Catholic Bishops Must Change Health-Care Strategy Before It’s Too Late

The lobbying strategy of the Catholic bishops in the health-care debate thus far has been one of qualified support. We support the health-care reform bill, the bishops argue, as long as it does not contain abortion funding and provides conscience protection for health-care workers.

The only help the bishops have received in their effort is from Catholic Democrat Bart Stupak, whose coalition of pro-life House Democrats is the only hope of either killing the bill or eliminating its abortion funding.

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The bishops have made no headway with the Democratic leadership in Congress, including the Catholic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius — both of whom lied about the presence of abortion funding in the Senate version of the bill.

It should be clear to the bishops and their staff at the USCCB that there is no good will in either the Congress or the White House toward their concerns about abortion funding and conscience protections.

It’s time for a change of strategy before it’s too late. None of the Democratic leadership in control of this legislation has the least interest in keeping abortion funding out of the bill. Instead, they hope that by keeping the bishops in the posture of qualified support, the prospect of an outcry from grassroots Catholics will be postponed until after the bill is pushed through by some sort of legislative sleight of hand.

By the time the bishops can restart another national postcard campaign, health-care reform with abortion funding will be a fait accompli.

As I have consistently argued, even if (by some miracle) the health-care bill was passed without abortion funding, the increased government control over health-care services would lead, inevitably, to mandated abortion funding, as abortion advocates would then take the matter to the courts to finish the job. That the bishops don’t seem to recognize this inevitability — publicly, anyway — is disappointing.

The support that the bishops and the staff of the USCCB have shown to Stupak and his pro-life coalition is commendable, perhaps even historic. But it is a slender thread upon which to hang their hopes for an abortion-less health-care bill.

If there are those among the Catholic leadership who think the bishops’ risky strategy is justified by the immense problem of uninsured American citizens and immigrants, both documented and not, then they should be reminded of the danger of proportionalism. To put it bluntly, trading universal coverage for federal abortion funding is not morally justifiable.

When Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Sebelius lied about the presence of abortion funding in the health-care bill, it made national headlines. The corrective came from Richard Doerflinger of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and other pro-life leaders whose comments were published in a few Catholic news services. When the Catholic speaker of the House and secretary of HHS mislead the nation on such a crucial issue as abortion funding, then they should be answered by their peers: the bishops.

The strategy of qualified support is risky, because it means that Congress and the White House are not hearing the fury that is building at the grassroots level among Catholics. I suspect they are also not hearing about the growing distrust and impatience of many bishops toward this process.


  • Deal W. Hudson

    Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of “Church and Culture,” a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ He is the former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.

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