Skip to content

Catholic bishops hypocritically oppose health care reform

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has strongly condemned the health care reform bill working its way through the House. They claim that the bill’s prohibition of federal funding for abortion is a “legal fiction”.

Their position is hypocritical for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t matter if a health care reform bill explicitly prohibits funding abortions. The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funds from being used to fund abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger).

But even more hypocritical is the fact that the church has never protested against private insurance companies that provide abortion services. All the major health insurance companies — including Aetna, Blue Cross, Cigna, and United Healthcare — cover abortions.

Why is it acceptable for private insurance companies to pay for abortions, and there is nary a peep from the church, but even the faint possibility that the government might possibly fund abortions, through some legal technicality, bring out their strongest condemnation? Indeed, is their position really about abortion, or is it actually against public funding of health care?

But what makes their position stunningly hypocritical is the fact that even though lack of universal health care causes 45,000 extra deaths every year, you don’t see the Catholic Church vigorously advocating for universal coverage. Instead, you see them impeding health care reform. It might make you wonder if they really do care about life. Or are they just being political? As one blogger put it:

The long running alignment between the church’s antiabortion activism and the right wing has been plausible as just circumstance, but we may now be entering an area where the American Catholic Church risks looking like nothing so much as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party.



  1. jimg wrote:

    I thought that due to separation of church and state that if a church took a political position it could lose it’s tax exempt status. Laws changed?

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  2. espian2 wrote:

    What is your source for these statements? The official US Catholic Bishops news office states the exact opposite:Bishops talk health care, immigration with members of Congress

    Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., makes a point during a meeting with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., left, and other U.S. bishops on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 17. At center is Father Robert Stoeckig of Las Vegas. (CNS/Bob Roller)

    By Patricia Zapor
    Catholic News Service

    WASHINGTON (CNS) — Though they believe the church is largely on the same page as Congress when it comes to other aspects of health care and immigration reform, a delegation of Hispanic bishops came away from meetings with several groups of House and Senate leaders Sept. 17 concerned that immigrants might be left out of health reform.

    At a briefing for reporters after their morning of meetings with senators and then with the groups representing congressional Hispanics, two of the bishops said they were optimistic that looming health care legislation will not fund abortions and will include conscience protections for health care workers. Those have been two major areas of concern for the Catholic Church as the legislation is being shaped.

    San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said the group of half a dozen Hispanic bishops told the members of Congress that in addition to not funding abortions and including a conscience clause, their concern is that health care reform offers a universal plan in which everyone is able to participate and that would provide care from conception to natural death.

    He said they want the plan to include all immigrants, whether they’re in the country legally or not, though the bishops recognize that it’s probably not politically viable to expect undocumented immigrants to be covered in this bill.

    “Everybody should have a way to participate,” said Archbishop Gomez.

    Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., said at the briefing that besides not providing government-funded care to people in the country illegally, as President Barack Obama promised in his address to Congress Sept. 9, there has been concerns expressed that even legal immigrants might be left out of the system.

    Bishop Soto said the exclusion of government-supported insurance for undocumented immigrants is an issue with which the bishops might disagree, but could concede as a political necessity. But the legislation “has to include at a minimum some kind of safety net for the undocumented,” particularly if the goal of a nationwide health care reform plan is to improve the overall health of society, he said.

    “We realize it’s a very contentious issue,” said Bishop Soto. “But there has to be some kind of a safety net.” If undocumented immigrants cannot participate in health insurance, he added, “they will end up in emergency rooms.”

    Micheal Hill, a member of the government relations staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said after the briefing that proposals made in mid-September could discourage or even prohibit illegal immigrants from buying health insurance for themselves or their families.

    The Immigration Policy Center Sept. 17 sent out an analysis of the Senate Finance Committee version of a health care reform bill, saying it includes “harsh eligibility restriction on legal immigrants,” such as legal residency verification procedures that would discourage people from participating whether they’re here legally or not.

    Bishop Soto told Catholic News Service after the briefing that “the reason this even comes up is Congress has previously failed to deal with comprehensive immigration reform.”

    The bishops said they came away from their meetings feeling confident that comprehensive immigration reform will begin progressing through Congress soon, once health care legislation has moved off the table.

    The entire group of bishops met with Senate Democrats, the Congressional Hispanic Conference, which represents Republicans, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which represents Democrats. Archbishop Gomez also met separately with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

    Other bishops in the delegation included Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M.; Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Texas; Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla of Yakima, Wash.; and Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha of Newark, N.J.

    Besides health care and immigration reform, the bishops’ agenda for the meetings included encouraging a national housing policy that helps low-income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people and education programs that help keep students in school, including a voucher program that includes those in Catholic schools.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  3. Disciple wrote:

    The statements made here that the Catholic Church and the Bishops of the Church do not care about healthcare are not correct. The Bishops of this country have been trying to get Washington to work with them on accessible healthcare at least since the 90’s. The large number of Catholic hospitals is proof that health is a concern of the Church, and the fact that no one is turned away is proof that she cares for the poor too.

