The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gave a half-hearted welcome to news of the passage of the Obama administration’s health care reform bill. “We applaud,” wrote Cardinal Francis George, the conference president, “the effort to expand health care to all.” “Many elements of the health care reform measure signed into law by the president,” he noted, “...help to fulfill the duty we have to each other for the common good.”
Praise was muted, however. The bishops had opposed passage of the centerpiece Senate bill that failed to meet all their expectations. They cited in particular provisions for protection of the conscience of health professionals, the coverage of undocumented immigrants and possible funding for abortions. All merit further legislative and legal action as health care reform is implemented. The law’s imperfections are many, but with the reform in place these priorities provide a platform to address its shortcomings in the months and years ahead.
The great stumbling block to endorsing the bill was the fear that under the terms of the core Senate bill, financing might seep out through community health clinics to fund abortions. The evidence, the bishops argue, was “compelling.” Certainly compelling for the bishops, and for some others who have made extraordinary efforts to examine the legislative language and weigh legal scenarios for possible future court suits, but not compelling for many other legal analysts. Tenuous legal arguments somehow hardened into matters of principle. (While the conference’s general counsel later disclosed his legal reasoning, the bishops’ reasons for drawing their conclusion were not available for others to probe during the debate on the bill.)
The desire to make the prohibition on abortion funding airtight is admirable, but the argument for doing so seems to have been built on a tissue of hypotheticals that was far from conclusive. How could such a hard and fast position have been founded on such contestable foundations? How did the bishops come to depend so heavily on debatable, technical questions of law? How did they banish doubt when opinions differed so? If there ever was a prudential judgment that might have been left to the practical reason of legislators, the possible backdoor funding of abortion is surely such a case.
How, in the end, did very fine points of abortion-denial come to weigh more heavily than guaranteeing health care to all?
Smile for the Camera
This year’s U.S. Census form is the shortest in history, with just 10 questions, but that has not stopped it from stirring up controversy. The constitutionally mandated survey has occurred every 10 years since 1790, but the type of information it gathers has evolved, much to the chagrin of some conservative pundits and politicians. The census counts the population of the United States, but it also contains questions about race and gender. The radio and television host Glenn Beck has stated that he and others “don’t want to give the government all this kind of information.” A fellow objector, Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, urged a boycott.
But U.S. residents have many reasons to complete the census—aside from the fact that failing to do so is illegal. The information it collects will be used to determine how $400 billion in federal aid is distributed. This population count also ensures that each district is accurately represented in the House of Representatives, in state legislatures and at county seats. Representative Bachmann should take note: A Minnesota newspaper pointed out that if her state loses a Congressional seat because of a low response to the census, her district would likely be the one carved up. Privacy is protected. The Census Bureau is legally bound to refrain from divulging any personal information gathered, so neither Beck nor undocumented immigrants need worry about completing the form.
Accurate information about a neighborhood’s population and demographics helps government and nonprofit organizations determine which areas are in need of such resources as additional roads, schools or hospitals. But participation is key to the census’ success.
The Census Bureau has increased its efforts to reach out to all residents, especially minority populations, which often are underrepresented, and even aired an ad during this year’s Super Bowl. Although the cost of the ad was criticized, such expenditures have proved worthwhile. The first-ever paid campaign, in 2000, turned around a three-decade decline in mail response rates.
Neglecting to return the census form also comes at a cost to taxpayers. Census takers must visit the nonresponsive households, a more costly way of collecting information than by mail. The $100-million campaign in 2000 resulted in a $205-million net saving. Take part in this year’s Snapshot of America. This is one picture in which every resident should appear.