Why We Care

As we move into the final stage of negotiations and debate over the health care reform bill, it is very important that we not get caught up in two related, but counter, tendencies, the "pass it at all costs" or the "defeat it at all costs" mentalities that betray the triumph of politics over truth. It is important to step back and ask "Why do we care so much?" and "What are we fighting for?" This act of, you will pardon the expression, values clarification will not necessarily help pass a final bill, but it will help make sure that any final bill that passes is honest. And, this examination of why we care is not just about abortion coverage, although it is certainly about that. It is about why we Catholics are so determined to achieve universal health care access in the first place.

Let me stipulate something about the abortion debate. Most of the pro-choice advocates I know are decent, loving people. They do not relish the prospect of an abortion but they believe that it is not their place to tell anyone else what to do in such a situation as an unwanted pregnancy and many of them remember the days when women died procuring illegal abortions. (The suggestion, invoked by some of the less thoughtful pro-choice advocates, that the Stupak Amendment sends women back to the days of back alley abortion is an insult not only to Cong. Stupak’s amendment but to those women who actually did die procuring illegal abortions.) Pro-choice advocates may be wrong, but they are not evil and their concern for women is genuine albeit misguided in its application.


The twentieth century was, in retrospect, not merely the century of technological and scientific revolutions, the century of the atom and Apollo 11, of open-heart surgery and the computer. That century was also one long assault on human dignity. From the day-in and day-out slaughter of the Western front in World War I, through the mass murders of whole classes of people perpetrated by Stalin and Mao, through the targeting of civilian populations in World War II and beyond, to the final, genocidal crimes in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, one long assault on human dignity. The apologists for each of these crimes saw benefit in their willingness to ignore the humanity of those they were killing. They were defeating the terrible Hun, building a better future for the proletariat, bringing the war to a faster conclusion, redressing prior wrongs. And, in each of these cases, the language of utility came to dominate, and becloud, the minds of those who defended the crimes.

Abortion is not like Darfur, still less Ukraine circa 1932, or Auschwitz or Hiroshima. But, those who defend abortion do so on the kind of utilitarian grounds that have become dangerously commonplace in the justifications for crimes in the twentieth century. There is a problem, the unwanted pregnancy, and there is a solution, abortion. Human beings, however, are not problems to be solved, even the littlest ones still in the womb, they are humans to be accorded dignity and respect. We Catholics believe this and it is not the kind of belief one tosses aside during a mark-up session on Capitol Hill.

In America today, there is precisely no prospect of overturning Roe V. Wade, and if Roe were overturned, most states would enact its provisions into statutory law the next day. I think Roe was wrongly decided, of course, but it will only be changed at the end of a long, cultural process of creating a Culture of Life, not at the beginning of that process. But, Roe was decided on specific grounds, namely, by invoking the privacy of the woman to make her own choice: Government cannot tell a woman what she can do with her own body. If that is the legal ground upon which the pro-choice argument stands, then it is more than a little bizarre that they now demand not an immunity from government interference but a government subsidy for the procedure. This turns Roe on its head faster than any pro-life argument I can think of.

Catholics believe that human beings are not encased in a prior privacy but are born into the world as social beings, that human identity and dignity is not rooted in our powers of rationality or capacity for independence, but in our profound ability to love and be loved, an ability first made manifest in the relationship between mother and child. That is why some Catholics are so appalled by abortion and sometimes say and do things that also assault human dignity. (I do not mean to excuse the Randall Terry’s of the world by that observation, just to explain it.) The point is that this commitment to human dignity is so basic, so primordial to a Catholic’s sensibility, that it propels us to insist that health care reform not be used as a vehicle for further deadening the conscience of our culture.

This same commitment to human dignity drives us Catholics to support universal health care. There are parts of the current bill before the Senate that could be better, no doubt. But, this is the closest the American polity has ever come to establishing in law the right to health care. There is no other option at the moment, nor in the foreseeable future. If we believe that those who mindlessly rush to extend abortion coverage are denying human dignity, we must also believe that those, mostly Republicans, who are objecting to the reform effort are not defending human dignity either.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate the Church’s commitment to human dignity is not dividable. Life issues are social justice issues and social justice issues are life issues. The thing for members of Congress to remember in this final stage of the debate is this: Life is a precious gift from God. Human life demands the protection of our health care system and that protection can not be won by sacrificing unborn human life without denying the very same humane impulse that urges us towards health care reform in the first place.





Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Gabriel Marcella
9 years 2 months ago
A very eloquent statement, one of your best. Some more points should be made:
1. Abortion is not health care, it's elective surgery which American taxpayers should not fund.
2. Abortion has become part of the ethical quagmire called the culture of entitlement.
3. Catholics are not alone in the defense of human life. A majority of Americans agree.
Vince Killoran
9 years 2 months ago
"A government subsidy for the procedure"?  Since it's a legal medical procedure, why not? We subsidize other legal medical procedures.
"Abortion is not like Darfur, still less Ukraine circa 1932, or Auschwitz or Hiroshima.": Why isn't it?  Everyone I talk to who calls it outright murder compare it to these kinds of things.  The question I always and ask-and never receive an adequate answer- is why people who want to re-criminalize abortion limit themselves to blogging, an occasional march, and incorporating pro-life petitions at Mass.  If they think that millions of fellow citizens are being murdered they should be fully committed to eradicating it. Never mind spending money on flowers for the alter and new buildings. Where's the massive nonviolent direct action like in the Civil Rights Movement?  At the end of the day it seems like a considerable amount of political posturing by many (but not all) in the pro-life movement.
9 years 2 months ago
very good summation .. it could /should be used on the floor of the Senate..
Vince,, recent polls show pro-life sentiment is starting to take hold in the majority.. so your call to rachet up tactics is strategically bad advice. Terry Randal is not a friend to pro-life strategy! This entire issue will be about the Democratic party making room for a large minority of pro -life voters being able finding room in the progressive party. If the pro-choice Dems insist on 'shoe-horning ' in "abortion is health care', they do so at their long term peril.. and maybe short term =2010
Marie Rehbein
9 years 2 months ago
What an excellent summation, Mr. Winters!  The best way to get to a culture of life is to practice love for humanity in the abstract and in the ordinary dealings of one's days.  With that sentiment in mind, it would be most appropriate for Mr. Gleason to pass this along to his Senator.
Joshua DeCuir
9 years 2 months ago
That being said, is there any doubt that the Democratic party will implode over the Stupak Amendment.  Its not just "some less than thoughtful pro-choice" advocates opposing Stupak, as if its some minor fringe group.  Rosa DeLaura, Kristin Gillebrand, and other liberals simply won't abide it.  This fight is going to get very ugly &, I believe, has the makings of a "Casey moment" again for the Democrats where the party proves its hostility to pro-life concerns & people.  While I'm not for bishops denying communion, I believe that the Stupak amendment provides a clear delineation for Catholic politicians - the bishops should unequivocally state that no Catholic politician in good conscience can vote for it & there should be consequences.  None of this "private conscience-public morality" fuzziness.
9 years 2 months ago
I was at a medical meeting last week that discussed many of the provisions of the House plan and of the proposed senate plan. There are many problems in these plans that will decrease the access to affordable healthcare for all Americans even if it increases a certain level of healthcare to some Americans. We can do better. I would not support either of these proposals regardless of the abortion issue. Abortion just makes the Senate plan all the worse.

The mammography debate is a great example of the pitfuls of the proposals. On the one hand you have the "scientists" who propose that the benefits of mammography for 39 to 49 year old women may not outweight the risks. The Republicans say, "see this will be rationing". The Democrats say, "see this is continued oppression of woman". They both demand that mammography be covered regardless of science. Nobody proposes that the patient be empowered to decide the worth of mammography. If patients payed for their mammograms then radiologists and hospitals would have to compete for their business. The price of mammography would come down without the government regulation. Some 39 to 49 year old woman would decide with their doctor that the mammogram is worth the physical, psychological and financial risks and some would decide that they are not worth it.

Instead the government will regulate this issue, not based on science and not based on individual choice BUT on political lobbying and political arm-twisting.

Our healthcare system is broke. The Senate and the House propose plans that will deepen the politalization and regulation of medicine that will take autonomy away from the individual patient. That is sad!

9 years 2 months ago
covering 31 million more outways all your concerns..
Jim McCrea
9 years 2 months ago
It is a little hard for a patient to have "autonomy" and "individual choice" when:

You can’t afford coverage because you lost your job and so has your spouse, or (s)he isn’t given coverage at work.


Even if you can afford coverage, you are denied such because of a pre-existing condition.


Even if you can afford coverage and actually have it, you stand a good chance of being dropped because you contract an expensive illness and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay the bill.


Even if you can afford coverage and actually have it, you stand a good chance of being dropped because you contract an expensive illness and the insurance company discovers that you failed to reveal an unrelated medical condition at the time of application, and they use this as an excuse to play “gotcha”.


Even if you can afford coverage and actually have it, you are denied coverage for a procedure that your doctor recommends but the insurance company considers it to be “experimental” and won’t pay for it.
9 years 2 months ago
I said:  "Our healthcare system is broke. The Senate and the House propose plans that will deepen the politalization and regulation of medicine that will take autonomy away from the individual patient. That is sad!"
I can agree with liberals that a single payor system can cover 100% of people in this country.  I find it the lowest form of ignorance that these same liberals cannot fathom another system that would also provide 100% coverage.
Jim and Ed, I assume that you agree with me that although there can be 100% coverage with government-run healthcare, the coverage will need to be limited and the decisions to limit this care will be highly politicized.
The soviet union had 100% coverage for shoes but nobody wanted to buy the government shoes.  They all waited in lines to buy the more expensive and less accessable shoes that were imported from elsewhere.  Only an ignorant liberal would call this affordable access to shoes!


The latest from america

This year’s W.Y.D takes place less than three months after the conclusion of the Synod for Young People that was held in the Vatican last October.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 21, 2019
On Jan. 18, a teenager wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, center left, stands in front of an elderly Native American singing and playing a drum in Washington. (Survival Media Agency via AP)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An exchange between Catholic high school students and a Native American tribal leader in Washington Jan.

Like most public writers, I was used to getting notes that were crude, crazy or even mildly threatening. Normally, I would say a quick prayer for these obviously troubled people and get on with my day. This time it felt different, precisely because the author wasn’t insulting or obviously deranged.
Rachel LuJanuary 21, 2019
In cities across the country, local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice and immigrant rights.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 20, 2019