Got news? Faith, funds, hard choices

sadchildI continue to be amazed at the degree to which the debates about health-care reform keep cycling back to issues of money and, let’s face it, religion.

President Barack Obama has said that costs must be held down and that 80 percent of those costs are rooted in decisions made in the final stages of life. Meanwhile, the abortion whirlpool is still there, period, swirling around questions about whether tax dollars should be spent on one side of the abortion question.

While the talk-radio troops (and others) say what they want to say at the public forums, and the mainstream press continues to preach that these life-and-death issues are based on factual errors, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have remained very quiet. Even their new website on the issue is very understated. The bishops have stated four goals, seeking:

* 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

* restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

That list has doctrinal and political content and there’s no way around that reality. Life issues for young and old. Care for the poor. A conscience clause. Applying cost restraints equitably. There are factors there to scare the political left and right.

Do you doubt the religious content of some of the issues involved? Frankly, it would help if journalists could get past the shouters and look at the religious issues at the heart of some of these conflicts.

I mean, give the president’s office at Belmont Abbey College a call. You see, there’s news — yes, conservative news — on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page today. Ignore the spin. Just look at the content of the government decision.

Last week, thanks to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal government took a giant leap toward encroaching on the religious liberty of Catholics. Reuben Daniels Jr., director of the EEOC District Office in Charlotte, N.C, ruled that a small Catholic college discriminated against female employees by refusing to cover prescription contraceptives in its health insurance plan. With health-care reform looming before the country, this ruling is a bad omen for people of faith.

In 2007, eight faculty members filed a complaint against Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., claiming that the school’s decision to exclude prescription contraceptives from its health-care plan was discriminatory against women. “As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church,” said the college’s president, William Thierfelder, at the time.

20060511-pillThink church-state entanglement. Did Belmont Abbey’s policy raise questions about fraud, profit or a clear threat to life? No. So why — as a voluntary association based on doctrine — does a branch of the government need to use its tax-payer rooted power to get involved in this dispute among Catholics on this private campus?

Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the Down syndrome issue to get some mainstream ink.

Over at the Washington Times, veteran scribe Julia Duin has written a very personal column that touches on some of these themes, while telling the story of a faith-based group — Reece’s Rainbow — that is trying to find homes for Down syndrome children around the world.

There are poignant details in the story of Andrea Roberts and her son Reece and there’s news there. But what about the wider implications of this passage in the column?

It’s not easy finding families for little people whom no one wants. Canada restricts families to adopting only one such child; Britain “basically denies it,” she told me, because of … health care policies that discourage families from taking on such children. She fears the health care reforms being pushed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats will eventually do the same.

Yes, I edited a buzz word out of that paragraph so that the heads of some readers will not explode.

Try to focus, folks, on the actual news hooks there. It’s a fact that stopping people from adopting special needs children would help governments to hold down health-care costs. What about giving birth to Down syndrome children? Would parents have that health-care choice? How about the birth of a second handicapped child? Would that be covered? These kinds of limitations would help hold down costs.

Ignore the yelling, please. Focus on the content of the doctrinal and political issues. There are stories in there.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Davis

    So why — as a voluntary association based on doctrine — does a branch of the government need to use its tax-payer rooted power to get involved in this dispute among Catholics on this private campus?

    It isn’t among Catholics. The employees who sued–and then were retaliated against by the president of the college who broadcast their names to the entire community–aren’t all Catholic. Catholicism isn’t a requirement and the college is not covered by the exemptions for religious employers in this specific situation.

    It’s a fact that stopping people from adopting special needs children would help governments to hold down health-care costs. What about giving birth to Down syndrome children? Would parents have that health-care choice? How about the birth of a second handicapped child? Would that be covered? These kinds of limitations would help hold down costs.

    Hypothetically, sure. Hypothetically, anything could happen, including pigs flying. Why this is difficult for journalists to cover is because the “yelling”–which you are contributing to with Duin’s piece–is really based on a lot of hypotheticals that aren’t based on any actual facts or specifics. …

  • Jerry

    Frankly, it would help if journalists could get past the shouters and look at the religious issues at the heart of some of these conflicts.

    Amen and AMEN.

