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New York Times: Catholic hospitals split with bishops over Senate health bill

December 28, 2009

“In an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul, the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise on the issue, raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and stirring controversy within the church,” The New York Times reported on December 26.

The Times article, however, appears to be inaccurate in one crucial detail. The Times reported:

Just days before the bill passed, the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals across the country, 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 same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the proposed compromise “morally unacceptable.”

In actuality, on December 17, the Catholic Health Association issued the following statement:

While we have yet to see the manager's amendment or Senator Robert Casey's final abortion amendment language, we are encouraged by recent deliberations and the outline Senator Casey is developing. It is our understanding that the language now being written would prohibit federal funding of abortion, ensure provider conscience protection and fund programs to provide supportive care to some of the most vulnerable pregnant women in our society.

On December 18-- the following day, and not “the same day”-- the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the Casey compromise:

Senator Casey’s good-faith effort to allow individuals to ‘opt out’ of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy. Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm … [Casey’s] improvements do not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill: Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them.”

The Catholic Health Association has not endorsed the health legislation that was passed by the Senate on December 19. Nor did it endorse the Casey compromise language that was later opposed by the bishops’ conference. Instead, before seeing the final language of the Casey compromise, the Catholic Health Association said it was “encouraged by recent deliberations and the outline Senator Casey is developing.”

Back in September, CWN reported that a Catholic Health Association officer made significant contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Obama campaign. One or more of the officers of the Catholic Health Association, then, may privately support the health care bill that was approved by the Senate and opposed by the bishops. The failure of the Catholic Health Association to follow the bishops’ conference’s lead in opposing the Casey compromise and the eventual Senate legislation lends plausibility to the idea of a private parting of ways on the issue.

Reports of a public split, however, seem premature.


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bppettie - Dec. 28, 2009 5:53 PM ET USA

    It appears that the "Catholic Health Association" is trying to have it both ways...they wish to stay in business as a "Catholic" association and be pro-abortion. Well, the bottom line is simple: There is no such thing as a "pro-choice Catholic." One cannot be both Catholic and pro-choice. Same for a "Catholic Health Association." If a Health Association calls itself "Catholic and supports abortion it is neither "Catholic" nor a "health association." bpp

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Dec. 28, 2009 12:47 PM ET USA

    The CHA is more committed to the industrial image of health care than it is to the Catholic vision which it claims to have. So if the CHA does make any statement against the Senate bill, it will do so with gritted teeth and forked tongue.

  • Posted by: sparch - Dec. 28, 2009 10:11 AM ET USA

    It seems that the entities the Church has created over time are now coming out in opposition to the bishops and the Church, to stand as their own entities. They do not want to be affiliated with the Church but only with their business. They wish to remain in control of their world and look in. The Church needs to stay in control and look outward. Healthcare facilties, hospitals and universities have this outlook. I even see it in the Catholic grade school my son attends.