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COMMENTARY:

Catholic Bishops’ Faustian Bargain: “Burn Health Care Reform” to Advance Anti-Choice Cause

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 9 November 2009

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Ad from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

We now know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in the end reports to Rome, was intimately involved in the crafting and promotion of the Stupak Amendment, which turned a tepid health care victory for the Democrats into a serious loss for women’s reproductive rights. Jessica Arons, director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, writes today that the measure “potentially goes farther than any other federal law to restrict women’s access to abortion” by effectively guaranteeing that virtually all insurance plans will refuse to pay for the procedure in the future.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, despairs of what he calls the American bishops’ “obsession” with sex and sexual politics. In an interview today, he said these bishops are supposed to be dedicated to the sick, poor, and vulnerable, all of whom desperately need decent health care. Yet they have shown themselves willing “to burn health care reform” over the abortion issue–a postion that places them out of line with the majority of lay Catholics.

O’Brien points out that a recent poll, commissioned by the organization, shows that “while Catholic voters are split on President Obama’s ideas for healthcare reform, they do want to see costs lowered and overwhelmingly support a government plan that would make health insurance available to the uninsured.” In addition:

Catholic voters believe the US Catholic bishops are wrong on healthcare reform. Sixty-eight percent disapprove of US bishops saying that all Catholics should oppose the entire healthcare reform plan if it includes coverage for abortion and 56 percent think the bishops should not take a position on healthcare reform legislation in Congress.

Despite what many conservatives argue, Catholic voters are against refusal clauses for institutions that take taxpayer dollars. Sixty-five percent said that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to refuse certain procedures or medications based on religious beliefs. In addition, 60 percent believe that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should be required to include condoms as part of HIV prevention.

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The poll also found that “large majorities of Catholic voters support health insurance coverage for abortions—either in a private or a government-run scheme” in order to protect the life or health of the mother, in cases of rape and incest, or when tests show a fetus has a severe abnormal condition. And they are evenly split, 50-50, on “whether insurance plans should cover abortion whenever a woman and her doctor decide it is appropriate.”

What this means is that American public policy on health care and reproductive rights is being shaped not by a majority of voters or even a majority of Catholic voters, but by a bunch of celibate men in robes, and a reactionary 82-year-old German in the Vatican.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on November 10, 2009.