The Corner

Slate Warns of the FOCA Threat to Religious Liberty and Health Care in America

However sneeringly:

What in the world were these bishops talking about, claiming that religious freedom in America was under attack? Keep up the hysterics, boys, I thought as I scanned the latest story, and this will be birth control all over again: Your lips are moving but no one can hear you. And the most ludicrous line out of them, surely, was about how, under Obama, Catholic hospitals that provide obstetric and gynecological services might soon be forced to perform abortions or close their doors. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago warned of “devastating consequences” to the health care system, insisting Obama could force the closure of all Catholic hospitals in the country. That’s a third of all hospitals, providing care in many neighborhoods that are not exactly otherwise overprovided for. It couldn’t happen, could it?

You wouldn’t think so. Only, I am increasingly convinced that it could. If the Freedom of Choice Act passes Congress, and that’s a big if, Obama has promised to sign it the second it hits his desk. (Here he is at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event in 2007, vowing, “The first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”) Though it’s often referred to as a mere codification of Roe, FOCA, as currently drafted, actually goes well beyond that: According to the Senate sponsor of the bill, Barbara Boxer, in a statement on her Web site, FOCA would nullify all existing laws and regulations that limit abortion in any way, up to the time of fetal viability. Laws requiring parental notification and informed consent would be tossed out. While there is strenuous debate among legal experts on the matter, many believe the act would invalidate the freedom-of-conscience laws on the books in 46 states. These are the laws that allow Catholic hospitals and health providers that receive public funds through Medicaid and Medicare to opt out of performing abortions. Without public funds, these health centers couldn’t stay open; if forced to do abortions, they would sooner close their doors. Even the prospect of selling the institutions to other providers wouldn’t be an option, the bishops have said, because that would constitute “material cooperation with an intrinsic evil.”

The bishops are not bluffing when they say they’d turn out the lights rather than comply. Nor is Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis exaggerating, I don’t think, in vowing that “any one of us would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow—to die tomorrow—to bring about the end of abortion.”

Whatever your view on the legality and morality of abortion, there is another important question to be considered here: Could we even begin to reform our already overburdened health care system without these Catholic institutions? I don’t see how.

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