Good clear talk about health care debate issues – useful!

I complained the other day that neither side in the Catholic field, the USCCB nor the dissidents, had adequately explained the presumed barrier – or lack thereof – or unacceptable weakness thereof – between federal money and the procuring of abortions.

From CNA with my emphases and comments.

USCCB’s policy expertise exposes Senate bill’s abortion provisions, Doerflinger reasserts

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2010 / 07:58 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops’ conference has better policy expertise on the health care bill than any other Catholic organization, Richard Doerflinger has said. [In other words the dissident liberal sisters of the CHA and LCWR don't have adequate expertise.] He warned about “reassuring” claims that prevent “honest and candid debate” on abortion provisions that Congressmen have a moral responsibility to change.  [Keep in mind that, in the matter of the vote on the health legislation, we are in the nebulous cloud of contingent, prudential judgments.  Therefore, real clarity of the facts of the legislation is vital.]

Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that the present Senate version of health care reform frees up “billions” of dollars for abortion. [Get that?] It also creates a “stunning” problem by forcing health plans that cover abortions to collect a separate monthly payment from enrollees to pay for others’ abortions[The claim is that if people want their policies also to cover abortion, they must pay for that coverage in some way separate from the support given by federal money.]

“This actually bans conscientious exemptions. It makes the situation worse than it is now,” he continued.

His remarks came at a Friday press conference with several pro-life leaders. Multiple questions centered upon Catholic groups which support the legislation despite the well-known opposition of the USCCB.

CNA asked him about a letter endorsing the Senate bill which was wrongly reported to represent 59,000 religious sisters.

Doerflinger said many of the signatories, organized by the group NETWORK, were religious superiors who later clarified [LATER... after their intended damaging impression was given.  I am guessing they knew full well that they would later have to make a clarification, but that after the initial media splash, and the religious cover they intended to provide "Catholic" dems, whatever subsequent clarification they would offer would make little difference.] they didn’t necessarily speak for all the sisters in their orders.

“59,000 is the total number of nuns in the US. There’s already another major organization, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which represents many orders, that has put out a statement defending what the bishops are doing on this bill.”  [And those are the sisters who still act as if they have a clear Catholic identity.]

In long run, he continued, Catholics have to have “a lot of discussions in the Church about how to stand together on these things, rather than trying to neutralize each other. Especially when one organization in particular has the role of speaking for the moral voice of the Church in these matters.”  [Indeed.  Though other Catholic groups should be able to speak as Catholics so long as they don't pretend to set up their own parallel and conflicting magisterium.]

That organization, the USCCB, also has “policy expertise” about the acceptability of legislation to the Church’s convictions in matters of life and justice. [Sorry, but I don't think this expertise has been yet adequately forwarded in the media.  They may have it, but more people need to know about it.] The Conference has focused on explaining the flaws of the Senate bill, documenting its case in order to show it is “not just an interest group that has an opinion.”

We’ve actually researched the facts. [Explain them.] We know how bad it is. That’s something that no other Catholic organization really can do with the depth that we’ve done.”

While Doerflinger did not mention Catholics United by name, the pro-Obama group has charged that the USCCB is opposing the Senate bill legislation despite “overwhelming evidence” allegedly refuting its “mistaken belief” that the bill expands public financing of abortion.

Catholics United is also running advertisements that pressure Congressmen to vote for the Senate bill. Its campaign in a West Virginia district was criticized by the local diocese for “misleading” and “confusing” Catholics[It is time for the USCCB to make unambiguous statements about that group and for the bishops of their leadership to take some action.]

At the Friday conference one questioner pressed Doerflinger about whether the Catholic bishops have capably informed Congress and other Catholic groups about the effects of the Senate bill[Good question.]

It’s not a matter of not communicating, [?] it’s that there are things about the bill that people don’t believe or don’t want to believe. [NB] Unless they’ve been immersed in this policy work on abortion, they don’t necessarily understand that the rules on abortion are different than almost any other thing."

Supporters of the legislation “sincerely and with some reason [I agree] believe that it’s going to help a lot of people,” in Doerflinger’s view, and have not let themselves focus on the abortion aspects. 

“The USCCB’s focus is not to dismiss other concerns, but to say ‘you cannot do this kind of evil on this kind of level’.”  [Right.  But we must add you cannot do evil on any level.  But the evil is compounded when it is on this scale.]

