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 the abortion compromise in the Senate health care bill “can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion.'” The announcement represents a break from the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ strong opposition to the Senate’s less stringent restrictions and provides critical political cover for pro-life Democrats who are hesitant to vote for a bill opposed by Catholic organizations. Under the Senate measure, women are required to purchase abortion services with private premiums and pay for the care with a separate transaction. States could also prohibit insurers in the exchange from offering abortion services.
The NYT explains the theological underpinnings of the endorsement:
“The Catholic Health Association seems to be using traditional principles of cooperation with evil,” said Prof. M. Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame University Law School. Such principles, she said, could permit support for “imperfect legislation,” as long as one’s intent was not to “further abortion,” one made every effort to “minimize the harm,” and one achieved “an extremely important good that can’t be achieved any other way.”
In contrast, she said, “some bishops have adopted a prophetic stand against abortion that wants to eliminate any form of cooperation with evil no matter how remote.”
Catholic hospitals (like any hospital) hope to minimize the number of uninsured patients who receive uncompensated care and achieve the “extremely important good” of expanding health care coverage to everyone. Earlier this month, Ellen-Marie Whelan and Jessica Arons analyzed the Catholic Bishop’s criteria “that they set as priorities to be included in health reform legislation” and concluded that health care reform meets these self-imposed goals:
As our analysis shows, there are a number of ways both bills would achieve the Bishops’ “pro-life” goals: they would save the lives of thousands each year, reduce the suffering of millions, and increase the dignity with which people are treated when ill. Moreover, providing quality health care to women and families in need is a much more effective and humane way to reduce the number of abortions than restrictions on funding ever have been. In the United States, as throughout the world, restrictions on abortion make the procedure more expensive and less safe; they do not make it less common.
The question before any pro-life Catholic organization is this: “Is it worth jeopardizing legislation that would provide nearly universal access to health care, improve quality, be much more affordable, assist the poor and low income, reduce fraud and waste, protect the conscience of providers, and so much more simply because it would preserve the status quo on public funding for abortion but not impose new restrictions on private coverage?” Fortunately, the Catholic hospitals have decided that it is not.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), meanwhile, has responded to the hospitals’ endorsement by reiterating his opposition to the Senate language, arguing that he has commitments from at least 10 Democrats who voted for House health care bill to oppose the final bill if it doesn not reflect the House bill’s compromise.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.