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By Jose Rodriguez
As a Catholic I am embarrassed and ashamed.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has come out in opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts, despite its long-standing support for health care reform. In fact, the USCCB has long supported health care reform that includes a single-payer system to cover the uninsured, the poor, and illegal immigrants. Yet, in the last couple of months, the USCCB has come out against the current health care reform bill.
The USCCB has aligned itself with Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Hannity by asserting that the current health care reform efforts would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, deny health care to the disabled, and would force tax payers to pay for elective abortions and bar doctors from invoking the conscience clause. The accusations read as though they were copy and pasted from Sarah Palin’s facebook page. They are advancing paranoid arguments against what is inarguably the most important health care legislation in the last fifty years. But why?
One can only speculate, but it might be partisan, it could be ignorance (they have not read the bills), or it could be any number of things.
This is tragic, as far as I’m concerned. I have been proud of my church’s stance on science (particularly evolution), Global Climate Change, the poor, and advocating for a more just and fair global economy. Universal health care was another issue my Church supported, which made me proud to call myself a Catholic. However, the USCCB’s current mental status has me quite concerned.
But the USCCB, which does not have any authority whatsoever, has come under fire from Bishops from around the globe. An editorial on a Catholic British website has chastised Bishops in the U.S. for their failure to stand up for a basic pro-life issue: universal health care. The Tablet editorial argues that the Bishops in the United States are wasting an opportunity where they “could play a central role in salvaging Mr Obama’s health-care programme.” Instead, the U.S. Bishops are trying to advance an anti-abortion agenda when everyone has agreed that the bill should be neutral on this issue, “rather than the more general principle of the common good.” As the editorial notes, nearly 50 million Americans are without health care, and this tragedy is only likely to worsen, as the health care industry is “[sensing] a threat to their profits” and are spending 1.5 million dollars a day to kill health care reform. Rather than attend to the poor, the USCCB has decided that they would rather turn this reform effort into a battle over abortion. The Tablet editorial makes a great point, however: the “National Health Service, one of the great forward strides for social justice, had no Catholic blessing,” yet is one of the most enduring and popular government programs in England.
This is clearly a dereliction of duty.
It has been clearly documented that the current health care reform effort does not force tax payers to fund (directly or indirectly) elective abortions. Nor are there any death panels for the elderly or disabled.
I can’t believe that the USCCB actually believes this! All they have to do is read the bill! Again are the Bishops lazy? Are they politically motivated? Are they this ignorant? What is the deal?
Republicans have come to the conclusion that Americans want health care reform, and they have come to the conclusion that a majority of Americans and American doctors support the public option. Despite months of promoting lies, and encouraging people to attend and disrupt town hall meetings in order to create the impression that a majority of Americans oppose any health care reform, 73% of doctors support either a single-payer system (10%) or a mostly private system that includes a public option (63%), and 77% of Americans support a public option. And I know what you’re thinking: “How can that be? What was the poll question?” Well, here was what SurveyUSA asked: “In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance–extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?”
So, faced with overwhelming support for health care reform (including the public option) from Americans and doctors, Republicans have started arguing that the health care bill will pay for elective abortions. There is not a single grain of truth to this argument, which apparently does not matter to the USCCB.
Let’s deconstruct this nonsense…
In an op-ed for National Review (an ultra-Conservative publication), on July 23, 2009, Minority Leader John Boehner wrote that President Obama was trying to expand abortion by sneaking it through his health care reform effort and would force American tax-payers to fund abortions. Boehner also accused the President of trying to undermine organizations (like the Catholic Church) that do not support or perform abortions by making it illegal for them to deny abortion services. The biggest lie (which he labels a “fact”) is this: “This public plan, like all plans, will be required to classify abortion as an “essential benefit,” forcing American citizens to directly subsidize abortion-on-demand with their tax dollars.”
These baseless accusations have energized anti-abortion advocates, like the Catholic Church, into opposing what is an essential and basic pro-life issue.
It is important to remember that the Hyde Amendment (passed in 1976) bans the use of federal funds for elective abortions. This law does not apply in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in mortal danger. So, before any substantive discussion can begin, we must remember that it is against the law to do what John Boehner is suggesting President Obama wants to do. President Obama, who has admitted that he is pro-choice and has a 100% rating with NARAL, has said that he thinks “we… have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” This statement, though it goes against his own personal beliefs, is consistent with the law and consistent with
public opinion. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 48% of Americans do not want tax dollars to pay for elective abortions, while only 13% think that any health care bill should use tax-payer funds to cover abortion. 32% of Americans believe that there should not be a requirement either way.
