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Catholic Charities, health-care reform, and the abortion issue

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 14, 2009

Reader Otto S. of Los Altos, California, writes to raise, in succinct form, a question that many readers have asked:

The web site of Catholic Charities USA refutes all reports about CCUSA supporting any health care plan which would include abortion, euthanasia, etc…. What's the truth?

As our friend Diogenes noted earlier this week, CCUSA has released a statement in response to criticism from some pro-life groups. Let's take a careful look at the first three sentences of that statement:

In response to inaccurate online media reports, Catholic Charities USA states unequivocally that it does not support any plan to reform health care and/or any proposed legislative provision that allows or promotes the funding of abortions or that compels any health care provider or institution to provide such a service.

Here CCUSA takes a very clear stand. The organization does not want to see the passage of a health-care reform bill that mandates abortion coverage. Good.

But this is not merely a theoretical question, and unfortunately what CCUSA wants to see in a health-care reform bill doesn't dictate the actual content of the legislation. The legislation now pending in Congress would include abortion coverage-- whether CCUSA likes it or not. Cardinal Justin Rigali, writing on behalf of the US bishops' conference, told legislators that the bill is "severely deficient" because of its treatment of abortion. So now the question arises: Will CCUSA support this legislation?

That should, theoretically, be an easy question to answer: Yes or No. Given an opportunity to answer the question directly, a spokesman for CCUSA dodged the practical issue, falling back on the theoretical formulation. Does CCUSA support or oppose the existing legislation? We don't know.

Just days ago, CCUSA joined with other Catholic groups in an "Action Alert" encouraging Catholics to seek their Congressmen's support for health-care reform. The Action Alert was phrased in general terms, suggesting support for reform as a general proposition. But Congress does not deal in general propositions; Congress votes on specific pieces of legislation. Now that it's clear the legislation will include an abortion mandate, those Catholic groups could rescind their support. Or, better, they could send out another Action Alert, calling for opposition to the bill in its current, unacceptable form. They have not done so.

So again: Does CCUSA support or oppose the existing legislation? We don't know, to be sure. But as a practical matter-- and these are practical matters-- the best, latest evidence (the Action Alert) suggests support rather than opposition.

Let's read further into the CCUSA statement:

In fact, Catholic Charities USA will continue to work with the Catholic Health Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure that any health care reform legislation will not include such provisions.

CCUSA is lobbying for a better piece of legislation. Good. But the pro-life forces on Capitol Hill have already fought the battle to exclude abortion coverage from the bill, and suffered a decisive defeat. CCUSA and the US bishops' conference may continue to push for amendments, but they're likely to fail. Then what? Sorry to repeat myself, but if the bill goes forward in more or less its current form, will CCUSA support or oppose that legislation? We don't know.

Again, it would be very simple to answer the question, eliminate all confusion, and silence the criticism from pro-life activists. CCUSA could say: "If the health-care reform presented to Congress includes coverage for abortion, we will actively oppose it." CCUSA has not issued any such statement.

Following the two sentences cited above, the statement that CCUSA has released makes this curious comment on the criticism:

All media accounts or public comments that misrepresent this position are inaccurate.

It's true by definition that any accounts which misrepresent the CCUSA position are inaccurate. Now if CCUSA would just address the comments that represent the group's position accurately,…

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