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.
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.