In a New York Times article today, a number of prominent Catholic Bishops came out against President Obama’s healthcare reform. The objections varied, from the seemingly Cold War minded Bishop R. Walker Nickless insisting, “The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect,” to the more conventional objections that in a federal plan, federal money would be used for abortions, ostensibly indicating a government endorsement of the procedure. Some bishops, like Bishop Nickless, believe “No health care reform is better than the wrong sort of health care reform.” My goal with this post is two fold. First, let’s take the abortion issue head on. I was raised Catholic and spend fourteen years in the Catholic education system, I’m going to tell you what I think and it’s a position, I believe, shared by many Americans. Second, let’s talk about the opposition of some bishops, but also the support from others.
I am opposed to people getting an abortion. I believe personal responsibility begins before conception and those unwilling or unable to handle the responsibility of having a child need to be mindful of the decisions that make prior to conception. That said, I consider myself pro-choice. I am pro-choice not because I am pro-abortion, but because we step on to treacherous ground when our government outlaws medical procedures primarily because of religious beliefs. I don’t think I’m in the minority of people when I say I don’t want people to have abortions, but I also don’t want to criminalize it. I don’t want to see federal money used on abortions, because I respect that a good portion of the society objects to it and there are ways to work around it. I would support legislation that makes this possible, but I won’t demand some bold-faced clause that says “Federal funds will never be used for an abortion.” It seems so simple, but that’s not how good laws get written. There are simply too many unanticipated scenarios in the real world that don’t allow for that kind of simplicity. So I'd rather people not have abortions, but I am not self-righteous enough to believe my beliefs are the only right beliefs, and I’m not so simple-minded to demand a simpleton clause that could expose thousands of well meaning doctors, nurses, and administrators to prosecution for doing their job and making the tough choices.
Of course the oft derided “Obamacare” would not be the first federally funded healthcare program. Currently for Medicaid, many states do not allow public funds to be used for abortions. This is not sufficient for the protesting bishops. They want a different model and some, like Bishop Nickless, would rather see the whole thing fail than to negotiate.
And that is the problem with so many of the current healthcare reform opponents. They simply oppose reform, but to disguise their intransigence on the issue they pick and choose every little thing they can and say they only oppose this part or that part. What you don’t hear from these protesting bishops or the conservative talking heads are viable alternatives. If this sounds like what I said in my last post on healthcare it’s only because it remains true. The opponents to reform are so intent on preventing reform and so disinterested in solving a tremendous issue, both as an issue of social justice and as an issue of spiraling entitlements, that they simply poo-poo any idea straying from the status quo. When I last posted on healthcare it led to a spirited and largely reasoned debate in the comments section between Colin, Ben, and I. I still disagree strongly with Colin and think he puts too much faith in capitalism. I also think his plan (a plan I have heard from some corners of conservatism recently) creates a wide gulf between the two sides, though perhaps not an insurmountable one. Despite our disagreements, in our discussion there was a point of agreement. Every American has a right to healthcare. I couldn’t wrest from Colin support that it is a moral imperative, but then again talking of moral imperative makes me sound a bit more like a priest…or a bishop….
And that is why I’m encouraged by what I hear from so many other Catholic bishops. They share the concerns of the protesting bishops that federal funds not be used for abortion, but they feel (which is in line with the broader themes of Catholic teaching) that healthcare is a right. They want to come to the table and participate in the shaping of this legislation. They know there will be compromises and they know what they’re sticking points and non-negotiables are. They have stated them plainly, but they still want to work with the president and Democratic lawmakers to find a solution. Access to healthcare is a right, and I don’t believe the quantity or quality of care should be conditional based largely on one’s socio-economic situation. We need change and we need to negotiate. What we don’t need is a cadre of protesting bishops so transfixed on one element of a much broader reform that they would let the perfect be the enemy of the good.