In a prior question [This is good, and it addresses something I have brought up here.] at the conference a reporter from asked whether a member of Congress can morally vote for health care reform if the Senate bill’s abortion provisions are not changed.

The USCCB official said it depends on the exact action of the Congressman. If he reviews the legislation, sees “all the ramifications” and concludes it will greatly expand funding for taking an innocent human life, that person should “morally see it as his or her responsibility to demand change.”  [So... it really is a question of communication, isn't it?]

“It’s wrong for public figures to deliberately and knowingly promote and provide funding for that kind of taking of life.”

In response to a question from Julia Duin of the Washington Times, Doerflinger acknowledged that there have been “confusion” and “victims of confusion” in the debate.

He noted that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had reassured some supporters that regulations were in place and that the Obama administration did not want to fund abortion.

That sounds “really lovely” to someone without a policy background, but is “totally irrelevant” because federal statute trumps federal regulation, [!] Doerflinger commented. Abortion has a court mandate “unless Congress stops it specifically.[!]

[NB] “The Hyde Amendment doesn’t cover this bill, so it is irrelevant. But you have to have a certain amount of background and training and experience in this to know that.  [Communicate that better!]

“Some people are just believing statements on their face that look reassuring, but are actually being used to prevent honest and candid debate.”

Though Catholics must deal with “frayed nerves” and divisions on policy, in Doerflinger’s view divisions on moral teaching weren’t at the root of most of the differences in the present debate.

Tom McClusky, the senior vice president of the Family Research Council (FRC), who also addressed the press conference, was less conciliatory.

He charged that some advocates of the Senate health care bill were repeating 2008 election tactics to attract support from undecided Christians. [And I think he is right about that.]

All they needed to do was plant the seeds of doubt and not worry about the facts so much, and attack those who disagree with them.

“Richard himself has been a victim of some of those attacks, and the USCCB certainly has been.”

Thank you CNA for this good article.

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3 Responses to Good clear talk about health care debate issues – useful!

  1. avecrux says:

    “federal statute trumps federal regulation, Doerflinger commented. Abortion has a court mandate “unless Congress stops it specifically.”

    That is the key.
    Good article.

  2. wolfeken says:

    Rich is a living legend. He is one of about five people in the entire USCCB building who should not be fired. We are very, very fortunate to have him in that office.

  3. Oneros says:

    “Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that the present Senate version of health care reform frees up ‘billions’ of dollars for abortion.”

    “Frees up” is a rather odd phrase, though. I’ve heard some reports that the “frees up money for abortion” objection basically amounts to the fact that women who get federal funds to buy healthcare, might then have more of their OWN money left over (ie, that they will no longer have to use to buy healthcare on their own), and then MIGHT use some of that to pay for abortion.

    But, anyone might use ANY money they get from the government for abortion! Including tax credits, subsidies, salaries, etc. So this argument can be used for ANY disbursement of funds.

    But the general principle has been that, once it is removed a step, it is no longer “federal money”.

    “This actually bans conscientious exemptions.”

    Not exactly, because every state exchange is required to have at least one “pro-life” policy that DOESNT cover abortion. If you’re serious about your ethics, why would you want to choose a policy that covers abortion, but then merely opt out of paying the abortion coverage? Why not just choose the pro-life policy that each exchange must have that doesn’t cover abortion AT ALL??

    “It also creates a “stunning” problem by forcing health plans that cover abortions to collect a separate monthly payment from enrollees to pay for others’ abortions.”

    This seems to contradict the claim that federal funds will be used to pay for abortions. If insurance policies covering abortions have to collect that portion of the money separately, it is not coming from federal funds.

    And if people want their policy to cover abortion, and are willing to privately pay that extra private amount, I don’t see how that is any more problematic than the situation we have today.

    If anyone can explain to me, please help. I won’t be supporting the bill because the USCCB has said so, but this explanation is far from “good clear talk”. If anything, it confuses the issues more for me…

    “It’s wrong for public figures to deliberately and knowingly promote and provide funding for that kind of taking of life.”

    And I think “knowingly” is the key here. There are so many conflicting reports out there. No one seems to know what, exactly, is in the bill.

    If someone, being against abortion in principle and practice…supports the bill because they believe, based on their knowledge, that it doesn’t, in fact, fund or promote abortion…then I can’t condemn them. We are required to listen to the USCCB on matters of principle. You don’t necessarily have to trust them when it comes to questions of concrete contingent FACT (though in this case I will defer to their judgment, since I haven’t read the bill myself).