    The last thing that those who encourage and promote wrath are looking for is a real discussion of the moral and ethical issues. And there’s a natural alliance between those people and the sensation-loving media who profits from giving those yelling a voice they don’t deserve.

    It would be great if you can highlight spin-free discussions of the real moral and ethical issues. I personally am avoiding those adding fuel to the fire like the WSJ is doing based on your comments. I’m praying that people of good will can get together for that really necessary discussion.

  • Andrea Roberts

    Thanks very much for including RR in your article. Although I try to keep my head out of the politics of it all, and I will probably get flack for commenting so personally here, it’s very hard to ignore the crisis we are facing and the *potential* far-reaching repercussions of this legislation. Outside of my role as the Executive Director of this ministry, I am the biological mother of a beautiful child with Down syndrome first and foremost. I applaud you for raising those questions that so few people have the guts to ask, that even I have been hesitant to ask publicly, and I really hope Sarah Palin jumps in to comment as well. This isn’t about a woman’s right to choose what is best for her and her family. This is about our government paying for the termination of life *just because* a child has been prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. With an already astronomical prenatal termination rate of nearly 90% in the US, it’s not a far stretch for this health bill to someday turn into “don’t worry, it’s OK, you’re making the right decision, and we’ll pay for your abortion so we don’t have to support this child the rest of his/her life”. And then later down the line, “sorry, we’re not allowing the adoption of any more kids with special needs either because they are a drain on our health system ad they aren’t our problem”. Because it is “above his pay grade” to determine when life begins, I am sure this administration won’t have any qualms about perpetuating the genocidal tendency in this country, under the guise of saving money. GOD is above the President’s pay grade, and GOD gets to decide. What we have found in our three short years of ministry is that there is no shortage of families who want to adopt these precious gifts, both here and abroad. That speaks volumes to me. We have families who have adopted THREE AT A TIME (with DS) through Reece’s Rainbow. These families set the bar, as far as I’m concerned. Every child saved, every penny donated, makes a statement to the whole world that these children with Down syndrome and other special needs have value and purpose and ability. Reece’s Rainbow has the opportunity to be a catalyst for social change the world over. God made Reece exactly the way He intended him to be, with a very specific life purpose. He clearly has a life plan for each of the 200 children who have already been saved through Reece’s Rainbow, and the 250 more who are waiting on our website for grant donations and families. Reece’s Rainbow works to share the truth about people with Down syndrome in a gentle and “setting an example” kind of way. Yet at the same time, we have also become a growing voice to counteract the prenatal destruction of these Divine gifts (children with DS)in the US. Children with Down syndrome in particular come with a very special message. We are working really hard not only to save the lives of those children in other countries who were *lucky enough to be BORN*, but to share the joy and beauty of these children in our own country to help stem the slaughter :(

  • tmatt


    No name calling please.

    The situation in Britain is a fact to be pursued. Ditto for Canada. I don’t think anyone at this stage really knows what is and what is not in the US bills — plural. That’s why we are at a time for questions.

    Belmont is allowed to let doctrine shape its policies. Ditto for liberal schools, setting grounds for employment.

    If this was not mentioned in a school document, then that is problematic and they need to change that. The days for specifics in writing are in fact here.

  • tmatt


    Do you dispute the fact of the gov’t ruling on Belmont or on the religious-liberty impact of it?

  • will47

    Is it really a fact that stopping people from adopting special needs children would hold down health care costs? I would think it would be cheaper to have an adoptive parent/other relatives take on home health care than to underwrite institutional care. Assuming, of couse, that such adoptions were all domestic. I would think that the current state of affairs also prevents some parents from taking on such adoptions. Among other things, parents would face denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, which is something the new plans are supposed to ameliorate. But the stories I’ve seen typically do not get down to brass tacks in comparing coverage results under the new regime vs. the current one.

  • Jerry

    Do you dispute the fact of the gov’t ruling on Belmont or on the religious-liberty impact of it?

    Terry, Since you asked… I don’t consider the editorial page a source for news, but I did find an actual news story

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that Belmont Abbey College discriminated against women and retaliated against faculty members who filed a charge of employment discrimination, according to EEOC documents.

