Crunch Time on Health Care

It is crunch time on the health care reform bill. The Senate leadership, in consultation with the White House, are deciding the final parameters of the legislation. Catholic observers are keeping their fingers crossed that the final legislative language will permit us to support it.

Actually, some Catholic observers are not crossing their fingers hoping for passage. Some Catholics have made it clear that they will oppose any bill coming from this administration regardless of how it treats abortion coverage, which is the central sticking point for most Catholics, certainly for the USCCB. Over at the website of Princeton Professor Robert George’s so-called "American Principles Project" their blog has a video of an ad aimed at pro-life Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska, but the ad doesn’t address abortion, it addresses taxes. Set aside the fact that the Senate bill does not raise taxes as the ad charges. What the ad’s creators do not recognize is that if you Sen. Nelson is going to oppose the bill on any grounds, then Sen. Reid and the White House have no reason to listen to him when he raises pro-life concerns.


Indeed, some in the White House have concluded that the USCCB will end up not supporting the final bill no matter what they say or do. In addition to the abortion issue, there is funding for contraception and no funding for undocumented workers. I think the Church is right to raise a red flag on the subjects of contraception and immigration, but I do not think either concern warrants opposing a bill that achieves such an important social good. Still, they may have marginalized themselves at a critical juncture in the negotiations by appearing hostile to any but the most arch interpretations of the legislative language.

The hope for abortion-neutral health care reform rests today almost entirely in the hands of pro-life Democrats like Sen. Nelson and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. As Sen. Reid tries to keep all Democrats on board to reach the magic number of 60 votes, these pro-life Democrats have enormous influence. Even on the House, where the rules favor the instincts of the Speaker, the pro-life leadership of Cong. Bart Stupak has insured that the issue will remain on the table after the Republicans have marginalized themselves.

Sen. Casey, you will recall, was deemed unfit by his bishop to speak at a Catholic commencement ceremony because he was not sufficiently pro-life: He had voted to confirm Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. The bishop did not appreciate that such an appointment must be viewed from many angles, including the pro-life angle, and that whether Casey agreed with Sebelius on abortion or not, a president has a right to name his own team. But, if bishops, individually or collectively, expect Catholic politicians to ignore any such concerns except the abortion issue, they will make it impossible for pro-life Democrats to exist. And, in situations like the one we are in today, there will be no one to speak on behalf of life at the negotiating table. The only hope for changing our political culture so that we can even contemplate ending the abortion-on-demand legal regime we have today, is for there to be pro-life leaders in both political parties.

One of the problems with many in the leadership of the pro-life movement is that in their understandable, and even laudable, zeal, they sometimes overshoot, or otherwise miss the mark. They fail to grasp the complexity of human life, and consequently of human politics. They criticize Cardinal O’Malley for presiding at Sen. Kennedy’s funeral because they overlook the fact that Christians should never abandon a family in its time of grief. They criticize Sen. Casey’s vote for Secretary Sebelius because they overlook those considerations that counseled in favor of such a vote. In the current debate, they have been co-opted by partisan Republicans who, intent on opposing the bill no matter what, are completely on the sidelines in the final negotiations. The USCCB needs to decide whether or not it will allow itself to be similarly marginalized but if it is, it will be a great shame.

