Monday, December 28, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill: The Flock Is Not All In The Same Pasture With The Bishops

Catholic Group Supports Senate on Abortion Aid
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK New York Times Published: December 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — In an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul, the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise on the issue, raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and stirring controversy within the church.

The Senate bill, approved Thursday morning, allows any state to bar the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion and requires insurers in other states to divide subsidy money into separate accounts so that only dollars from private premiums would be used to pay for abortions. (Confining moral questions to the state level has been TRADITIONAL AMERICAN practice--hence all the different abortion and marriage regulations in all the different states.)

Just days before the bill passed, the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals across the country, said in a statement that it was “encouraged” and “increasingly confident” that such a compromise “can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion.” An umbrella group for nuns followed its lead. (The LCWR.)

The same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the proposed compromise “morally unacceptable.”

The divide frames one of the most contentious issues facing House and Senate negotiators as they try to produce a bill that can pass in both chambers.

For months, the bishops have driven a lobbying campaign to bar anyone who receives insurance subsidies under the proposed overhaul from using them to buy coverage that included abortion. Citing the bishops, a group of House Democrats forced their liberal party leaders to adopt such a provision and threatened to block any final legislation that fell short of it. Abortion rights supporters, in response, have vowed to block any bill that includes such a measure.
Officials of the Catholic hospitals’ group and the nuns’ Leadership Conference of Women Religious declined to comment.

Catholic scholars say their statement reflects a different application of church teachings against “cooperation with evil,” a calculus that the legislation offers a way to extend health insurance to millions of Americans. For the Catholic hospitals, that it is both a moral and financial imperative, since like other hospitals they stand to gain from reducing the number of uninsured patients.

And in practical political terms, some Democrats — including some opponents of abortion rights — say that the Catholic hospitals’ relative openness to a compromise could play a pivotal role by providing political cover for Democrats who oppose abortion to support the health bill.

Democrats and liberal groups quickly disseminated the association’s endorsement along with others from the nuns’ group, other Catholics and evangelicals.

“I think it is a sign that progress is being made, that we are getting there,” said Representative Steve Driehaus of Ohio, one of the Democrats who forced the House to adopt the stricter restrictions in its bill. The hospitals’ statement, he said, recognized the Senate’s compromise as a meaningful step, making him “optimistic” that Democrats could find a bill that he and other abortion foes could support.

Other abortion opponents argue that liberals are overstating the hospital association’s influence. “They don’t carry the same sway,” said Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who led the effort that resulted in the House bill’s including a full ban on abortion coverage in any subsidized health insurance plan.

Mr. Stupak said he still had commitments from at least 10 Democrats who voted for the House bill and pledged to vote against the final legislation if it loosened the abortion restrictions — enough to keep the bill from being approved. “At the end of the day we are going to have something along the lines of my language,” he said. Abortion rights supporters said the signs of openness from Catholic groups were helping some Democratic abortion foes accept the Senate compromise.

“We have known for quite some time that the Catholic hospitals and also the nuns are really breaking from these hard-line bishops and saying, ‘This really is our goal: to get more people into health care coverage,’ ” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado.

The abortion rights faction of the House Democrats was initially dubious about the Senate bill’s provision but has warmed up to it after reassurances from their Senate counterparts, Ms. DeGette said. President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders say they aim to follow 30-year-old rules blocking the use of federal money for elective abortions, but lawmakers have fiercely disagreed over how to do so.

Like most Catholic groups, the Catholic Hospital Association has echoed the bishops’ opposition to any federal financing of abortion in health care proposals. But its officials also stood at the White House last spring to endorse Mr. Obama’s plans as part of an administration deal with the hospital industry.

After the Catholic Hospital Association’s endorsement of the proposed compromise, Catholic conservatives and some abortion opponents accused the group of selling out to the Democrats.
“The Catholic Health Association does not represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life,” the conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson said in a statement, calling the association’s move “utterly offensive.” (Neither do you Deal, especially on any other defense of life other than fetuses. For instance, I find your defense of 'pre emptive war' utterly offensive.)

