A Culture of Recrimination or of Life?

Deal Hudson has decided to join the recriminations against Sister Carol Keehan, DC, of the Catholic Health Association for her support of the health care overhaul that is now the law of the land. Deal Hudson, of course, was the GOP’s go-to guy during the Bush years, and he made his opposition to health care reform well known, so this should not surprise. Still, it is worth noting that in his entire life, Hudson has done about as much to help the sick and the aged as I have, which is to say less than Sister Carol does in a week, perhaps in a day.

There are two problems with Hudson’s attack. First, he claims that Sr. Carol misrepresented her own support for the bill. He takes particular aim at this sentence of hers from a speech she gave at NCR’s “Washington Briefing” last week: “We [CHA] were in complete accord with our bishops and our church that abortion is a grave evil. There is no justification for abortion, and we would not ever have supported this bill if we thought it funded abortion.” He points out that the USCCB did not support the bill because they argued it did contain federal funding for abortion. There is a sleight of hand in Hudson’s argument, a skipped step in reasoning, one common to too many pro-life advocates. Keehan and the bishops did not disagree about the morality of abortion, nor about the need to keep federal funding of abortion out of the health care debate. The difference of opinion between the bishops and CHA was on the issue of whether the legislative language actually did provide federal funding of abortion.

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I have no desire to re-litigate that debate. Bishops, of course, have unique authority when they teach on faith or morals. But, they have no such authority regarding the interpretation of civil legislation or their best guesses as to how market forces will respond to that legislation. To use an analogy that Hudson can grasp, the USCCB also has no divinely guaranteed authority when it comes to intelligently awarding grants through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. We Catholics are not automatons. We can disagree with bishops about such matters. Our differences may be stupid, they may be short-sighted, they may be based on a difference in perspective, but they are not grounds for a charge of disloyalty.

As I wrote at the time of the health care debate, and am happy to repeat, Cardinal Francis George is so smart I am reluctant to disagree with him about anything except what toppings to put on a pizza. But, whether the USCCB’s analysis of the bill is right, or Sister Carol’s analysis of the bill is right, there is no need for recriminations. Not only is there something prima facie unchristian about a spirit of recrimination, the pro-life movement is ill-served by in-fighting, and not only in the abstract but in the here and now, and it has to do with the implementation of the health care bill.

One of the provisions of the health care reform is that when the insurance exchanges are set up, each state has the option of banning all plans on their exchange from offering abortion coverage. This is a political battle we should welcome. First, in some states we will win – indeed, in some states, one or both houses of the legislature have already begun to vote on such bans. I need hardly point out that Sr. Carol has a lot of influence with pro-health care reform groups right now that might be useful if the USCCB and CHA join forces in this fifty-state fight.

Second, even in the states where we cannot enact a ban, one of the things that happens in a political debate, that doesn’t happen in a legal or juridical debate, is that the fundamental ambivalence of the American people regarding abortion comes through. Many Americans may not think abortion should be illegal, they fear a return to the days of back alley abortions, but they really do not approve of the procedure. The whole purpose of the Hyde Amendment was to register that ambivalence; It was not about saving money. Whenever the debate focuses on people’s opinions about abortion, rather than abstract discussions about a woman’s right to control her reproductive faculty, I think the pro-life movement takes a step closer to winning our case in the culture. And, there is no one who can articulate the case that abortion is not health care as effectively as Sr. Carol given the critical role she played in getting health care reform across the finish line.

There are some bishops, as well as Hudson, who think it necessary to keep the fight going, to bully CHA, to denounce Sr. Carol, to engage in the kind of behavior one expects from politicians but not from bishops. They should ask themselves what they think such a posture will get them. If, instead, they acknowledge that whatever their disagreements about the already enacted bill, there is common work to be done, I think the pro-life movement can take a step towards the Gospel of Life. The Gospel of Recrimination preached by Hudson will do nothing for the Church and it will also do nothing for the unborn.

