Friday, March 19, 2010

Bishops' President Distorts Catholic Health Association's Stance on Health Reform

In a commentary posted yesterday, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. puzzles over why Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, would say the Catholic Health Association's support for the health care bill came in part because, unlike the bishops, "They believe ... that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after passage of the final bill" -- when in fact that is not the CHA's position at all!

Sister Carol Keehan is president of the Catholic Health Association, whose members, Dionne notes, "include 600 Catholic hospitals and 1,400 nursing homes." Keehan told Dionne that George's assertion was "flatly not true" (his words). Quoting her, he wrote:

"We're not saying that," she said. Her organization believes the bill as currently written guarantees that there will be no federal funding for abortion and does not need to be "corrected." Why the bishops would distort the position of the church's major health association is, to be charitable, a mystery.

Dionne said Keehan was particularly troubled by the bishops' opposition to the Senate language on abortion, because she and her organization were directly involved in crafting it -- working with two Democratic senators strongly opposed to abortion, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Again in Dionne's words:

She loyally refuses to criticize the bishops but argues that their interpretation of the abortion language is simply wrong...

“We looked at the bill. We spent a lot of time with Sens. Casey and Nelson,” she said in an interview. “We agreed to support it because we believe it meets the test of no federal funding for abortion. Perhaps the language is not the way I would write it, but it meets the test. … I was not going to take a little bit of abortion (in the bill) to get federal funding.”

She added: “I can't walk away from extending coverage to more than 30 million people.”

It's hard not to see this as more evidence for the position I have advance here before: that the true aim of the bishops is not to uphold the Hyde Amendment's current restrictions on using federal funds for abortions, but to use the bill's new federal involvement in health-care funding as a pretext to also limit abortion coverage by private insurers.

As Dionne notes, it is unconscionable for the U.S. bishops to hold health-care reform hostage to this new agenda and make its rejection their excuse for defecting from the health-care equity they have championed for decades.

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