What Minority leader John Boehner (and the USCCB) does not understand is that most private health insurance policies already cover abortion, whether or not people realize it. This would not change under any health care reform bill, thus making it abortion-neutral. But there’s more.
While there are five different health care bills in Congress right now, H.R. 3200 is the most talked about. H.R. 3200, for instance, has an amendment authored by Lois Capps (D-Ca), which specifically prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortions. The bill is only seven pages long, and it is triple spaced, so it should not take long to read, however, no one cares to read it. And those who have, have consciously twisted her language to fit their narrow view.
The Capps Amendment would not require abortion coverage to be part of the minimum benefits package, as many claim it would. It would be up to the insurer whether or not the plan covers abortion… as it stands now. I will simply quote the bill:
“The Health Benefits Advisory Committee may not recommend under section 123 (b) and the Secretary may not adopt in standards under section 124(b), the services described in paragraph (4)(A) or (4) (B) as part of the essential benefits package and the Commissioner may not require such services for qualified health benefits plans to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.”
This seems pretty straightforward, but, again, there are people who want to twist and fabricate. The bill clearly states that abortion coverage is not required for the minimum benefits package in order to “participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.” In section two, Capps goes further: “VOLUNTARY CHOICE OF COVERAGE BY PLAN.-In the case of a qualified health benefits plan, the plan is not required (or prohibited) under this Act from providing coverage of services described in paragraph (4) (A) or (4)(B) and the QHBP offering entity shall determine whether such coverage is provided.”
The amendment authored by Lois Capps is straightforward (again) in preventing tax-payer funds from being used to cover elective abortions. The Capps amendment requires insurers to segregate the cost of abortion coverage from the premiums, which would be paid for by the insured, not tax-payers. The public option may or may not include abortion coverage, but, again, the cost of that would be paid out of the pocket of the insured, not the tax-payers. Again, here are the words from the amendment:
“(T)he plan shall provide assurances satisfactory to the Commissioner that- (A) any affordability credits provided under subtitle C of title II are not used for purposes of paying for such services; and (B) only premium amounts attributable to the actuarial value described in section 113(b) are used for such purpose.”
The Capps amendment also defers to the Hyde amendment, which prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortion services. It clearly states, in no uncertain terms, that the bill would have “No EFFECT ON FEDERAL LAWS REGARDING ABORTION.” Um… that includes the Hyde amendment, in case you are a Republican or an American Catholic Bishop.
Despite the concerns of the USCCB (raised by John Boehner in his op-ed), the health care proposals would not make it illegal to deny abortion services. The Capps amendment makes this point clearly, if they would only take five minutes to read the damn bill:
“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to have any effect on Federal laws regardin- (A) conscience protection; (B) willingness or refusal to provide abortion; and (C) discrimination on the basis of the willingness or refusal to provide, pay for, cover, or refer for abortion or to provide or participate in training to provide abortion.”
How can this be any clearer? Notice that it says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed,” yet that is exactly what Boehner, the GOP, and the USCCB are doing: CONSTRUING!
Another point of concern for the GOP and the USCCB is that Obama is creating “death panels.” This has been refuted time and time again, yet there is this persistent element in our society who refuses to accept… oh, I don’t know, facts? The elderly and the disabled will not be subjected to any “death panel.” It’s as pure and simple as that.
The section that has been mis-represent by Sarah Palin, the GOP, and the USCCB, is on the establishment of a Comparative Effectiveness Research Center, which will “conduct, support, and synthesize research” that looks at “outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care services and procedures in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.” This is no death panel. This is not a scheme to promote euthanasia for the elderly or disabled. Instead, the CERC will study which treatments are the most effective, thus providing patients and doctors better information and tools for sustaining and extending life, not ending it ASAP. Beyond that, the CERC would only make recommendations about the best methods, not make requirements. The bill makes that absolutely clear: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Again, there is that word “construed.” Does the USCCB or GOP not have access to a dictionary?
The bill also allows seniors to have end-of-life counseling with their doctor, which would be tax-payer funded. Despite the ridiculous claims made by Sarah Palin, these would be voluntary sessions, not mandatory. “It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, etc.,” Obama said. “So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything.”