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William Lindsey
9 years 2 months ago
"One of the problems with many in the leadership of the pro-life
movement is that in their understandable, and even laudable, zeal, they
sometimes overshoot, or otherwise miss the mark. . . .They
criticize Cardinal O’Malley for presiding at Sen. Kennedy’s funeral
because they overlook the fact that Christians should never abandon a
family in its time of grief."
To my mind, overlooking the needs of a grieving family is hardly understandable or laudable.  It's the antithesis of those characteristics.
I suspect that the pro-life movement fails to gain the support of large numbers of people largely because the behavior of many of its core adherents frequently contradicts their claims about respect for life.  This gives quite a few of us the impression that the goals of the pro-life movement have to do with quite a bit more than seeing life respected-and that this quite a bit more may be far from laudable, if this movement achieves those goals.
James Lindsay
9 years 2 months ago
Luckily, there are other Catholics, like Catholic Charities, USA, that the White House deals with.  The Administration is intelligent enough to know that certain bishops have a stranglehold over what comes out of the USCCB on health care and that they don't represent the views of the vast majority of Catholics, especially those who voted for the President.
Back in the day, the Bishop's word was law for Catholics.  As the people in the pews have become more educated - indeed often more educated than the bishops, this is not so much the case - especially on those issues where the bishops seem to be very badly advised.
Think Catholic
9 years 2 months ago
"Keeping your fingers crossed" that the bill won't fund abortion?  The White House, Reid and Pelosi are all on record now saying that they will go no "further" than the Capps fraud, which MSW himself has declared to be abortion funding despite Capps' mere verbal engineering that claims it doesn't fund abortion. 
There is not *any* proposal or hint of a proposal NOT to fund abortion.  Not even one.  What does it mean then, for liberal Catholics to merely "keep their fingers crossed"?  It means they are content not to complain, NOW, that the current versions DO fund abortion.  Instead, they just keep claiming "we're not sure what the bill will say."  To claim uncertainty at this stage is willful indifference to the fact that the bills will give free abortions to everyone and massively expand abortion.  This is tantamount to claiming that the Iraq War was justified because it may be that Sadaam really did have WMD's and we may still find them. 
People who blindly, irrationally refuse to strenuously object NOW to free abortions for everyone are simply acquiescing to the result.  People who do this *and* spend their time attacking pro-life opponents of the bill, instead of criticizing their president for falsely claiming that abortion isn't funded, are simply advocates for free abortion, but don't have the fortitude to admit their private desires.
Rudy Rau
9 years 2 months ago
''What does it mean then, for liberal Catholics to merely ''keep their fingers crossed''?'' The comment from a contributer at Catholic Vote is very indicative of someone who in truth opposes the Obama administration for political reasons rather than on the grounds of a moral issue. The statement is also revealing in thta it shows this poster, when someone disagrees with him, resorts to less than Catholic habits such as name-calling.
Wording explicity prohibiting the use of taxpayer money for abortions should be a part of health care reform. Less desirable but acceptable is the promise that those funds will not support abortion.
To accuse the president of being a 'liar' without any evidence that he is is less than Catholic. But it is very political and one-sided at that.
Think Catholic
9 years 2 months ago
Ah yes, the ubiquitous, anonymous blog comment "you're a nasty name-caller, you less-than-Catholic person you!"
James says it is "acceptable" for Obamacare to merely "promise" that federal funds will not support abortion, even if it does NOT prohibit the use of such money for abortions.  Not sure what he means by "promise."  The Democrats refuse to promize any such thing.  Instead, the Capps bill unacceptably funds abortion with federal dollars, as MSW himself regognizes, it covers abortion in the public option, and it forces every region in the country to have free abortion insurance available, but it simply declares, Humpty Dumpty style, that the federal money funding abortion isn't federal.  And this is what Obama now claims is "no federal funding" of abortion, the existence of such funding he himself called a lie.  Is this what James too thinks is acceptable?  Federally funding abortion and falsely claiming that it isn't federal funding, thereby giving free abortions to all women, which according to studies on both sides will increase abortion by tens of thousands every year?  If so, we should not be surprised that such a person's loose linguistic principles would also lead to him to claim that his position is fully Catholic and even pro-life.
Helena Loflin
9 years 2 months ago
The "pro-life" movement is the Republican Party is FOX News.  They all want President Obama to fail.  As FOX News becomes more outrageous in order to appeal to the far right GOP "base," so does the Republican Party, and so must the "pro-life" movement.  The Republican bishops have consistently chosen partisanship over social justice, partisanship over engagement, and partisanship over common ground.  The "pro-life"/GOP/FOX influence in and on the Church is divisive when the Church most needs the united support and prayers of all of its members. 
Christopher Scaperlanda
9 years 2 months ago
It is important, in examining this issue, to recognize that there are two issues packed in together, which too often get run together by members of the pro-life movement: (1) whether abortion funding is included/permitted and (2) whether government-run healthcare is a good idea at all.
The first is something that all Catholics ought to oppose, and James, as Matt so aptly points out, it is something that we have every reason not to trust the current administration on absent hard language in the bill refusing funding. In his speech at Notre Dame, Obama called for "principled conscience protection" for doctors and other medical professionals who want not to be forced to participate in abortions, yet all that he has done is revoke the standing protections while offering nothing in its stead. He reinstated the Mexico City policy, using taxpayer money to fund abortions overseas, all while calling for common ground. In other words, while Obama's words have called for common ground on abortion, to date, he has shown no indication of the possibility of any action with regard to abortion other than to act in the most radically pro-choice way possible. To note this and ask for concessions in writing before signing off on a bill is neither un-Catholic nor is it choosing partisanship over common ground; it is simply a case of "fool me once."
On the second, Catholics in good standing can fall on both sides of the issue; the social justice case is a compelling one, but there are also strong claims to be made that the nation-state shouldn't be trusted with something as important as health care. William Cavanaugh's "killing for the telephone company" stands out as the best argument for why modern government's ought not to be trusted with the common good (although that piece is notable in that its purpose is to serve as a tome against the Iraq war.) Moreover, one need only look to England and the "Liverpool Care Pathway" to note that, when governments get to make decisions about what lives are financially worth saving and what lives are not, mandatory euthanasia rears its ugly head. Again, to note these facts is not partisanship, nor is it engaging in scare tactics. It is dealing with disturbing modern trends that can legitimately inform faithful Catholics' beliefs on the issue. To oppose healthcare reform on those ground doesn't make a bishop a republican or disinterested in common ground; it simply means they've made a different prudential judgment than you on an issue where prudential judgments are allowed.
Michael Liddy
9 years 2 months ago
Mr. Winters - 3,000 people are killed every day in America by abortion.
The only way to prevent funding for abortion under new programs is explicity place the prohibition in the language of the bill which will then become permanent US Code. Temporary restrictions are meaningless - new legislatures will undo the law. Confusing or indirect language or references will be eaten up by the courts.
You are making a deal here that all studies show will have grave consequences for the unborn - to be clearer - more kids are going to be killed.
I suggest you think about the people 20-30 years from now and not just those who are suffering today. Your support is short-sighted.
9 years 2 months ago
"They criticize Cardinal O’Malley for presiding at Sen. Kennedy’s funeral because they overlook the fact that Christians should never abandon a family in its time of grief."
Hmmm. So having the funeral mass presided over by a mere priest would have been abandonment?  I left the church long age for many reasons so I really don't care that he had a Catholic funeral, but when a cardinal presides at a funeral mass, the church is saying that this person was such an outstanding Catholic they deserved the high honor of a princely send-off.
To me, anyone who doesn't have the courage to speak out against evil is not worthy of my respect, obviously the Catholic church and most liberal Catholics feel differently.  By all means, be Christian and give the family comfort and a Christian burial, forgive the sinner, just don't honor and glorify him.


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