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Boston Catholic health agency seeking changes in deal involving abortion coverage

June 11, 2009

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Caritas Christi, the health-care agency affiliated with the Boston archdiocese, is hoping to make "acceptable modifications" in an agreement under which it will provide state-subsidized care for low-income Massachusetts residents. The state government contract requires coverage for abortion and other procedures condemned by the Church.

Although Caritas Christi sought out the government contract, and formed a partnership entitled CeltiCare to carry out the state mandate, Church leaders in Boston have insisted that Caritas Christi would not become involved in services incompatible with Catholic teaching.

Responding to critics who had noted that CeltiCare is advertising coverage for abortion, the Archdiocese of Boston released a public statement on June 10 saying that Caritas Christi "is in active discussions with Celtic Group (its partner in CeltiCare) and CeltiCare with a view to making acceptable modifications in their arrangement." The release did not indicate what sort of modifications would be sufficient to preserve the Catholic identity of Caritas Christi. But the June 10 statement did seem to suggest that the current agreement-- which Caritas Christi struck with Celtic Group in order to form the partnership that won the state contract-- contains provisions that archdiocesan leaders now recognize as unacceptable.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley insisted that Caritas Christi is, and will remain, faithful to Catholic moral principles. He said that "under no circumstances" would Caritas Christi perform abortions or "refer any patient to other providers who perform or procure such procedures." [The cardinal's statement, and the archdiocesan press release, refer to the issue obliquely, never actually using the word "abortion."]

However the terms of the state government contract that CeltiCare sought and won specifically require coverage for abortions. How could Caritas Christi-- which owns 49% of the for-profit CeltiCare-- justify its connection with that business? Dr. Ralph de la Torre, the president of Caritas Christi, explained:

When a patient seeks such a procedure, Caritas healthcare professionals will be clear that (a) the hospital does not perform them and (b) the patient must turn to his or her insurer for further guidance.

But when subscribers to the CelticCare plan turn to their insurers, they will be turning to CeltiCare-- in which, again, Caritas Christi is an active partner. The Boston archdiocese did not explain how the Church could justify that involvement.

While pro-life activists in Boston have pleaded for Caritas Christi to withdraw from the CeltiCare initiative, abortion advocates have also been watching the situation closely and demanding reassurance that the new state-funded agency will impose no restrictions on access to abortion. The efforts of abortion advocates-- unlike those of pro-life activists-- have been successful. The Boston Globe reported:

Brian Delaney, a spokesman for CeltiCare, said an abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice of Massachusetts, will serve on an advisory group for the health plan but he did not know whether any Catholic groups would be on the panel.

Boston archdiocesan officials have stressed that no abortions will be performed at the hospitals of the Caritas Christi chain. That claim is not in dispute. The question is whether Caritas Christi, through its partnership in CelticCare, will provide-- and perhaps even profit from-- abortions performed at other facilities. CeltiCare advertisements indicate that Planned Parenthood will be enlisted to provide "reproductive services."

 


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