The “Advanced Care Planning Consultation” in Section 1233 is not a scheme to encourage patients to pull their own “plug”. It is actually supported by AARP, which is a group that advocates for senior citizens. On the AARP site, they devote a page to debunk the absurd notion that end of life counseling is a back-door for euthanasia. They write that “Several studies in recent years have found that when doctors have end-of-life discussions with patients and families, patients have less anxiety.” The study found that “Less aggressive care and earlier hospice referrals were associated with better patient quality of life near death,” whereas those who failed to engage in those discussions “experienced worse quality of life, more regret, and were at higher risk of developing a major depressive disorder.” In other words, as people age it becomes increasingly important to know the available options. One doctor even expressed that it is in the best interest of the doctor to keep the patient alive in order to avoid lawsuits. So, for those who cannot comprehend morality, there are also financial reasons to extend the life of patients.
But beyond the needs of the patient, the counseling is also important for the family, who often argue or agonize over what their loved one would want, in the event that they are incapacitated. Having a clearly defined living will prevents the hand-wringing and guilt: the will of the patient is clear and decisive, even if it means a kidney transplant for an unconscious 89 year old man.
At this point, it is hardly worth debating with the lunatic/ paranoid fringe, with which the USCCB has aligned itself. All the facts are known, they are out there, but they choose to expose themselves to conspiracy theories, which only serve to support their fears. In an excellent editorial in today’s LA Times, Gregory Rodriguez argues that it might not be useful to try to educate people who cling to conspiracy theories. He cites a study in which conservatives, when presented with information proving that there were no WMDs in Iraq, believed even more strongly that there were WMDs in Iraq. Instead of putting down these buyers of misinformation and rumors, Rodriguez writes: “Rumors and conspiracy theories often supply simplified, easily digestible explanations (and enemies) to sum up complex situations. However crass, they’re both fueled by a desire to make sense of the world.”
He may very well be right.
I am heartened, however, to see that not all Catholics have given themselves over to madness.
Chris Korzen of Catholics United has come out strong against the USCCB, Stop the Abortion Mandate, Family Research Council, and the Catholic League, who have been promoting lies and misinformation, not to mention misrepresenting Catholic teachings. Korzen, on the Catholics United site, writes “The Family Research Council’s continued effort to distort the facts leads one to wonder whether the group’s true intent is to derail health care reform,” said Korzen. “Instead of issuing misleading attacks and inciting fear, the Family Research Council would do better to support efforts aimed at implementing abortion-neutral policies in health care reform legislation.” Catholic Charities, a non-profit Catholic organization that provides food and clothing to the poor, has been fully committed to health care reform saying “Health care reform: We can’t wait!” Though it maintains that it will not support any bill that extends abortion rights, it seems to enthusiastically support the current reform efforts, implying that it does not support the wild accusations of the USCCB.
There is also some indication that there is a schism between U.S. Bishops. Bishop Michael Sheehan told the National Catholic Reporter that the anger against Obama among U.S. Bishops comes mostly from a small minority, but the majority of centrist Bishops do not want a public fight over health care, so they have not spoken up. The Catholic News Service also reported that U.S. Bishops were glad to hear from President Obama, in his speech before a joint session of Congress, that his proposal would not allow for tax-payer funded abortions. “We were gratified to hear that federal funds would not be used for abortions and that conscience protections would be maintained,” Sister Carol Keehan said. “We were pleased to hear him say we were going to move on now. There are too many people … who need this kind of (health care) assistance. We believe it is long overdue. It is a moral and economic imperative and we were pleased to hear him put it in those terms.”
This was not an easy blog to write. I love my Church. I am pained to see what is happening from conservative Catholics in the hierarchy, who are using their position to advance their own personal, partisan beliefs. But it makes me angry, too. I am pro-life. I oppose abortion, I oppose the death penalty, I support the environment, and I support social justice. But you know what? I also support the truth. I do not support lies or fabrications, no matter who is telling them.
I pray that they come out of their intellectual darkness, and into the light of truth.
First and foremost, I am pro-life. Now, I know a lot of you probably think, “Oh, he’s one of these Ultra-right wing Christians who hate women.”
I am actually a fairly liberal guy who proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in the California primary. I love women. I’m married to one. But I also love life.
Where I differ from right-wing extremists, is the fact that I am actually pro-life. That means I am against abortion, but I am also against the death penalty, I am against needless war, I am for a healthy and clean environment, I am for raising the minimum wage, I am for Universal Health Care, and I am for equal quality education across our country. The economic and social justice that the Democratic party fights for actually reduces the number of abortions across the country. The right-wingers don’t support any of these pro-life measures. See, the right-wingers are simply anti-abortion. They are not pro-life.
Which brings me to my next point: we need to forget about Roe v. Wade. That single court ruling has had the most imapct upon our society since Brown v. Board of Education. I think most people, whether “pro-life” or “pro-choice” (both ridiculous and stupid labels that mean nothing) can agree that nobody likes abortion. Is that some common ground we can all stand upon? I think it is.