    From that story, it’s clear that the WSJ was distorting the actual decision by not mentioning the retaliation on their editorial page which is no surprise at all given their ideology.

    The whole area of church/state is very contentious. Where does those claiming a religious liberty argument go over the line of what is acceptable to society? If you allow Catholic theology to trump secular society how about Muslims who want Sharia to trump secular laws? Or how about those that consider plural marriage to be religiously ordained? Or how about those who consider drugs to be part of their worship?

    If this society were saner and did not have people like Palin throwing gas on a fire, we could have that discussion. The health care debate really should involve this issue. Sadly those who are trying to have that discussion are being subverted by those who are consumed by fear and wrath and want to eliminate the possibility of real issues being brought up. (queue what the Proverbs has to say about what the Lord does not like).

    If I can be forgiven a personal addendum, I have no idea what the right balance is outside of avoiding the extremes. I do believe that all people of good will should be involved with it from all theological and ethical backgrounds.

  • Andrea Roberts

    Will47: I should have clarified *international* adoption of children with special needs. Sorry about that. Yes, domestic adoption and home health definitely help to keep the costs down, as opposed to previous generations where people with special needs were institutionalized from birth. That is how things still are in Eastern Europe, Russia, etc. There is actually a lengthy waiting list of families wanting to adopt domestically born children with DS.

  • Chip

    The situation in Britain is a fact to be pursued. Ditto for Canada. I don’t think anyone at this stage really knows what is and what is not in the US bills — plural. That’s why we are at a time for questions.

    It is true that there are several bills being considered, but anyone with Google can find out what is and is not in them. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is talking about using Britain as a model. Not even Bernie Sanders wants to socialize the health care system in the US.

    It is a shame that Andrea Roberts is scared because the free market is a much greater threat to the health of children with Down’s syndrome than anything being considered in Congress.

  • Andrea Roberts

    I’m not *scared*, I just do not want to see the children who are waiting for families be left there to die because of new “healthcare policies”.

  • dalea

    What would help in the discussion would be if the press would define terms: just what is healthcare? With the press abdicating its responsibilities to actually cover the issue, we get this unfocused treatment of minutae and specific cases. A more reasonable approach would be to begin with a definition and examine the subject as relates to scientific criteria. Like the germ theory of disease. It can clearly be shown that universal coverage is needed to deal with infectious disease: there are no individual protections from typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera. The whole treatment is unscientific.

    If 90% of all Downs conceptions end up aborted under the current system, which appears to be the case, why fear a government run plan? At least the government is subject to political pressure. Try pressuring your insurance company.

  • Julia

    One of the problems with press coverage of the Health Care reform propositions – no mention that the details are going to be decided by government functionaries (commissions and the like) AFTER the bill is passed. Obama has said this several times and nobody is paying attention. Many Federal and State laws work this way. The broad outline is in the legislation and then the administrative rules about how the framework will work in the real world are left to the agencies that will administer the new laws.

    Take a look at this page from 2002 that purports to simplify then-current administrative rules in HHS, which will also presumably administer the new health care regime. Click on a few of the proposed rules and plans on the page. Can you understand any of it?

    If you think a 600+ page bill is bad, wait until the agencies start making their rules.

    It was my job at my law firm to keep track of the changing rules on “Special Needs Trusts” in the state of Illinois. It was an enormous job and hard to keep track of the changing requirements and rules, that came alomost monthly. You might remember when the Federal goverment was planning to jail lawyers who advised people on how to best deal with their elderly and disabled relatives regarding Federal and State laws and regulations. First they were going to put grandma in jail, but then thought people wouldn’t be upset about jailing lawyers. Surprise – they were and that was dropped. It would make your head spin.

    Anyway, there is no way to pin down politicians on the details of how the proposals will work, because it will be beaureacrats who decide how the legislation will be administered if it is enacted into law. If a constituent is not happy with administrative beaureacrats’ implemention, the politicians can just say it’s out of their hands. We can’t vote out the beaureacrats. That’s the scariest part of all this.

    Haven’t seen this addressed anywhere. Why not?

  • Jerry

    I just noticed one more piece of complexity for the health care situation. There are mandates that people have insurance under the proposals with some exemptions. One interesting one in the house bill:Exempts … people with religious objections.

