Nuns Break With Bishops, Back Health Reform


Party discipline breaking down inside the Catholic Church:

Some 60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns Wednesday sent lawmakers a letter urging them to pass the Senate health care bill. It contains restrictions on abortion funding that the bishops say don’t go far enough.

The letter says that “despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.” The letter says the legislation also will help support pregnant women and “this is the real pro-life stance.”

When it comes to pro-life Democrats, you can have a reality problem or you can have a perception problem. In other words, some members may genuinely feel that their conscience won’t permit them to vote for the bill. But other members may simply feel that a pro-life Catholic brand is integral to their political personae and they can’t afford to see it damaged. Endorsements from the nuns and from the Catholic Health Association should be giving cover to the latter group, and also potentially changing the minds of the first group.

After all, somewhat bizarrely this particular aspect of the debate hinges on a factual question. Bart Stupak maintains that this bill provides government funding for abortions. I saw him concede (on Fox News of all places) earlier today that the White House and the congressional leadership say this isn’t the case. And the nuns and the CHA disagree. Since the dispute here is actually about the details of health care financing rather than theology, it seems to me that the Catholic Health Association’s view should be considered much more authoritative than the Bishops.

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg has an excellent feminist case for the bill.