From there, I argue that we should, as a nation, have better Sex Education in our schools. As an educator, I can see how pervasive sexuality is, even at the junior high level. That may be where we need to begin. Education is the best tool we have, so we ought to use it to fight unneccessary abortions from unwanted pregnancies. That means teaching our kids how to use contraceptives effectively. It also means emphasizing abstinence (I am by no means advocating abstinence only education). Prevention is crucial.
But schools can only do so much. Parents need to better educate their children in the home about sexuality. They need to be more firm and direct with their children with rules and boundaries. I see it all the time: parents allow their children to do whatever they want, whenever they want, at all hours of the day. This is certainly not true in all cases, but I do see this as the norm. We would have fewer Jamie Lynn Spears’ and Bristol Palins running around the country if parents took on the responsibility of parenthood.
I am Catholic. Abortion is an important issue for Catholics, as it is for many Protestants. I find myself, at times, arguing with Christians about whether or not to vote for a Democrat because the party supports abortion. My view is, an educated voter needs to weigh all the issues, not just a single issue that provokes an emotional response, and vote for the candidate that best represents the common interest. Republican candidates know that every election cycle there will be a core group of voters that simply ignores all the issues and votes primarily on the abortion issue. There are many good, honest, hardworking people who are perpetually in hard times who consistently vote for Republicans, even though it is not in their economic best interest. The Republican candidate, once elected, will go back to Washington and simply shelve the abortion issue until the next election, and then will proceed to pursue their actual agenda, which is to uphold the status quo the elites.
I think it is interesting, as I wrote earlier, to mention that abortion rates actually go down when we have Democratic administrations, as opposed to the increase in abortion rates under Republican administrations. Take, for example, according to the recent Guttmacher study, the fact that abortion rates went down more dramatically under President Clinton, going from 1.61 million abortions in 1990 to 1.31 abortions in 2000. Between 1992 and 1996, there was a 3.4% decline in abortion rates per year; between 1996 and 2000 there was a decline of 1.2% per year. Under President Bush, the number of abortions performed went from 1.31 million (in 2000) to 1.2 million (in 2005, the most recent data). That is a decline of only 0.9% per year. Why is that? It is because people who are in hard times, who have an unexpected pregnancy, are more likely to consider having an abortion than they are when they are in economic good times.
The findings of a study released in October 2007 also point to the need to abandon the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade. The study, conducted by the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York , found that abortion rates tend to be the same in countries where abortion is legal and where abortion is illegal. Virtually the same! The legality of abortion makes no difference! What is different, however, is the safety of abortions being performed and the mortality of the woman having the abortion. The study found that the women in countries where abortion was outlawed were drinking turpentine, bleach or tea made with livestock manure; inserting herbal preparations into the vagina or cervix; placing foreign bodies, such as a stick, coat hanger or chicken bone, into the uterus; or jumping from the top of stairs or a roof. The study found that there “Worldwide, an estimated five million women are hospitalized each year for treatment of abortion-related complications, such as hemorrhage and sepsis… [and] Complications due to unsafe abortion procedures account for an estimated 13% of maternal deaths worldwide, or 67,000 per year.” How is this pro-life? It is not.
Again, I turn back to the need for better sex education, both in the schools and at home, with a particular emphasis on abstinence. That said, contraceptive use also needs to be taught because not every individual is going to abide by the fact that abstinence is the only 100% way to avoid unwanted pregnancies or STD’s (though STD’s are an entirely different conversation for another day). Sex Ed cannot be a one size fits all program that abides only to religious considerations (abstinence only); instead, this needs to be a secular program that promotes good health for individuals as well as smart family planning for future generations. Again, and this is crucial, prevention is the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions that result thereof.
And, finally, I would like to also express my deep belief that America can and will overcome this issue. There is common ground between both sides of the issue. If both sides can come together and work to create social and economic conditions that have been proven to reduce the number of abortions, then we can go a long way to reaching that goal of zero abortions (as optimistic that number may be). For this to work, we also need to support mothers who do opt to keep their child, rather than undergo an abortion. We also need to support our adoption agencies and cut a lot of the red tape that prevent or slow down the adoption process. In addition to that, we should support those families that decide to adopt children, as they are performing an admirable and honorable service to the children of our nation. As this election winds down, I hope that people start to consider an array of issues before making their decisions. If they do that, I am confident Barack Obama will be the man they elect to be the next President of the United States of America.