Bishops Offer Principles

The U.S. bishops stand strongly in support of the principle of health-care reform.

And equally strongly, they reject any reform initiative that would involve taxpayer funding of abortion.

The Register’s coverage of the health-care reform debate so far has focused primarily on the second aspect of the bishops’ position, for good reason: President Barack Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership continue to push a health-care reform bill that, if passed in its current form, would result in taxpayer support of health-care insurance plans that include coverage of abortion services.

It’s absolutely crucial that Catholics demand the deletion of this provision from the health-care reform bill. If not, whatever the merits of the rest of the bill, no Catholic should support ObamaCare.

That’s not merely our judgment, nor are we alone in making the sanctity-of-life question our priority in assessing the health-care reform initiative launched by the president. It’s the same priority as that of our bishops, who have said this summer that an abortion mandate is “the line in the sand” that ObamaCare must not cross.

If this line is crossed and an abortion mandate remains in the congressional health-care reform bill, the Church’s shepherds, collectively and individually, have affirmed in numerous recent public statements that they will lead all Catholics in opposition to the bill.

At the same time, it’s also important that Catholic Americans not lose sight of the first component of the U.S. bishops’ two-pronged position on health-care reform — their strong support for the basic principle of reform.

According to Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, “Genuine health-care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.” He stated this in a July 17 letter he sent to Congress on behalf of all the American bishops.

In a nutshell, the bishops say health-care reform should deliver: a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity; access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants; pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism, including freedom of conscience and variety of options; and restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.

Elsewhere on their health-care reform website (, the bishops elaborate on the principles underlying their position.

“Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives,” the bishops state. “Instead, every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable, quality health care. This teaching is rooted in the biblical call to heal the sick and to serve ‘the least of these,’ our concern for human life and dignity, and the principle of the common good.”

These are powerful words, anchoring the U.S. bishops’ support for health-care reform firmly within the Gospel imperatives proclaimed by Christ. They are words that all Catholic Americans should take to heart and ponder carefully, as they consider where they stand personally regarding health-care reform.

It’s also important to remember that most of the specifics of the health-care reform bill will be subject to prudential judgment, in terms of whether they actually will deliver the Catholic objectives identified by the bishops. And as prudential judgments are involved, not basic Church doctrine, it’s entirely possible that individual bishops will come to different conclusions about whether the final version of the bill is worthy of Catholic support.

It’s equally possible for Catholic groups that are experts in the field of health care, such as the Catholic Health Association and the Catholic Medical Association, could come to different conclusions about the bill, even though they share a strong commitment to the objectives identified by the bishops. On the other hand, it’s also well within the realm of possibility for Congress to craft a reform package that virtually all credible Catholic authorities will be able to join in support.

As for the rest of us, we aren’t bound to follow the prudential judgments of others, even those of the U.S. bishops, when we communicate as Catholic voters with our elected representatives about whether we support or oppose the final version of ObamaCare that comes before Congress.

If, after giving the matter careful thought we reach a different prudential judgment, we can express this view in the public square in good conscience — although, as faithful Catholics, we should always assign a great deal of weight to what our bishops have had to say.

All this takes us back, in terms of reflecting on what the bishops have said about health-care reform, to where we started, with the crucial issue that isn’t subject to prudential judgment: the responsibility of all Catholic Americans to reject the inclusion of an abortion mandate in the health-care reform bill. It would be a great loss if the current opportunity to address the other important health-care issues identified by our bishops is squandered merely because the Democratic Party remains so aligned to the demands of the abortion lobby.

As Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, stated in an Aug. 21 commentary posted at the USCCB website, “The Church insists that reform is too important and legitimate a goal to be hijacked by destructive agendas such as government-mandated abortion coverage.”