    I really wish someone would analyze all the draft bills for impact on people’s religious beliefs. I think we’d all be better off being able to debate on the actual drafts rather than on the fear-mongers lies.

  • Chip

    I’m not *scared*, I just do not want to see the children who are waiting for families be left there to die because of new “healthcare policies”.

    I was responding to Duin’s use of the word “fear” to describe your response to health care reform. Since nobody in the US is arguing in favor of socialized medicine like they have in Britain, and since every bill being considered would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition like Down’s syndrom, I am having a hard time understanding why you fear reform more than the status quo. Is there anything in any of the bills that suggest restrictions on adoption is a possibility?

  • Jerry

    I was thinking about Julia’s point concerning what the law says and what regulations are written ex post facto. Her concern is I think valid but her facts are a bit off.

    I worked for the federal government in the social security administration for a few months many years ago and ran into an example. People can be entitled to benefits based on their own salary or their spouses. I might have this reversed, but I think Congress had written into the law what happens if someone was entitled on their own before they were to receive benefits based on their spouses salary but not the reverse. So regulations were written specifying what to do in the case Congress had not considered and these regulations specified a different way of determining how much to pay.

    Therefore sometimes laws are specific and sometimes they are not. That’s why it’s important to address Julia’s concern by making sure the laws are clearly and specifically written with the intent of Congress in the record for any court cases that might arise.

  • Dave

    it would help if journalists could get past the shouters

    The shouters are there to obstruct examination of the underlying issues. The shouters become the issue, which is their intent. And if the press investigates the shouters it is accused of being in the tank for Obama.

  • tmatt


    Then focus on the groups — start with the US bishops, then try the Southern Baptists — who share SOME of the concerns of the shouters and have facts and data on their side, rather than volume.

    When it doubt, the press can also attempt balance and fairness to both sides.

    Oh, wait, you don’t want both sides covered, do you?

  • dalea

    tmatt: all major Roman Catholic health care organizations are on record as supporting Obama’s initiative. By doing so they are gauranteed a place at the table when the regulations are set up. I linked to this in a previous thread on the topic. A nun serves on Obama’s committee on the subject. The organizations have already stated what must be in the regulations for them to support, and apparently have an agreement that these will be there. Here the press is seriously lacking; the RC agencies actually involved with health care have endless press releases on the religious aspects of reform. And the press focuses on the bishops who really have nothing to do with running health care, not the religious who do. And the religious have already got what they need.

  • Jerry N


    The Catholic Medical Association is far from being on board with Obama, or so I’ve seen from the emails they sent me. And the materials on their website.

  • Brian Walden

    If Belmont Abbey does not cover medical services which contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church where all the news coverage of their heinous sexual discrimination against men by refusing to cover condoms and vasectomies?

  • Carolina

    I find it interesting that Julia Duin’s article contains a quote about adoption rules in Canada and Britain, but has no research to support the quotations. I don’t know anything about the situation in Britain, but I do know that in Canada adoption is a provincial responsibility, so there are at least 10 different adoption systems in the country, each with its own set of rules and regulations. So where, if anywhere, does this adopting only one child with Down Syndrome apply?

  • Chip Smith

    tmatt wrote:

    Oh, wait, you don’t want both sides covered, do you?

    Come on, Terry, that snarky accusation is beneath your usual standards. Nothing Dave wrote implies that he wants the press to ignore the responsible critics of health reform.

  • tmatt


    I disagree. He’s saying that the concerns of the protestors — loud or quiet, angry mobs or quiet bishops — are simply inaccurate and that covering them or investigating them obscures the truth of the Obama plan. This is a growing trend in American journalism, whereas GetReligion keeps calling for coverage of both sides of many moral, cultural and religious debates.

  • Chip Smith


    Then why does he only talk about the shouters in his comment? At Obama’s town halls he has been taking (and asking for) questions from those who oppose reform. I wish those non-inflammatory questions received a similar amount of coverage as the shouters. Nothing in Dave’s comment suggests he believes otherwise.