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Tim Lacy
8 years 7 months ago
Deal Hudson has lost all credibility in relation to speaking on matters of Catholic teachings and politics. He has been exposed as a partisan, plain and simple. For him, Catholic = Republican-no matter the hypocrisies in relation to the RP platform. Indeed, it does little service to *America* readers and Catholics in general to attend to his opinions about health care, abortion, politics, etc. If he takes up writing about gardening or butterflies in relation to Catholic ideas of horticulture and beauty, well, let me know. I'm game for a new line from Mr. Hudson. - TL
Mary Wenske
8 years 7 months ago
I was disappointed in Sister Keehan's supporting the health care bill all along, even when it included supporting abortion.

To me, Sister Keehan is a discredit to the Catholic faith.

I saw her on Raymond Arroyo's EWTN show, and the she was dancing to fast to avoid his questions about supporting abortion.

Fortunately, there is a new generation of JPII Catholics out here. And the more faithful Catholic religious orders are getting our children as religious vocations.
Think Catholic
8 years 7 months ago
The real problem is for someone to say all along that they stand with the Bishops in opposing to federal funding of abortion insurance ET AL in the form of the accounting games in Capps and Nelson, and then at the very last minute to change your mind and say that and that the accounting scheme is fine after all. That's the contradiction.  If someone supported the final bill, there was never a basis to oppose any of those previous versions.  Yet some people made themselves out as vigorous pro-life opponents of those previous versions, when in the end it was fine with them.  It was false advertising.
8 years 7 months ago
YAWN. Move on.  A Republican political operative who is also a Catholic being denounced by a Democratic political operative (masquerading as a blogger/analyst) who is also a Catholic for their disagreements over legislation.  One gets the suspicion that no matter what one thought of the health care bill, unless it is in accord with Mr. Winters' views, you're political hack who is a disgrace to his or her faith.  Sr. Keehan (and Bart Stupak) voluntarily entered the political fray; they should be prepared for the consequences.
Steve Phelan
8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Winters, it takes a certain boldness to write, ''There is a sleight of hand in Hudson’s argument, a skipped step in reasoning...'' and then do exactly what you accuse Hudson of doing. You pretend as if the assertion that the health care law will or will not end up allocating federal funds to pay for abortions is MERE opinion, which it is not. It is a combination of facts (the language of the bill) and predictions (how this will be implemented in practice). The bishops, planned parenthood, and dozens of serious policy analysts all disagree with the nuns (what are their policy analyst qualifications exactly?) in their arguments that the law will now indeed open up federal dollars for abortions. Pretending these are mere differences of opinion is either disingenuous or ignorant. Not only this, but didn't Sr. Keehan have a chance during the process to do what you say she might do, advocate for life, in legislation? Yet she endorsed the bill anyway, brushing off her opposition with the bishops, and discounting the need for explicit language defending life in the bill. And to do this without mention of how Sr. Keehan's organization will obviously benefit from the new law is just poor journalism.
That, combined with your ad hominem attacks (questioning what Hudson has done to serve the sick and elderly when you could not possibly have any idea) seriously injure your credibility.
James Lindsay
8 years 7 months ago
It is not Cardinal George, but Richard Doerflinger that came up with the rationale for opposing health care reform. What I find astounding is that so many conservative Catholics are continuing to dwell on this issue. They lost, they deserved to lose because they could not bring a single Republican to vote for cloture and they should get over it. I write further on my blog entry at http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2010/05/response-to-richard-doerflinger-and.html
Tom Maher
8 years 7 months ago
Sister Carol Keehan and other nuns publicly crticized and ridiculed the Bishops' stand on the health care bill and publically promoted their own views of the health care bill by arguing agsinst the Bishops' objections as wrong. The nuns were actively and deliberately contradicting and undercutting the Bishops to get health care bill passed. The nuns actions were widely and exhasutively commented on by all news media. The nuns were engaed in a public power competion with the Bishops. Commentators urged the public to support the nuns not the Bishops. The nuns actions clearly demonstrated the Catholic church is divided. This devision casued by the nuns public campaign agasint the Bishops will not soon be forgotted and deserves to be criticized for the long term destructive impact of the nuns action on the church.

