As those who have been following the congressional health care bill know, the Catholic Church has played a significant role, expressing its disapproval mostly over federal funding for coverage of abortion procedures. The Church backed the House’s Stupak Amendment, which “bars a new government-run insurance plan from covering abortions, except in cases or rape, incest or the life of the mother being in danger, and prohibits any health plan that receives federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage,” and has expressed dismay at the new compromises over abortion in the Senate (ones which, ironically, pro-choice advocates are not happy with either).
From the New York Times, the new provisions allow “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.” This makes it difficult, bureaucratic, and certainly not desirable for insurance companies to cover abortions – but it still does not ban abortion coverage completely.
In a break with the bishops, who do not back the Senate’s compromise and have called it “morally unacceptable,” the Catholic Health Association has signaled that it may support the Senate’s version of the health care bill. Days before the bill passed, the CHA 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 Catholic hospitals seem to be trying to find a way to support the health care bill, despite potentially objectionable abortion provisions, because they stand to gain significantly from a reduced number of uninsured patients. Democrats seem encouraged by the CHA’s support of the bill, even though other abortion opponents (like our perpetual anti-choice favorite, Bart Stupak D-MI), said that the CHA’s influence was being overstated.
The Catholic Church has taken a number of controversial stands this fall, including a threat to cut off all support to the city of Washington, DC if the city legalized gay marriage. And it has been a significant force in the health care debate – enough that many are hoping that this new split will help convince abortion opponents to accept the Senate compromises.
The sad thing is, the CHA is right – this new compromise will not make it easy or affordable for people to access insurance coverage of abortion. To pro-choice advocates who see the right to an affordable and accessible abortion drifting away, this split within the church is almost irrelevant – but it could be the deciding factor in adapting the health care bill so that it is not as overtly anti-choice.
And although many have accused the CHA of “selling out” to the Democrats, what they’re doing makes sense to me – as hospitals, their moral obligation is to help more people, and they can provide greater services if fewer of their patients were insured. Catholic ethicist M. Cathleen Kaveny points out that the CHA 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.”
What do you think? Should the CHA split from the bishops on this issue? Where does their moral obligation lie? And what about pro-choice activists, who think that this bill shouldn’t pass in either form until the abortion restrictions are loosened?
Photo courtesy of Dustin and Jenae's Flickr Photostream.