Catholics Support Senate Health Reform?

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Well, some Catholics. The Catholic Hospital Association (CHA) released a statement today offering tentative support for the Senate version of health reform if Senator Casey’s abortion language becomes part of the bill: “Especially now that a public health insurance option is no longer on the table, we are increasingly confident that Senator Casey’s language can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion.” (Full text of the statement after the jump.)

Democrats involved in the negotiating process have made sure to forward the statement all around town this afternoon and they’re playing up its significance. As Jon Cohn notes, it’s not nothing to have a major Catholic organization–particularly one representing Catholic hospitals–throwing its (possible) support behind health reform. But let’s be clear: this isn’t going to break the deadlock.Congressional Democrats and the White House have focused many of their efforts on the CHA throughout the health reform debate, in large part because the organization’s leadership has always been much more willing to play ball than the folks over at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. But what they still don’t seem to appreciate is that the CHA can’t move worried pro-life Democrats the same way that the USCCB can for the simple reason that it doesn’t pose any threat.

At most, the CHA can lobby a pro-life Democrat and hope that the member’s constituents hear about the statement of support. The USCCB, on the other hand, can direct priests to vocally oppose health reform from the pulpit, and its senior staff can warn through the national media that anyone who votes for health reform is doing so “over children’s dead bodies.” If I’m a pro-life Democrat from a heavily Catholic state in the Midwest, I know who scares me more.

To be fair, the CHA’s tentative support does make it harder for the USCCB to argue that the Senate bill doesn’t contain strict enough conscience provisions. Ones of the concerns some Catholics have expressed is that conscience protections apply to health care institutions–like hospitals–in addition to individuals like doctors and nurses. Also, the CHA statement makes the obvious point that eliminating the public option takes away entirely the concern that there would somehow be direct funding of abortions with taxpayer dollars. The issue now is our old friend fungibility. And on that question, the bishops are unlikely to be swayed by the CHA’s support.




WASHINGTON, DC (December 17, 2009) – The following statement is being released by Sr. Carol
Keehan, DC, president and chief executive office of the Catholic Health Association of the United
States (CHA):

The Catholic Health Association is pleased to learn of the work being done to improve the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009. As we understand it, the Senate intends to
keep the President’s commitment that no federal funds will pay for abortions and in addition,
provide significant new support for pregnant women.

While we have yet to see the manager’s amendment or Senator Robert Casey’s final abortion
amendment language, we are encouraged by recent deliberations and the outline Senator
Casey is developing. It is our understanding that the language now being written would prohibit
federal funding of abortion, ensure provider conscience protection and fund programs to
provide supportive care to some of the most vulnerable pregnant women in our society.

Especially now that a public health insurance option is no longer on the table, we are
increasingly confident that Senator Casey’s language can achieve the objective of no federal
funding for abortion. We urge Congress to continue its work toward the goal of health reform
that protects life at all stages while expanding coverage to the greatest possible number of
people in our country. We look forward to reviewing the final language these improvements