Health Care: Simply Catholicism

The news that Congressman Bart Stupak, the champion of pro-life Democrats, will be out of town for the rest of the week due to a death in his family is the most discouraging news I have heard in a long time. The House appears set to move forward on its health care reform bill, possibly by the end of the week, and Stupak’s absence complicates everything. As the USCCB has instructed, now is the time to be calling your congressional representatives in both the House and Senate and telling them that you are anxious to support health care reform but that government funding for abortion is a deal-breaker. That phrasing is not my own: It is what Cardinal Sean O’Malley said to President Obama before the funeral Mass for Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Cardinal O’Malley’s succinct statement is a perfect example of what Cardinal Francis George calls "simply Catholicism" in his new book The Difference God Makes. This is a time for all Catholics to put their partisan positions in second place and consider the health care debate in terms of simply Catholicism. Yes, some Democrats are so eager to get health care reform, they might be tempted to skirt the abortion issue. They must resist the temptation. Some Republicans may be tempted to hide behind the abortion issue to oppose health care reform on other grounds. They, too, must resist the temptation.


Now, determining what precisely does and does not constitute federal funding is a little bit trickier than anticipated because the health care reform bills so far passed by committees in either house use subsidies for private plans to help reach universal coverage. But, before we get to the key question of where to draw the line, it is important to note the "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" quality to the negotiations going on in the House. Yes, the closer the bill is to what we eventually want the more likely the Conference Committee, where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, will go smoothly. But, the truth is that the most important negotiations are the ones going on over in the Senate. If, the House passes a bill that comes close to Stupak, that strengthens the hand of pro-life Democrats in the Senate assuredly. But, one stubborn Senator may be all it takes to keep federal funding of abortion out of the final bill.

So, where to draw the line? I think there is some disingenuous posturing on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides. Pro-lifers must concede that banning all federal subsidies to plans that include abortion coverage is, in effect, telling insurance companies they cannot provide coverage for a procedure that is legal. On the other hand, pro-choicers have to admit that federal subsidies constitute federal funding and we pro-lifers are not going to sit around and see 20 million Americans suddenly have tax-payer subsidized abortion coverage. The Capps Amendment is insufficient and, as important as health care reform is, unless there are changes to Capps, Congress should vote no. On the other hand, if there is a way to pass a health care bill that neither encourages nor discourages abortion coverage but honors the current status quo, Congress should vote yes.

There are three solutions. First, Congress can create vouchers with which individuals go and buy whatever plans they want. As in the case of private school vouchers, this does not constitute any kind of direct federal funding. Second, and similarly, the subsidies can be in the form of tax credits. This, too, gets around any issue of federal funding of abortion but I worry that tax credits are never the way to go, that some sliver of the population that is due the subsidy will not get it because tax forms are confusing enough. Finally, Congress can mandate a "basic plan" that does not include abortion services and only provide subsidies for that plan, although citizens would be free to buy whichever plan with whatever additional coverage they want.

What can’t get lost in this debate is how important it is to pass universal health insurance. The Republicans announced their counter-proposal but the Congressional Budget Office analysis said it would scarcely make a dent in the number of uninsured. Some reform. As well, GOP protestations about the cost of health care reform are laughable when you realize that the last major health care reform – Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage – was enacted by the GOP with absolutely no funding mechanism, none, zip, zilch. Similarly, those Catholics who invoke the principle of subsidiarity to oppose health care reform misunderstand subsidiarity. It works both ways: Problems that can be dealt with at a lower level of society or government should be dealt with at that level, but when the family, or the community, or the city or the state can’t deal with the problem, the federal government has an obligation to step in.

Yes, abortion is a deal breaker, but it is incumbent upon all Catholics to seriously push for health care reform provided the abortion issue is dealt with satisfactorily. Those who are complaining about other aspects of the bill are free to do so, of course. But, they are standing in the way of the fulfillment of a cardinal principle of Catholic Social Teaching, that health care is a right not a privilege. And, they are failing to be simply Catholic.

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Think Catholic
9 years 2 months ago
MSW says "Pro-lifers must concede that banning all federal subsidies to plans that include abortion coverage is, in effect, telling insurance companies they cannot provide coverage for a procedure that is legal."
No, it is NOT telling insurance companies this, if as in your option 3, people are free to buy separate abortion coverage on their own.  Because then, the ban would be telling insurance companies that yes they can provide the coverage, but on their own. 
Pearce Shea
9 years 2 months ago
And so what if insurance companies are told they cannot cover a legal procedure. Most plans don't cover a great swath of legal procedures, so business as usual, right?
9 years 2 months ago
"Pro-lifers must concede that banning all federal subsidies to plans that include abortion coverage is, in effect, telling insurance companies they cannot provide coverage for a procedure that is legal."

No, it is saying that the government won't spend my money to subsidize the killing of another human being.

That is NOT asking too much, Mr. Winters!
MaryMargaret Flynn
9 years 2 months ago
Yes of course as a pracicing Cantholic and physician, it is so obvious that health cre is a right recognizing the dignity of each individual, rich, poor, -in all our differences we are all beloved by God. So we get univserdal health care and our taxes support it. Our taxes also support unjust walls, bombing of pregnant moms, children, non combantants daily now and probably for many more decades to come. I with held my taxes to protest the Viet Nam war-so with hold your taxes as a protestagainst any taxes supporting abortions. But don't keep 45,000 beloved children of God dieing eary year and millions more suffering ubecause of no access to health care in the name of preventing abortions. Actually health care reform is not going anywhere where it sure primariy because of money-and corpoations and they aren't even people. As a Catholic physician I have never had to perform an abortion; Helped several women heal from the bortched abortions-that suffering is a lot rarer now days. When more than 30% of all the millions spent in health care goes to adminstrative costs-that needs to be stopped by good legislation and universal health care, period. I've always worked in public medicine and for the poor. Truly deplorable in rich USA-Unnecessary preventable suffering and death as lack of money takes care and life giving health care away. And anti-abortions are out to prevent health care reform. What an awful soceity of hate and greed we live in.
Victor Poole
9 years 2 months ago
If Mr. Winters thinks that some sort of compromise can or should be reached in an argument over the fundamental human right to life, then he clearly misunderstands the depth and seriousness of an authentic pro-life position.
The deliberate killing of innocent people is not something to compromise about!
Let's look at another human rights based argument that split the country. Was slavery anything to compromise about? One side "believed" that a class of people should have full human rights, while the other side "believed" that a class of people should not have full human rights to life, liberty, and property.
Did that render the discussion to be merely of only religious importance and confined to only theological circles? Should the government have been open to an "additional slavery option" for those who could've afforded to purchase it? No way! In a democratic society, NO ONE SHOULD BE LEGALLY PERMITTED TO PURCHASE THE DEATH OF ANOTHER PERSON.
Surgeons don't compromise the health of a patient with cancer, twiddling their thumbs as to whether or not they should remove all of a malignant tumor. Likewise, no room should be left open in legislation for the cancers of slavery, abortion, euthanasia, and other crimes against the fundamental human right to life.
It must be realized that the societal solution to unwanted pregnancies is not solved by convenience and moral blindness. True progress and authentic change involves at least providing life affirming opportunities for pregnant women. instead of permitting murder.
A person's a person, no matter how small, poor, or unwanted. To compromise that is to be less than simply Catholic.


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