A Catholic Split on Health Care Reform

by Dan Quinn

A new editorial in the Roman Catholic periodical Commonweal highlights a key division among Catholics over the recently passed health care reform bill. In short, this division is over questions of whether the bill provides government support for abortion.

Because insurance plans that offer abortion will be available through government-established exchanges (through which those eligible will be able to purchase plans using government subsidies for premiums), critics — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — have sided with the religious right in opposing the new law. Other Catholics, however, note that the law requires insurers to pay for abortion services with private funds paid by individual subscribers, not with money obtained from government subsidies for premiums. That is little different from the current situation in which Medicare and Medicaid pay for medical services at hospitals that independently (with private funds) provide abortions.

The issue also involves the question of whether lay Catholics have the right to rely on their own conscience to make decisions about civic issues such as health care reform even when such decisions might run counter to the wishes of the church hierarchy.

Of course, the debate is more complicated than our simple summary here. You can read the USCCB’s point of view here and an argument from Catholics supporting the law here.

The Texas Freedom Network has taken no formal position on health care reform — the issue is beyond our mission. TFN Insider has, however, on occasion noted the far right’s extremist rhetoric in attacking reform legislation. We hope that the ongoing debate among Catholics will in the end illuminate a path to mutual understanding rather than one in which faith becomes a weapon in political warfare. We have already seen too little of the former and far too much of the latter from the religious right in Texas and across the country.