Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

Catholic Health Association Can’t Be Trusted on Obamacare


The Catholic Health Association recently endorsed the Senate version of the health-care bill, giving President Obama “cover” to push pro-life House Democrats to vote for it.

But the CHA’s statement is deceptive, and its history on the issue of life is highly suspect.

The statement issued by Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA’s president and CEO, reads: “We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions,” followed by a description of how people who want abortion coverage in their government insurance will be required to write a separate personal check for the cost. Clearly the implication is that the “separate check” — an abortion surcharge — cures the abortion-funding problem. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What Keehan ignores, intentionally or otherwise, is section 1303, which provides federal subsidies for health plans that cover abortions and requires everyone to pay for others’ abortions through taxes and the abortion surcharge; section 1334, which authorizes the government-run multi-state plans to cover elective abortions; and section 10503, which provides millions of dollars to community health-care centers who will be free to use those dollars for elective abortions. The president’s proposal to amend the Senate bill leaves these sections in place.

The notion that the Catholic Health Association would float a straw man to cover President Obama’s abortion problems is not surprising, given its sketchy history on sanctity of life issues.

For example, in 2004 CHA took issue with Pope John Paul II when he spoke of the obligation to feed and care for the most helpless of patients. The pope’s pronouncement at the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State was clear: The provision of water and food, even by artificial means, “always represents a natural means of preserving life” and is “morally obligatory.” The CHA called this plain language “ambiguous” and instructed its members not to change their approach — an approach, according to USA Today (4/01/04), which considered tube feeding as “medical treatment” which could be discontinued in light of “burdens” on a patient’s family, among other reasons.

Later when the Vatican re-affirmed that the pope had, indeed, meant what he said, the CHA demurred again through its bioethicist Fr. Kevin O’Rourke who mischaracterized the Vatican’s position. Not incidentally, O’Rourke is the same bioethicist who signed a legal brief against “Terri’s Law,” telling the Miami Herald:  “For Christians, it is a blasphemy to keep people [like Terri Schiavo] alive as if you were doing them a favor.”

The CHA has also endorsed the use of the “morning-after pill” in Catholic hospitals, which can cause the death of a human embryo. In 2002, it defended its position in its journal, Health Progress, through a series of breathtakingly cavalier claims, including that “the risk of pregnancy resulting from rape is very small” and the “probable” effect of the pill is prevention of conception “rather than causing the death of a conceptus.”  In other words, there might be a baby, but he probably won’t die, so Catholic hospitals should provide the pill.

It is important to remember what the Catholic Health Association is, and what it is not. It is a voluntary association of Catholic hospitals, but not the only voice from the Catholic health-care community. The Catholic Medical Association is the largest professional association of Catholic physicians and has been strongly critical of the Senate bill.

The CHA has no official jurisdiction over any Catholic health-care institution, and it is not “The Bishops” — not by a long shot. On Tuesday, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano underscored this point, saying, “The CHA’s position does not reflect in any way the convictions of the United States Bishops Conference.”

Also on Tuesday, CHA board member Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg publicly disagreed with Sister Keehan, describing the Senate bill as “a vehicle that expands abortion rights [and] weakens conscience clause protection.” Bishop Lynch wrote on his blog: “I side with the USCCB on this one.”

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, issued a stinging indictment of the Senate bill after the CHA endorsement, saying the bill “forces all of us to become involved in . . . the deliberate destruction of unwanted members of the human family still waiting to be born.”  “It must be opposed,” wrote Cardinal George, unless its serious moral problems are addressed.

Congress is poised to approve a bill that would force Americans to pay for the largest expansion of abortion in America since Roe v. Wade. Let no one be fooled by the Catholic Health Association’s folly.

– Cathy Ruse is senior fellow for Legal Studies at the Family Research Council. She was formerly the chief spokesperson on human-life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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