Catholic ethics experts said the groups evidently disagree about how far to go in avoiding even remote complicity in abortion.

“The Catholic Health Association seems to be using traditional principles of cooperation with evil,” said Prof. M. Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame University Law School.

Such principles, she said, could permit support for “imperfect legislation,” as long as one’s intent was not to “further abortion,” one made every effort to “minimize the harm,” and one achieved “an extremely important good that can’t be achieved any other way.”
In contrast, she said, “some bishops have adopted a prophetic stand against abortion that wants to eliminate any form of cooperation with evil no matter how remote.”

The United States Bishops Conference has not responded to requests for comment. But in a letter to the Senate before its vote this week, the bishops’ group argued that the bill still made some level of support for abortion the default position of the federal government, requiring states to actively “opt out” to avoid participating in insurance plans that offered indirect subsidized coverage of abortion.

Citing the abortion provisions and limitations of the coverage of immigrants, the bishops wrote, “Until these fundamental flaws are remedied, the bill should be opposed.” (But not one peep about forcing Americans to buy private health insurance, a most certainly a form of corporate socialism, and not one word about the cherry deal worked out between the Whitehouse and Big Pharma preventing medicare and individual Americans from buying cheaper drugs from other sources.)


Looks like bishops all over the world are finding themselves arguing for Catholic positions their flocks are not backing. Both seem to be looking at things from different sides of the pastoral fence and arguing for different interpretive positions concerning Catholic moral law. The abortion provision in the pending US health care legislation maybe just the tip of the ice berg. It's just one example of the pending chasm between the interpretations of the official hierarchy and the rejection of those from the flock which is expected to live with those interpretations.

It seems the Irish flock is forcing a number of bishops to resign --now up to four--in spite of these bishops difference in opinion as to the moral responsibility of their actions in the abuse scandal. In this particular case it certainly appears Dublin's Archbishop Martin is in the same pasture with his flock.

Traditional Catholic moral thinking has never been Prophetic (one could say Evangelical). It has always been far more nuanced. The concept of cooperation with evil is probably best epitomised by the Just War theory.

Individuals have always been able to opt out of these justified compromises based on their personal convictions. Admittedly, such a stance is not always appreciated by the hierarchy. Franz Jagerstatter comes to mind.

Speaking of Franz, that leads me to wonder why the Church is taking such an absolute Prophetic stance with abortion when it certainly didn't concerning Nazism and other acts of fascism. The silence of Pius XII is being presented as a form of 'cooperating with evil' in order to 'achieve an extremely important good which can't be achieved any other way'. Given the Holocaust I'm still trying to figure out just what exactly was that 'extremely important good' that necessitated all that silence as all that slaughter of the innocent proceeded unimpeded. Must have been pretty important, whatever it was, because the Canonization of Pius XII is also proceeding more or less unimpeded.

I'm beginning to wonder if that 'extremely important good' wasn't just the fact that this slaughter was not communist in origin. The Church certainly wasn't silent in it's condemnation of Communism. Which means what? The same heinous acts from Fascists are less odious to God? But I digress.

The USCCB is finding itself in the position of publicly losing control of the health care debate, not only in congress, but with in it's own Catholic ranks. I don't think this is a position they saw for themselves after their Stupak led success in the House. Deal Hudson and other neo cons can state that the CHA and the LCWR don't speak with any authority, but that position holds only if a Catholic truly believes the hierarchy has the sole authority to speak for the Church. Guess what, that's not true and never has been true. If Deal Hudson really believed the hierarchy were the only authoritative Catholic voice, he wouldn't be blogging because he himself does not toe the official teaching line on a number of issues, not the least of which is pre emptive war.

