Last Monday, Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics of Free Choice, had an article in Salon.com where she criticized elements of the religious left for raising concerns about the coverage of abortion in health-care reform. Specifically, Kissling singled out Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Catholics United, arguing that their efforts were jeopardizing the enactment of health-reform legislation.
Kissling’s concerns are bit puzzling. Catholic Left groups have actually been very active supporters of President Obama’s health-care-reform proposals. Both Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United are members of 40 Days for Health Reform, an attempt to generate more political support for health-care-reform among various religious communities.
Furthermore, a quick look at the websites of Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good reveals two important bits of information: (1) both websites include a number of stories and articles favorable to health-care reform and (2) any concerns about abortion coverage that these groups have are not prominently displayed.
Now Catholics United does devote an article to supporting the Capps Amendment, which they claim would prevent public funds from paying for abortions. However, the Capps Amendment is based on a rhetorical sleight of hand. Under the Capps Amendment, individual premiums could still pay for abortions. Furthermore, since money is fungible and since individual premiums and government money would be in the same pool of funds, federal funding for abortions would still occur.
It seems that any concerns about abortion raised by Catholic Left groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United are nothing more than rhetorical arm-waving. Technically both groups are nominally pro-life, but neither group has once criticized the Obama administration for pursuing policies which undermine the sanctity of human life, such as rescinding the Mexico City policy, repealing the Dornan Amendment, and ending the federal ban on funding on embryonic-stem-cell research.
However, health-care reform is more visible than some of these other initiatives. Furthermore, there is a good chance that if health-care reform is passed, the Department of Health and Human Services will be issuing reimbursements for abortions. To fend off future criticism, the Catholic Left probably saw a need to issue some statements to purchase itself some political cover.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.