Current Comment

Commitment on Conscience

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidelines that will require private health insurers to offer, without co-pay, contraception, sterilization and reproductive counseling as part of a package of preventive care for women. The Catholic Health Association and the U.S. bishops agree that the religious exemption built into those guidelines is too narrow. It may force Catholic health, education and other institutions either to pay for health plans that violate their beliefs or to cease operations to avoid a clash of conscience. Before selecting that drastic option, however, there appears to be time to make reasonable adjustments. H.H.S. specifically invited comment on the definitions it is using in its “interim” religious exemption during a 60-day public comment period.

At some personal cost, Carol Keehan, D.C., the C.H.A. president and chief executive officer, played a pivotal role in the passage of the Obama administration’s health reform package in March 2010. It would be a significant betrayal of Sister Keehan’s effort if a continuing dialogue does not produce revisions of the guidelines more amenable to Catholic moral concerns.


The Obama administration is already in something of a no-win situation. If it commits itself to rewriting the exemption language to the satisfaction of Catholic leaders, it can anticipate a scorching from Planned Parenthood and women’s organizations. And since it is unlikely to reverse the F.D.A. classification of Plan B and ella as contraceptives, pro-life groups will remain skeptical of the administration’s intentions on health care reform going forward, whatever it decides. But the administration should stand by its previous commitments on conscience protection. Liberty of conscience in the American tradition has survived historical lapses and proved its worth as a cultural underwriter of social harmony.

The Famine This Time

On Monday Aug. 4, morning news commentators spoke glumly about two big stories that had hit over the weekend. First, in the ongoing financial crisis, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating. Second, in the unending slaughter in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters shot down a U.S. helicopter, resulting in the loss of 38 lives, 30 of them U.S. military personnel. These big issues cost Americans blood and treasure. They rightly demand air time.

Almost lost in the day’s news was an item that crawled across the screen while the commentators talked of other things. A U.S. official in Kenya reported that 29,000 Somali children under the age of 5 had died of famine in the last 90 days. This was only the latest statistic in a land already devastated by a lack of food and water. It is estimated that 3.2 million Somalis, almost half of the country’s population, are in need of emergency aid. Almost half of them live in areas controlled by militants associated with Al Qaeda, who have hampered international efforts to help.

The crisis in Somalia dates back at least 20 years, when an earlier famine destabilized the government; the country has never recovered. For 20 years the people have been hungry, and children have starved to death. Food that now reaches Somalia as aid often does not go to those who need it most. Much is stolen and then sold in markets. Still, despite setbacks, assistance agencies are doing what they can to bring relief to those most in need. Perhaps the leaders of the world’s prosperous nations, even while suffering economic setbacks, could likewise give some creative thought and energy to saving the people of Somalia.

Without Vision

In recent weeks President Obama has taken some left hooks from former supporters. Some say he is intellectually shallow. Others object that he naïvely imagines he can bargain with enemies whose main goal is to destroy him in 2012. Still others complain that he populated his staff with the same money people who caused the 2008 financial crisis. But the loudest complaint warns that his opponents, who represent the tiny group who controls the wealth, are determined to undo the New Deal, the reforms from the 1930s that prevented the crisis from worsening.

These sometime supporters advise that the president should borrow a page from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership style: focus on one key issue—jobs—and fight back. Indeed, it might help, too, at a cabinet meeting, to play a recording of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, in which he challenged the climate of fear, as well as his Arsenal of Democracy speech, in which he woke up a sleeping public to the threat of Nazism.

How did Roosevelt motivate Americans and mobilize the country? He stressed the seriousness of the crisis. He attacked by name the false leaders opposing hard decisions. He reminded the people that they had elected him to lead them through this time of struggle. Then he enumerated exactly what he proposed to do and called upon them to make sacrifices so those goals could be accomplished.

After reflecting on the tapes, Mr. Obama should frame one line from Roosevelt’s inaugural address and hang it above his desk: “Without vision, the people perish” (Prv 29:18).

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Michael Barberi
7 years 5 months ago

The editors are correct that President Obama and Congress are in a polictical dilemma with respect to revising the recent health care legislation. The good news is that the HHS will allow a 60 day public comment period.

I was in the healthcare industry for over 30 years and held senior executive positions in healthcare organizations and consulting firms. One of the major obsticles to religious conscience protection is that although a healthcare plan includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and reproductive counselling, an individual does not have to elect these services.

As for organizations being forced to offer such coverage. that are against their religious beliefs and business policies, it becomes a perplexing balancing act for the Federal Government to exempt such coverage from the healthcare plans of organizations that employ individuals of various beliefs regardless if organizations are required to pay for the benefits. This does not make such laws right or wrong. Secular society and the political systems of government have to balance many competing philosophies and theologies of conscience and nondiscrimination laws.

There are hundreds of state and federal laws requiring organizations to offer certain benefits. Most organizations complain that state and federal laws are one of the reasons that healthcare costs are increasing and becoming unaffordable. There is truth to these complaints and a solution should be sought.

These are highly complex issues and the Catholic Healthcare Association and other groups have the right to lobby for changes in healthcare legislation.

7 years 4 months ago
In 1992 President Bush sent in 22,000 US troops to rescue Somalia from the famine and forcibly put down the various waring factions that were using famine as a weapon of war. They succeeded in their mission and the famine crisis was averted.

Then President Bill Clinton was elected and one of his first foreign policy moves (apart from invading Haiti) was to remove the US troops and tanks, place the entire operation under UN control, and keep only a small group of US Rangers involved as a rapid reaction force. Then he decided he'd send in this small group to arrest the biggest warlord during day time, smack dab in the middle of his armed camp. The biggest battle in the history of Somalia was the result, 17 Americans died and over 1,000 Somalis.

Then we pulled out, the UN mission imploded and the status quo ante returned. Entirely under Bill Clinton's watch. The lesson? if you are going to nation-build, keep a sizable force with tanks on hand and don't do anything stupid.

As for our current President and FDR.... the New Deal did NOT end the Great Depression. World War 2 did and only because all our allies and enemies' national industries (which compete with ours) got blown and bombed to smithereens, making American heavy industry and commerce the de-facto "last man standing" from 1946 to the 1970s. Unless President Obama wants to literally start a world war, such that "made in America" again becomes the default, merely re-playing New Deal programs won't save us.

Regulatory compliance to state and federal laws consisting of thousands of pages of legislation and tens of thousands of pages of bureaucratic rules are some of the main drivers of business expenses eating up meager profits. The more non-profits and for-profits have to spend on compliance with ever more complex laws and rules - any of which could result in crushing penalties and fines if missed - the more our economy will flounder. Adding more laws and bureaucrats won't solve this problem, only cutting out Federal and State laws and rules will but that would result in "immediate" job cuts for government 'jobs'.

Fortunately our President and those who voted for him are brilliant - certainly smarter than any of his predecessors and the proof of this brilliance is evident in the results, right?

7 years 4 months ago
FDR is not high on my list of President's.  According to a study done by Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian, they conclude that New Deal policies signed into law by FDR thwarted economic recovery. 

Here is an excerpt: 

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."


Our current President has the same mindset, probably worse.  He is clearly "Anti-Free Market" and "Pro-Labor".

Time to sign off...I feel a depression coming on!

7 years 4 months ago
My God is not an angry God! But when I saw the picture of the malnourished 7 month old boy (Somalia Famine, America Aug 29-Sep 5) and then see this morning's news where "Happy Feet" the wandering penguin, was taken back some 2000 miles to the South Pole, I presume my God is a puzzled God, saying "what are My people thinking?"

We have money and interest in "feel good" projects while our brothers starve from our inattention.


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