Here's an excerpt from the linked post of Deal's that demonstrates his selective use of official Church authority:

Stupak "gets it" because he's not going to hide behind the skirts of Catholic groups who compromise the Church's teaching on life issues, and who do so without any authority. By dismissing the influence of the CHA, Stupak not only rejects the cover of a lobbying organization with vested interests, but he also defers to the authority of the bishops and their insistence that the health-care bill be stripped of abortion funding.

(Funny how Deal never mentions that Stupak is a card carrying member of the Evangelical "C" Street Family. Maybe that would shed suspicion on Deal's whole message about Bart's uber Catholic obedience to the authority of the bishops.)


  1. The theocons are alive and well. They would rather have already born people sicken and die because they can't afford treatment than impact any potential life out there. The marriage of religion and politics is alive and well, and threatening our well-being. JFK would be spinning in his grave if he knew just how meddlesome certain bishops have become.

  2. If the health care bill had federally funding for the optional killing of alcoholic Native Americans, would you be for it? They are certainly a drag on their families and society. Absurd example--just as it absurd to fund the killing of unborn innocents.

  3. Trouble is Elastico, American law doesn't see the two as legally equivalent with regards to rights incurred by one's existence and Congress is supposed to be designing legislation based on our current law.

    The drunk has full rights under the Constitution by virtue of being born alive. The one day old conceptus does not--in any state. That's the law whether you or I like it or not.

    However, should that drunk attempt to get a liver transplant under our current health care system, that drunk would be precluded from that transplant just like any fetus. In most cases, even if that drunk is reformed, he has all the rights to a transplant a fetus does.

    For what ever reason social conservatives do not call these transplant commitees a 'death panel'. Even though, for a hypothetical reformed drunk, they are a death panel. (unless you happen to Mickey Mantle and then you go to the top of the transplant list--a situation, interestingly enough, not given to reformed drunken Pulitzer prize winning sports reporters. They get to die at the bottom of the list. They do get on the list though. Your hypothetical Native American would not.

    Why don't we ever hear the USCCB teaching us about the evil of those death panels? I guess I'm left to understand that death panels convened by for profit corporations come under different moral rules.

  4. khughes I suspect JFK's spinning would include certain popes as well. He was fortunate he ran for office under John XXIII and not JPII or Benedict. Ironically he would have been far better off running under Pius the silent one than Benedict.

  5. I used to be a pro-lifer in my conservative days (which were only a couple years ago).

    What was troubling to me, and why i am now pro-choice, is that pro-lifers never painted a picture, a realistic picture, of a society in which abortion is illegal.

    First of all, let's consider the absolutist position: no abortion for any reason. When I considered that case of the 9 year old rape victim in Brazil, I realized that this protection of a man's absolute right to fatherhood, even in the case of rape, was a colossal injustice.

    Typically, the mainstream Right and GOP candidates run on a platform of no abortion "except in the case of rape or incest." Now, to my scholastic, Catholic mind, this is logically inconsistent when we consider the rhetoric of the pro-life movement: i.e. a person's life begins at conception.
    But what would our country look like if we banned abortion except for rape and incest? There'd still be abortions, either in hospitals or clinics... and consider! to prevent or make it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion in a country where abortion is legal only in the case of rape or incest would be awful. In that case, it would seem that federal funding would be inevitable. How could you refuse to help rape victims? Or allow only wealthy rape victims access to abortion?

    And then the question is raised: but how do we know it was really rape or incest? Would there have to be some investigation beforehand? Would the police be called in? Will the Chief of Police be issuing permission slips? There's a reason why Roe v. Wade was decided upon the right to privacy found in the 14th amendment.

  6. It is my firm belief that Abortion is wrong in all cases. BUT telling that to a woman in crisis pregnancy does not help her - by itself.

    The primary reason most women even consider Abortion is...simple economics. They cannot afford to bear & raise the child. It does not matter if she is teenaged or adult, on welfare or lower middle/working class, single or married. It costs $$ & time to bear & then care for & raise a child.

