The head of the nation’s largest network of Catholic hospitals condemned the Republican-sponsored plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, calling the measure “anti-life” and citing concerns over how the measure would affect pregnant women and young mothers.
“We know that so many times women feel like they have no option but abortion because they can't afford maternity care and even if they could get maternity care, they can't afford to care for the child afterwards,” Carol Keehan, D.C., president of the Catholic Health Association, said in an interview with Catholic News Service.
Critics of the replacement plan, called the American Health Care Act or A.C.H.A., say that its passage could result in higher costs for pre-natal care. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 24 million Americans could lose health insurance over the next 10 years should the bill become law.
Earlier this week, the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on domestic justice wrote to Congress urging them not to pass the bill without ensuring Americans would not lose critical access to health insurance.
“Regarding access for those most in need, the AHCA includes changes which place many people at significant risk,” Bishop Frank Dewane wrote. “The legislation must be modified to correct these serious flaws.”
“This bill is catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and particularly for the people who we’re called to serve,” said Sister Keehan.
That potential loss of insurance is also alarming to Sister Keehan.
“This bill is catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and particularly for the people who we’re called to serve,” she said.
Though the final bill, scheduled to be voted on Friday afternoon, remains a work in progress, it is likely to include the rollback of Obama-era taxes on wealthy Americans that were put in place to help fund the Affordable Care Act.
Sister Keehan said those cuts were particularly alarming.
“In the first year we will give over $15 billion in tax breaks to people who make over a million dollars” annually, she said. “That is antithetical to Catholic social teaching.”
But some pro-life leaders say the bill, which would cut off funding to some clinics that perform abortions, is too good an opportunity to pass up.
“This is our opportunity to number one, defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion vendor, and this is, number two, a way to stop our taxpayer money of directly funding abortions,” Brendan O’Morchoe, vice president of strategy at Students for Life, told America. “Let’s take advantage of that opportunity as we work together on different solutions to provide Americans more access to healthcare.”
He said that he supported parts of the Affordable Care Act that provided health insurance to low-income Americans and expectants mothers, benefits which could be lost in a repeal. But he said those issues could be addressed in future legislation.
“It becomes a question of, how do we accomplish all of our goals? How do we prioritize what our goals are?” he said. “When it comes to abortion, that’s got to be at the top of the list because it’s the direct, intentional ending of innocent lives and we’re being forced to participate in it.”
“We can disagree on the best way to provide better access to health care for all Americans, especially low-income Americans,” he said.
President Donald J. Trump, who is pushing for passage of the A.H.C.A., tweeted on Friday that a group of pro-life Republicans who are skeptical of the bill, because they want to see the full repeal of Obamacare, are missing an opportunity to cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood.
“The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!” the president tweeted.
The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2017
Other pro-life activists say the proposed bill harms low-income women seeking medical care during pregnancy and is thus unacceptable to the pro-life cause.
“You have a majority of these people who are labeling themselves as pro-life without realizing that women are still going to need health care,” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, president of New Wave Feminists, told America. “And not just when they’re pregnant, but when they are pregnant that’s of course going to impact their decisions of whether they’re going to continue a pregnancy.”
Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa said she was skeptical of Mr. Trump’s pro-life bona fides during the campaign, and she believes her fears have been justified by his support for A.H.C.A.
"What we’ve done in this country, which I think is very dangerous, is we made the life issue a partisan issue,” Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa said. “So we’re ripe for the picking when it comes to a candidate who just wants to win and he knows all he has to do is say he’s pro-life and we will blindly elect him, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that.”
Sister Keehan, an early supporter of Obamacare, said that in order to strengthen the pro-life cause in the United States, legislative leaders should make sure pregnant women feel that they can afford necessary medical and child care.
“If we want to really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their child are so valued by our country, that we give them quality maternity care, we give them quality pediatric care,” she said. “And we surround them with programs like Head Start, like food stamps” so “that if they're in a low economic bracket, their child doesn't have to be doomed to malnutrition and a poor start in life.”
“That’s how you tell people life is important,” she said. “That’s really for me an indictment of this whole bill.”
Zac Davis contributed to this report.