It needs to be asked: How deep and widespread are these divisons in the church? It needs to be said publically that commitment of the nums against abortion is in great doubt. It was way too easy for the nuns to support health care and oppose the Bishops becsuse there is no great concerm by the nuns about abortion. The nuns aggressive stands does not make sense other then as a insurgency not concerned with the church's moral stand against abortion.
James Lindsay
8 years 7 months ago
As I said in my blog post (and my column on DC Examiner), there are quite a few Catholic Democrats out here who will come a running if any of Doerflinger's predictions about the bill come true. There are adquate votes to stop any of them - however there were not adequate votes to scuttle health care reform because of them. As Stupak implied, being pro-life is not about using life as a shield for Republican obstructionism.

The fact still remains that the Bishops brought no Republican pro-lifers to the party for final passage. If they had, their concerns would have been taken care of in Conference. They were playing with a busted flush and it became painfully obvious. When it did, they should have folded graciously. They certainly should stop playing offense. It only alienates those who would help them later. It may salve their egos and do their coalition politics some good - but it does NOTHING for the unborn.
Dwight Lindley
8 years 7 months ago
While I might not go along with everything he says, I agree with Mr. Phelan on the fact that most folks outside the Catholic left-that is, both pro-life groups of all kinds, and secularist pro-choice groups of all kinds-concur that this bill will be good for abortion-rights. Tim Noah at Slate, along with other liberals who closely watched the health-care debate, were admitting quite openly the whole time that the bill, whatever its ambiguities, is an abortion door-opener. Sr. Carol, whatever her credentials and bargaining heft, has situated herself on the fringe with regard to this question.
francis marion
8 years 7 months ago
America Magazine and Mr. Winters should be apologizing for this misleading piece.  All readers should check-out this column by Matt Abbott which debunks literally all of what pretend to be valid arguments in Winters' column:
http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/100513
''Winters implies that the only difference between the position of the bishops and that of Sister Keehan was one of opinion, as if all opinions are somehow equal, before he boldly claims agnosticism about who may actually have the superior argument.''Talk about flawed reasoning. The bishops' widely disseminated position was based on fact (the actual language of the law) and prediction (about how the law would be applied), not mere opinion. I'd like to find evidence of Sister Keehan's careful reasoning for her position. I just can't find it. It's easy to find dozens of pieces, including those of the bishops, analyzing the legislation in agonizing detail, the great majority of which found that the now-law will indeed funnel federal funds to abortion providers.''The bishops knew this, which is why they opposed the bill and published their reasoning repeatedly. Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, knew this, which is why she claimed victory for all champions of 'women's reproductive health' after the bill's passage. The Associated Press, certainly no shills for the right wing, reported that they found the federal funds would indeed go to abortion providers, albeit indirectly. Congressman Bart Stupak, before caving, condemned exactly the language (of the then-Senate bill) he ended up endorsing, after receiving a promise from the president that an executive order would be issued to assuage his concerns. Not 48 hours passed before Robert Gibbs, the president's spokesman, verified that the executive order did nothing to modify the language of the final bill, but merely reiterated it.''In opposition to all these, Sister Keehan felt (without explaining her reasoning in any detail) that the bill would not result in federal funding of abortion. Amazing. Yet Winters accuses Hudson and others in the pro-life movement of sleight of hand and faulty reasoning. And he does so without mentioning the even the possibility that Sister Keehan's organization, the now-erroneously-titled Catholic Health Association, stands to gain financially from the passage of this bill.''With all due respect, Winters owes Hudson an apology, and he owes the rest of us an intellectual defense of Sister Keehan and the Catholic left's position in support of this bill. Sister Keehan surely hasn't provided such a defense, and Winters' attack on Hudson does little to give one confidence that the left is capable of honest debate on this life-and-death legislation.''
Fred Rotondaro
8 years 7 months ago
Winters has written in the very tradition of Catholic thought. He makes the vital distinction that the disagreement btween the women religious and the US Bishops is not over the evil of abortion but rather over the interpretation of whether the law might in any way allow federal funds to be used for abortion. As Winters correctly notes this is a civil not a moral interpretation. The Catholic Church is doing  much good with religious nuns right in the forefront along with Pope Benedict's call for an ethical capitalism. American bishops should remember the sanctity of conscience and give women religious the same latitude of action they took for themselves in the last 20 years. Fred RotondaroChair, Catholic Alliance for the Common Good

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