Second-guessing the Bishops on Healthcare

In the wake of passage of the health care bill, some Catholics are complaining that the bishops erred in the end by opposing the measure over the abortion issue. The hierarchy, it’s said, ought to have set aside its objections to abortion for the sake of the great goal of universal health coverage.

Speaking of setting aside, let’s pass over the question of how a plan that restricts legal immigrants’ access to coverage and denies it entirely to illegals can properly be described as “universal.” Universal for me but not universal for you, maybe? But leaving that aside, let’s take the complaint at face value.

The criticism aimed at the bishops would represent a tenable position—not correct, but reasonable at least—provided one crucial condition were met: namely, that the bishops had unrealistically demanded the total abolition of government-funded abortion as the price for their support for the bill.

But they didn’t. They asked for retention of the status quo on abortion funding in place since 1976 in the form of the well-known Hyde Amendment limiting Medicaid abortions to cases involving rape, incest, or the mother’s health.

Prodded by the abortion lobby, however, the Obama administration and Congress said no to that. So, convinced that the legislation in its final form opens the door to the funding of elective abortions, the bishops had no other choice except to oppose it—making clear as they did so that they continued to support truly universal health coverage.

Recall the sequence of events. Last fall, President Obama affirmed his support for the status quo on funding—that’s to say, Hyde. In November, the House passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and others incorporating Hyde-type limitations in the bill. In December, however, the Senate voted for expanded abortion funding. Obama, reversing himself without acknowledging it, thereupon agreed.

Writing in The Washington Post, Stupak, who’s retiring from Congress, says he acted in good faith before the crucial second vote by the House on March 21 in accepting, in lieu of language in the bill limiting abortion funding, the promise of an executive order from Obama. At the same time, he complains that some prolifers who supported his original amendment actually wanted the health care bill to fail.

No doubt. But if the Michigan congressman wants people to accept his good faith, he needs to reciprocate by recognizing the good faith of others. There are, after all, prolifers who support health care reform but believe for non-frivolous reasons that the version enacted through the strenuous efforts of Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership has too many serious shortcomings over and above expanded abortion funding to have deserved to pass.

The position boils down to saying that if—as was so often claimed—this truly was the last shot we’d have at health care reform for a generation or more, then we should have gotten it right.

As for Obama’s executive order, prolife and pro-abortion spokespersons agree that it doesn’t amount to much. The consensus is that it’s unenforceable and simply not capable of overriding the health plan’s opening to the funding of elective abortions. The reason can be stated very simply: law trumps executive order.

The bottom line is that American bishops, at the end of the protracted health care debate, stood exactly where they’d stood all along. They were in favor of universal coverage that is truly universal but opposed to expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion to include elective abortions. They were right, and they deserve our thanks.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Joe DeVet

    The bishops were not right.

    They should not have supported socialized medicine in any form, and for principled reasons.

    First, regardless of what the bill might have said, at least under the current regime the funding of abortions would have increased in the implementation of any law giving the federal government the power it has under this initiative.

    Second, regardless of what the bill says or might have said, the result will be direct and indirect euthanasia of the elderly and the chronically disabled. The economics of the case are absolutely compelling. We don’t have to guess about this. Look at Britain, or Holland, or even Canada to see.

    Third, regardless of whatever restraints may be applied (actually, in part BECAUSE of such restraints) over time the bill will diminish rather than enhance the availability of health care. With reduced or no incentive for R&D, development of new drugs, devices, and procedures will be inhibited. And because of the injustice of under-compensating those who sacrifice time, talent and treasure to prepare themselves to provide health care, there will be over time fewer doctors and others to provide the care that our population needs.

    In other words, the bishops’ selectivity in who receives “social justice”, and for whom a “pro-life” posture applies, cause them to support a measure which will perversely result in the opposite of their intentions. Such is the law of unintended consequences when good intentions trump good sense and disciplined prudence.

    As it does in the case of the bishops’ long-time support of socialized medicine.

  • consecrata

    How can anyone support a bill that was hidden…Obama and Pelosi both declared that they/we would know what was in the bill AFTER it was voted for…that is simply bizarre!!!! And now, the more that becomes known about the Health Care Bill (and the Stimulus Bill), the more bizarre it becomes. There should be a law mandating that a bill be read and studied and understood before it comes up for a vote…would any corporation pass a bill they had not read??? Would any person sign a bill they had not read…even a lease on an apartment or a mortgage??? This is all so beyond belief…the Bishops seem to approve immigration reform that would grant the rights of citizens to illegal aliens…while I believe that we should have compassion for those who are here illegally, I do not believe that we should just allow those who break the law to get away with it…there are still many, many Mexicans applying for LEGAL immigration and this pushes them to the back of the line…and I don’t understand the arrogance and audacity of people who are here illegally marching to DEMAND the same rights as US citizens and of those who are here legally. And why is there such an outcry against the bill passed in Arizona? If there were illegals coming to our town…many good and many terrorizing the citizens, we might not be so judgemental. I would not mind showing my identification if it meant keeping people safe…and why weren’t citizens of Haiti throughout the years who risked their lives to come here allowed to stay…they were sent back to a country poorer and more dangerous than Mexico…I don’t understand this…but those who are here illegally should not be allowed to publicly demand the rights of US citizens…