    You may hate the Church, but tell the truth. Perhaps you would like to read about the Bishops actual position on the issue. Here’s the link to the site that deals with exactly that.

    Monday, September 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink
  4. Mary Anne wrote:

    If you want to understand the bishops’ position it is this:

    Abortion is murder. The health care bill would be legally sanctioned, publicly funded murder. My money would be used for abortions. I don’t want my money used to put other people, little people to death. Neither do a lot of other people.

    People can leave insurance companies if they don’t like their policies. Most people can’t leave the country, or avoid paying taxes. That’s it in a nutshell. And it’s not hypocritical.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    Mary Anne, I think you misunderstand this issue. As I pointed out in the original post, it is already illegal to use federal funds for abortion. The issue here is whether federal subsidies paid to poor people to help them get health insurance can be used to help purchase insurance that covers abortions. You say that people can leave an insurance policy if they don’t like their policies, but in this case you are trying to dictate what insurance policies those people can choose. You are forcing people to obey your religious doctrine.

    And on top of that you are condemning tens of thousands of real, living, breathing people to die every year for lack of proper health care because of your religious beliefs against what you claim is murder. That is hypocritical.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink
  6. Harvey Herela wrote:

    How does not allowing federal subsidies to buy insurance that covers abortion condemn tens of thousands of people to die?

    It is you that is condemning tens of thousands of people to die! If you truly wanted these people to have health insurance, you’d let them have it even if it didn’t cover abortion. By demanding that abortion be included, you are guaranteeing that it is less likely to be passed by Congress.

    You are not concerned with the public health; you are merely concerned about abortion. Please do us all a favor and stay out of the health care debate if you’re not going to help.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    I’m not the person forcing other people to obey their religious beliefs.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  8. Harvey Herela wrote:

    Yes you are. You would force everyone to tithe to abortion providers for your belief that abortion is essential healthcare. At least leaving abortion out of healthcare is belief-neutral, in terms of dollars and cents.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    If that is true, then I’m very happy that the Christian Scientists are keeping their mouths shut on health care issues.

    Sigh, once again I am shown that it doesn’t help to respond to trolls. Sorry.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  10. Harvey Herela wrote:

    And I am shown that I can’t say anything about abortion without being called a name.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  11. Iron Knee wrote:

    Harvey, I’m happy to have a constructive discussion of the issue, but I don’t believe you can reciprocate. You responded to my comment to Mary Anne, who stated unequivocally that “Abortion is Murder”. Now, there isn’t a single state in the US that considers abortion to be murder, and in fact a strong majority of US citizens feel that abortion should continue to be legal.

    In your post, you employ the twisted argument that although it is a minority that objects to abortion (which is legal) and is blocking all health care reform, that is I who is responsible for health care reform not passing because I object to being blackmailed by them?

    People are currently free to choose insurance plans that cover or do not cover abortion. In fact, the Republican party’s insurance plan (at least until recently) covered abortions. But if people receive any federal funding to help them afford health insurance, you want to remove this choice. And yet you attempt to reframe this as a “tithe to abortion providers” and a claim that “leaving abortion out of healthcare is belief-neutral” which it certainly is not. It would have the effect of forcing a large percentage of the US population to obey your minority religious belief.

    You accuse me of not being concerned with public health. You also seem to think that I am in favor of abortion, which I am not. I welcome constructive discussion in this blog. I do not welcome people who mindlessly repeat their talking points (such people are commonly called “trolls”).

    I felt that the 2nd and 3rd comments to this post made good points, even though they were disagreeing with my original post. (I didn’t even object to the 3rd post accusing me of “hating the church” because I realize that this is an emotionally charged issue.) Perhaps if you feel that you “can’t say anything about abortion without being called a name” you should look at how you are saying things.

    A little over a week ago, someone dropped in and left some rather troll-like comments, one of which I objected to. I was very happy when this person realized that we like to have reasoned discussions in here (even when they get emotional) and promptly changed their tune and posted some really good comments. Political discourse is important, and I respect that many people have opinions that disagree with mine.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  12. garyvdh wrote:

    Um, I dunno which planet you are living on… but Catholic Bishops amongst other Christian groups often do protest abortion in all it’s various forms and facets. Case in point …
    and you can google for the rest.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    I want to correct something I said earlier.

    The Senate health care bill, the one being protested by the Bishops, does not fund abortions at all. In fact, the bill is very careful that federal funds cannot be used to fund abortions or pay for health plans that cover abortions. The bill states: “If a qualified plan provides [abortion] coverage … the issuer of the plan shall not use any amount attributable to [health reform’s government-funding mechanisms] for purposes of paying for such services.” You can read it yourself on page 2072. Or there is a summary here.

    So, could it be any clearer? There is no tithing to abortion providers. There is no funding of abortions. Every health exchange must provide at least one plan that does not cover abortions, and there is no requirement that any plan does cover abortions. Anyone who says that people will be forced to pay for other people’s abortions is lying.

    Which means, anyone who opposes the current health care bill because they are against abortions is wrong. And hypocritical. This is not a religious issue. This is a “you are being manipulated into opposing health care reform” issue. Seriously. Read this:

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink