John Gehring, senior writer at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), does a fine job taking on the arguments of Rev. Michael Orsi, research fellow at uber-conservative Ave Maria University. The title of Orsi’s article "Bishops Wrong: Health Care Not a Right" has at least the virtue of forthrightness, rather like "Mater Si, Magister No," the most famous example of cafeteria Catholicism on Right heretofore.
Do not undervalue forthrightness. Many who are raising their voices in concern about how health care reform will affect our nation’s abortion policy need to make explicit that they will support health care reform provided the legislation is abortion-neutral. The Knights of Columbus, who are keen to demonstrate their loyalty to the bishops, issued a document that would have you think the whole purpose of health care reform is to advance abortion. I looked in vain for the sentence in their resolution that said something to the effect of, "Provided the reforms do not promote abortion in any way, we pledge our whole-hearted support to health care reform."
The Knights also raised the issue of euthanasia, which is odd because the legislation does not raise it. I previously pointed out that nowhere and in no way do any of the health care reform proposals promote euthanasia. There is a proposal to allow Medicare to cover consultations between patients and doctors about end-of-life issues. I also said it was politically unwise of Rep. Earl Blumenauer even to raise the issue of paying for consultations at this time precisely because I feared those intent on killing health care reform would seize on the proposal to scare seniors. Still, the Knights should know better and they should not be party to this dishonesty.
CACG was most recently in the news when Catholics for Choice attacked them for being too faithful to the Church’s teaching on abortion. They are part of a coalition of progressive faith-based organizations that is lobbying hard for health care reform. On a conference call yesterday, representatives of the coalition reiterated their position that health care reform should be neutral on abortion and they understood that while people of good faith can disagree on funding mechanisms or whether there should be a federal option, abortion is different. In general, religious leaders should stay out of the particulars of achieving a goal like universal health insurance, but with abortion, the particulars have explicit moral consequence and there is no getting around that. Abortion is not like funding mechanisms and there cannot be any too-cute-by-half measures that involve "review boards" making decisions that lawmakers lack the courage to make.
Honesty and clarity are needed now more than ever. Over the winter months, I questioned why the USCCB was spending so much time and money on a postcard campaign to defeat the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) when the bill had not even been introduced. It appeared to me that the USCCB had fallen for a GOP canard, a straw man of a talking point that had nothing to do with reality. Indeed, FOCA still has not been introduced. But, there are ways to achieve its goals in piecemeal fashion and the large, complicated health care bill is one of those vehicles. The pro-choice forces are very, very active in their lobbying efforts: Congressman Waxman did not bring back the Stupak Amendment and have it rejected because he had nothing better to do with his time.
Next week the progressive coalition of which CACG is a part will sponsor a nationwide call-in among faith leaders with President Obama to discuss health care reform. I hope the coalition reaches out to Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Policy. Or, to Cardinal Justin Rigali, head of the USCCB pro-life committee. One of these bishops should be in the national call-in. These men, and the bishops they represent, have it right: Health care reform is a moral imperative but abortion is a deal-breaker. It would be nice if everyone on the Catholic Right would admit publicly the first-half of that equation and everyone on the Catholic Left would applaud the second-half. CACG and the coalition they are working with have followed the Bishops’ stance and they should be applauded for it. Let’s hope the President and members of Congress will follow too.