether Stupak’s amendment will actually pass — and whether the bishops will go back to vocal opposition if it doesn’t.  Another big question will be whether Stupak’s language survives a conference process, which could also apply to conscience protections.

With so many new regulations and mandates contained in the Pelosi Plan of ObamaCare, small wonder that people have been confused over how far and wide they will reach. The group Freedom To Care sent out a video yesterday warning of the collapse of the present system of Catholic providers that currently care for 1/6th of the nation’s hospital patients, if conscience exemptions get repealed. This comes out at the moment when Nancy Pelosi has attempted to push a vote on her plan, but actually refers to a regulatory change announced months ago by the Obama administration:

The Pelosi Plan actually has language protecting conscience exemptions — but only those established in other areas of the law.  Sections 258 and 259, found on pages 147-149 of the bill, states that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to have any effect on Federal laws regarding (a) conscience protection,” and also has language protecting conscience exemptions in state laws as well.  It does not set into law any new conscience protections, however.

The Obama administration announced months ago its intention to erase a regulatory change made late in the Bush administration expanding conscience exemptions, which Freedom To Care says will put at risk Catholic providers.  This has been going on for eight months, and as I wrote at the time, the rule change won’t force doctors to perform abortions.  The exemption for that has been committed to federal law for years now, and a rule change can’t repeal that.  The rule change brings the exemption limits to where they were before December 2008, which doesn’t include abortion counseling and contraception services.

This is a good reminder that people have to have the freedom of their conscience in determining what services they themselves will and will not provide.  However, it’s really a separate issue from the Pelosi Plan, at least at the moment, unless the conscience protections get stripped out in a conference report further down the line — which could eventually happen.

Update: Judie Brown, president of the American Life League and also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life that advises Pope Benedict on these issues, is not amused by this premature declaration:

“Our Catholic bishops should be fearlessly leading the way towards a culture of life. Fighting to maintain a status quo credited to the destruction of 51 million preborn children is wrong and confusing to 65 million Catholics united in the defense of life.

“What Cardinal Rigali has permitted by way of political maneuvering is to allow an amendment to be heard and watch it be defeated. While our Catholic bishops will scramble to define their opposition to abortion in the aftermath, Pelosi will wave Rigali’s support for health care reform as evidence that lay Catholics would somehow be wrong in opposing her bill.

“In endorsing Pelosicare, our Catholic bishops have risked making themselves political pawns in advancing a culture of death that treats human life as disposable.

“Once again, this incrementalist approach to abortion will serve to enshrine in law grave injustices condemned unequivocally by the Catholic Church. Among these are rationed health care, In vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, human experimentation, euthanasia and birth control.

“Faithful Catholics have a responsibility to vigorously oppose abortion in healthcare, not negotiate the status quo.

“Our bishops, when they negotiate anything less than the full protection all human beings deserve, undermine the very principles of the Catholic Faith and destroy the confidence of faithful Catholics across America.

“Our Catholic bishops should point to the unchanging principles and doctrines of the Catholic Faith, not negotiate a status quo that ends human lives. Today’s letter abrogates those principles. Americans should know that a truly Catholic position on health care protects human life at all stages and at all times.

“Negotiation on truth is never a Catholic principle. Truth alone should inform the consciences of faithful Catholics, and truth demands the full protection of human life.”