    Unfortunately, the shouters seemed to be influencing legislation more than the responsible critics of reform. Senator Grassley, who is the main Republican negotiating on the Senate Finance Committee, is now engaging in the same lies about death panels as the shouters. Even the Republican senators who are actually in the room writing the bill feel like they have to drop the provision that would have Medicare pay for end of life counseling even though they all supported such counseling (conservative Republican Senator Isakson wanted such counseling to be mandatory) prior to the shouting about death panels.

    So the lies and shouting result in changes being made to legislation while the US Catholic Bishops remain “quiet” and “understated.” I suppose this is a chicken-or-the-egg thing, since perhaps the responsible critics of reform would have more influence than the shouters if they received better media coverage. But Dave is most certainly correct that the media would be criticized for being in the tank for Obama if they shifted their coverage away from the shouters and towards the reasonable voices of criticism. It would be an unjust criticism, but one the media falls all over itself to avoid.

  • dalea

    I have hunted down some actual newspaper stories on the subject. And the situation as reported is quite different from the WSJ op-ed piece.

    First off, the college has asked for a reconsideration so the process in still going on.

    The EEOC has asked both the faculty and the college to work with the agency to reach a resolution. If the college declines to discuss the settlement or an acceptable settlement is not reached, the director would inform the two sides and advise them of the court enforcement alternatives available, according to the determinations.

    So, no one’s freedom has been violated as of yet. Further, the college created the whole mess when it did not use legal advice before proceeding.

    Neipert said the concern was solely about contraception, but others focused on abortion and contraception as word spread in Catholic circles. The Senior Fulbright Scholar in law said he tried to warn the college that they should get a lawyer’s counsel before taking away contraception and thought that would be the end of the issue.

    Further, the college published the names of those who complained to the whole college community and there is some other unspecified retaliation. This is illegal. Neipert has left the college. His idea that there should have been legal advice from the start seems wise. It appears the administration has bungled this from the beginning and is trying to cover up its incompetance with religious freedom issues.

    From a blog:

    The EEOC ruled that the college discriminated against women, since the refusal to cover the cost of birth control pills would cost women employees more hardship. The commission also ruled that the college’s naming of the plaintiffs was unlawful retaliation, explaining that “the identity of an individual who has filed a charge should be protected with confidentiality during the Commission’s investigation.”


    Late in 2007, the college’s health insurance provider changed the cost and structure of its coverage for college employees. In reviewing the new paperwork, a faculty member noticed the policy covered abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization.

    It was later discovered that the particular coverage had been in place for some time.

    College officials are unable to determine when and how the coverage got into the policy


    This is a clear showing of incompetance.

    Since the policy change, eight faculty members filed formal complaints with various state and federal agencies, demanding the reinstatement of these coverages, said Thierfelder.

    The group filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the change in insurance benefits was an act of discrimination on the basis of their religion or sex.

    Clearly this is still going on. There are more rulings to come. The op-ed in the WSJ, whatever else it may be, is not news coverage.

  • Dave


    Did you read my comment cross-eyed or something? What I said was that the shouters make it difficult to get beyond them. Nothing in that comment suggest that I don’t want full coverage of this issue.

    What I worry about is not full coverage, but about apparent hand-holding between hooligans on the one side and members of the elite on the other. In other times and climes that has led to severe restrictions on press freedoms.

  • dalea

    This was on creative loafing. I thought it showed a sentiment that reporters need more of:

    Here’s some advice for BAC’s President from a former student at that college, and a Catholic: Instead of enforcing “the teachings of the Catholic Church,” how about supporting “the reality of the Catholic Church,” which is that a vast majority of Catholics in America think the Church’s teachings on contraception are misguided, at best, and thus they feel free to ignore them completely.

  • dalea

    The USCCB has a new website up promoting health care reform at:

  • dalea

    From the FAQ:

    Question: Are the bishops trying to promote an anti-abortion agenda through health care reform?

    Answer: No. The bishops will continue to fight against the evil of abortion by all means available. But they have not demanded that urgently needed health care reform become a vehicle for advancing the pro-life cause, and they likewise believe it should not be used to advance the cause of abortion. In this sense, the bishops have asked that health care reform be “abortion neutral,” this is, that existing laws and policies with regard to abortion and abortion funding be preserved, allowing health care reform to move forward and serve its legitimate goals.