Yesterday, the Family Research Council, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and National Right to Life hosted a public press call explaining their opposition to the Senate health care legislation. Their press release said that they wanted to “showcase a united pro-life movement opposed to the abortion funding and mandate provisions as well as the lack of conscience protections within the health care bill.”
The pro-life movement certainly isn’t united on the side of these three organizations though. If anything, it’s united on the side of passing health care reform. In the past couple weeks, the Catholic Health Association, prominent Catholic theologians, and “60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns” broke with the bishops and called for the passage of the Senate legislation, decrying the “false” information on the abortion provisions being spread by health care opponents.
On the press call yesterday, Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro Life Activities, dismissed these other Catholic organizations and individuals. He said that the nuns don’t represent every single nun in the United States (as if the USCCB represents the position of every single bishop out there), and remarked that these other groups just aren’t able to grasp complicated policies like the bishops can:
DOERFLINGER: Like us, they [the Catholic Health Association] have been very anxious to have health care reform for many years. Unlike us, they don’t have policy people that work specifically on the legal and policy aspects of these pro-life issues, in particular. I asked them, in fact, for their analysis of why our analysis is mistaken. … And I asked them for their work on that three days ago, and I haven’t gotten anything yet. I think they’re not focusing on it. … I just don’t think they’ve done the analysis we have. [...]
The signatures that were on that statement [by the nuns] were by the Superiors; they later clarified that they don’t necessarily speak for all the Sisters that are in their orders, just for themselves. 59,000 is total number of nuns in the United States. … It’s not every nun in the United States by any means.
In the long run, we have to have a lot of discussions in the church about how to stay together on these things, rather than trying to neutralize each other, especially when one organization in particular has the role of speaking for the moral voice of the church on these matters and also have the policy expertise of figuring out when legislation is acceptable to the church’s interests and our convictions. [...]
We’re not just an interest group that has an opinion; we’ve actually researched the facts, and we know how bad it is. That’s something that no other Catholic group can do in the depth that we’ve done it.
One of the bishops’ greatest allies on Capitol Hill right now, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), has similarly tried to dismiss the voices of women religious leaders in the debate on women’s rights, saying that he doesn’t listen to them. On Thursday, the National Catholic Reporter came out with an editorial endorsing health care reform, saying that CHA “actually knows how health care is provided at the ground level,” whereas the USCCB’s “inside-the-beltway analysis is focused on possible scenarios, many of them worst-case scenarios.” “That said, the bishops have to be clear that some of their talking points might lead honest observers to question their competence — or worse,” added the publication.
Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has more from the call:
In a fascinating twist, a representative of Randall Terry’s organization asked whether any of the organizations on the call would support “tax resistance” to the bill, i.e., a refusal to pay taxes in protest of it. They all said that was not on the horizon (despite such a thing being suggested, perhaps, in the Manhattan Declaration), but that, according to FRC’s Tony Perkins, the health care reform bill could be subject to a legal challenge, something conservatives have been talking about for a while.