Samantha Bee’s Dishonest Attack on Catholic Hospitals

Bee on Full Frontal (image vi Youtube)
Rather than presenting the facts, Bee set up a straw-man version of Catholicism in order to eviscerate it.

While most late-night shows tend to lean left, comedienne Samantha Bee frequently takes progressive bias to the next level, making fun of conservatives with harsh, distinctly unfunny jokes.

Last night, on her show Full Frontal, Bee lambasted the Catholic Church for the way it runs its hospitals, supposedly denying women “necessary care” such as abortion and sterilization. Progressives often claim that Catholic hospitals’ denial of “reproductive care” is an infringement on women’s rights. And Bee’s iteration of the argument reveals once again why the case against Catholic health care doesn’t hold water: It exploits the widespread cultural misunderstanding of Catholicism by creating a false version of Church teaching and using that fabrication to mock the entire religion.

First, Bee ignores the fact that Catholic teaching on human life and reproduction is a fundamental, longstanding tradition of the Church, passed down from one generation to the next for centuries. Instead of acknowledging this understanding of Catholic dogma, she portrays the Catholic guidelines for hospitals as a set of random proscriptions cobbled together by a group of old men (bishops) trying to control and harm women. “When I need reproductive advice from a virgin in a bathrobe, I’ll let you know,” she says. And later: “A uterus is the wrong place for a priest.”

But Catholic priests, bishops, and cardinals don’t give “reproductive advice”; they articulate the truth about human life and reproductive ethics in accord with Catholic teaching. A teaching promulgated and practiced for centuries by an entire religious group is fundamentally distinct from a panel of “virgins in bathrobes” dictating to women what they can and cannot do.

This first misrepresentation leads to a second: the claim that women will be without care if they are refused service at a Catholic hospital. Bee presents the compelling case of Jennafer Norris, who was denied a tubal ligation during an emergency C-section at a Catholic hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Rupa Natarajan, who worked as an OB-GYN at a Catholic hospital, complains that she wasn’t allowed to offer abortion, sterilization, or contraception. But both Norris and Natarajan were free to go elsewhere for care or for work. Bee anticipates this argument:

I mean, sure, you can try to avoid hospitals that force doctors to get a second opinion from one of the medieval-times busboys in charge of women’s health, but when you’re in the throes of a miscarriage, it’s hard to grab the wheel of an ambulance and drive to Beth Israel. Besides, you might run out of gas before you got there.

This is another straw man. In most cases, when women want a particular reproductive service, they have ample time to locate and attend a non-Catholic hospital. Even in the few emergency situations — which Bee presents as if they are the vast majority of cases — it’s still highly unlikely that a Catholic facility is the only available option. No woman has to grab the wheel of an ambulance while in the midst of miscarrying; she just has to call an ambulance from a non-Catholic hospital. Though it sometimes might be inconvenient for a woman to travel to a non-Catholic hospital, the inconvenience surely does not outweigh the importance of conscience rights, which demand that Catholic hospitals not be forced to provide procedures that Catholicism deems morally wrong.

Finally, Bee’s case rests heavily on the argument that Catholic hospitals put women in grave physical danger by denying them abortion. “A miscarriage is already the worst day of a woman’s life, and in a Catholic health-care network, it could also be her last,” Bee asserts. In reality, a direct abortion (in which a doctor intentionally kills a child) is never medically necessary to save a mother’s life. If a woman is having a miscarriage, having her child killed in an abortion will do nothing to improve her health or save her life. And Catholic teaching does take into account the health of pregnant women. For example, if a mother has an illness requiring her to take a certain drug to survive, the Church permits hospitals to administer that drug, even if it would have the side effect of killing her unborn child. Though the drug might result in the child’s death, the Church considers taking it to be ethically distinct from an abortion.

#related#Another of Bee’s case studies further illuminates this distinction. Mindy was pregnant with a child who had “lethal birth defects,” presumably meaning that the defects would result in the child’s death upon birth. Mindy goes on: “My water broke, which meant that he was not going to live, and it put me at risk for getting an infection, losing my uterus, and the worst-case scenario, death.” She claims that her life was in danger because the Catholic hospital refused to “treat” her. What she really means is that the Catholic hospital refused to abort her child.

While the Catholic hospital certainly would “treat” Mindy, she falsely asserts that her life was in danger because she was refused an abortion. In fact, delivering a child with birth defects poses no health risks to the mother, other than those commonly associated with giving birth. Though her child might have died upon birth due to his condition, Mindy’s life would never have been endangered. But Mindy didn’t want the hospital to “treat” her; she wanted them to directly kill her child:

They just put their rules and their ideology above my baby’s pain and suffering. I knew my baby. I was the only person in the world looking out for his best interest. I try not to think about the pain that he could’ve felt. He wouldn’t have felt anything if they would’ve just terminated the pregnancy when my water broke. . . . All I wanted to do was just sit and cry for the baby that I was going to lose but I hadn’t lost yet.

In Mindy’s view, she was harmed because this Catholic hospital disregarded her suffering and that of her child, both of which were clearly considerable. But her twisted solution to the problem was one the Catholic Church has always opposed: the murder of an innocent child. “How can our suffering and danger mean so little to you?” Bee asks at the end of the segment. If she tried honestly to comprehend Church teaching, rather than simply denigrating a false depiction of it, she might realize that the Church articulates an essential truth: A mother’s suffering is never lessened by the death of her child.


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