    If she is working, which is almost always the case, she is working out of economic necessity - not for fun! In the latter stage of pregnancy & for (at least...) the first three years of the child's life, she must be there for the kid, 24/7. To bond with, nurture, teach & physically care for the kid. Obviously she cannot do this AND work at the same time. Most certainly she cannot do it alone, without help from someone else.

    So by mere Phariseeical moralizing, without offering a solution to her very real economic distress, the foaming-at-the-mouth Pro-Lifers are actually forcing the women in crisis pregnancy toward Abortion.

    ...some 'Gospel of Life', eh?

    Rather then all the fanatical marches, rallies, protests, speeches, videos, conferences & endless (and pointless) sermons......they should take all the money & effort wasted on manifesting the Leaven of the Pharisees...

    ..and put their $$ where their mouth is. Dismantle the Pro-Life establishment. Utilize all the now hundreds of empty parish schools, convents, rectories & seminaries to house women in crisis pregnancy. Give them 100% free, no strings attached medical, financial, & emotional care. Without shaming or forced 'conversions'!

    Jesus did not ask for a valid Photo ID....or evidence of hunger....much less conversion....when He fed the multitudes. He simply showed MERCY! No strings attached.

    Demanding that women in crisis pregnancy 'be converted' by doing the virtually impossible....while refusing to provide them with the material means to do both insane & doing the work of the Devil. As this drives them away from God.

  7. Great comment anonymous. The current pro life emphasis in most respects sets women and their children up for one failure after another because there is no safety net, no recognition of what it takes to raise a child, and no emphasis at all on the other half of the baby making equation--none.

    And I can't begin to ennumerate the number of women and girls I've talked with who didn't want an abortion, either her daddy or her boyfriend did. There seems to me to be a very dangerous separation between the moral guilt laid on the actual woman and the lack of such on her partner.

  8. This is a comment I made at the dotCommonweal site, and seems appropriate to be repeated here:

    “Unless and until the Catholic magisterium makes arguments that are compelling enough to convince those who do not accept the concept that the fetus is a human being prior to birth that they are wrong, then there will not be an appetite within the greater electoral majority for any provision within any healthcare program(s) to totally disallow abortion which is still legal and most likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. As such, the majority wants abortion remain treated as a medical procedure and should be subject to healthcare coverage, and in some cases, at taxpayer expense.

    Failure to accept this will only result in continued strum und drang that will get the anti-abortion crowd virtually nowhere in achievement of their goals.”.

    Jim McCrea

  9. One thing I've noticed along with others is that there seems to be a real disconnect between the bishops' ideal and how their policies actually affect real live people. Bilgrimage has had a thought-promoting discussion on this issue in December. I think the bishops and the pro-lifer folks are more in love with the idea of what they think women should be than how real women are. Witness their attachment to Gianna Molla, the pregnant Italian doctor who refused cancer treatment during pregnancy, and the example of Monica (Mona) Fermoyle in "The Cardinal."

    I agree JFK would have been surprised (and not pleasantly so) by JP II and Benedict XVI. There are people out there defending Tobin in his scuffle with Patrick Kennedy.

    Also, in reply to Orlando, I recall reading a letter to National Catholic Reporter from a Catholic nurse that it was largely poor women who died from illegal or septic abortions before "Roe v. Wade." The nurse mentioned that well-to-do women with an unwanted pregnancy could have a D&C done by an OB/GYN in a hospital and no one would ask any questions. Meryl Gordon notes in her biography of Brooke Astor, "Mrs. Astor Regrets" that Brooke Astor herself had several D&Cs done after she found herself pregnant. She had no more children after her son Anthony Marshall, and we all know how that turned out.

  10. My aunt used to work at a hospital in the late 60's and early 70's - before Roe v. Wade. She was well aware of the *many* D&C's done there and what that really meant.

    And she was the telephone operator.


    Who is kidding who when those who want Roe V. Wade undone go ranting? What do they actually think will happen?