Thursday, March 18, 2010

Catholic Bishops, Nuns Split Over Health Care Bill

Groups within the Catholic Church in the United States have taken sharply opposing views on pending health care legislation. Yesterday's Boston Globe called the split between U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and leaders of the major Catholic women's religious orders "a rare public disagreement that will reverberate among the nation's 70 million Catholics." In a statement issued Monday, the Bishops said:

The status quo in federal abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies. In the Senate bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state plans will not cover elective abortions – all other plans (including other multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds abortions in order to meet their particular health needs.

Further, the Senate bill authorizes and appropriates billions of dollars in new funding outside the scope of the appropriations bills covered by the Hyde amendment and similar provisions.... Additionally, no provision in the Senate bill incorporates the longstanding and widely supported protection for conscience regarding abortion as found in the Hyde/Weldon amendment. Moreover, neither the House nor Senate bill contains meaningful conscience protection outside the abortion context. Any final bill, to be fair to all, must retain the accommodation of the full range of religious and moral objections in the provision of health insurance and services that are contained in current law, for both individuals and institutions.

This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.

A letter supporting the bill from the heads of women's religious orders representing 59,000 nuns was sent yesterday to all members of Congress. It says in part:
The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.
As the bishops's statement indicates, the Catholic Health Association, representing Catholic hospitals and health care systems, has also urged passage of the current bill in a letter sent to members of the House of Representatives last week.

UPDATE: Taking issue with the letter from the heads of numerous women's religious orders, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious issued a statement on Thursday backing the Bishops' opposition to the pending health care bill. [Thanks to Aaron Cole for the lead.]