Due in part to a Senate seat switching parties in a recent special election, health care reform legislation may be stalled in Congress for now. Many had hoped that long-overdue reform, extending affordable health coverage to tens of millions of people who lack it now, was on the horizon. And some, disappointed at the current impasse, are looking for scapegoats.
One charge is that the Catholic Church doomed health care reform by its opposition to federally funded abortion coverage. One New York Times reporter, commenting on the bishops’ new letter urging Congress not to give up on authentic reform, described the bishops as switching to the “other side” of the issue after helping to bring the legislation near death.
The charge runs counter to a number of well-established facts.
First, the Catholic bishops have supported national health care reform for decades. Catholic teaching sees health care not as a commodity, but as a support for life and health that every human being deserves as a matter of right. The bishops wrote to Congress numerous times in the past year, urging progress toward authentic reform – reform that would make health care more affordable, ensure access to health care for immigrants, and respect life from conception to natural death while upholding rights of conscience. They urged that the legislation comply with policies on abortion and conscience rights that have long governed other major federal health programs. Making this bill into a vehicle for weakening or changing federal policy on abortion, they warned, would threaten the real goal of expanding access to basic health care.
Second, opinion surveys showed that others agreed. Most American women and men don’t want abortion in their health coverage, and don’t want the government funding or promoting abortion. Legislation ignoring this strong sentiment would garner public distrust.
Third, the inclusion of clear language against federally funded abortion coverage is what saved health care reform legislation in the House of Representatives. The bill did not have the votes to pass, until the last-minute approval of the Stupak amendment allowed pro-life Democrats to support the bill in good conscience. The Senate refused this language, instead crafting a “compromise” that has failed to win support from groups on either side of the issue.
Fourth, it is the pro-abortion movement that has announced opposition to all current health care reform bills. The National Organization for Women, for example, opposes even the weak and loophole-filled Senate language on abortion, accusing Congress of “throwing women under the bus” to pass health care reform legislation. It is not difficult to see which groups want to hold reform hostage to impossible demands.
What does the future hold? To Catholics, abandoning helpless unborn children is not an option. Nor is abandoning millions of people who lack access to health care. Members of Congress made some progress last year toward reform that respects the life, health and conscience of everyone. They should not abandon the task, but try to work together on authentic reforms that can earn the support and trust of Americans who appreciate the dignity of each and every human life. The bishops would be the first to applaud that effort.
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, see www.usccb.org/prolife and www.usccb.org/healthcare.