Catholics and Healthcare

By Patheos Team

Critics today charge that religion has no place in politics, that it is a private matter and cannot be brought to bear on the contentious issues that divide a pluralistic society. Yet there seems to be something in the ways that Catholics look at history, at morality, at duties toward the common good that encourages them to be active in building a just society.

The Patheos Catholic Portal asked two prominent commentators -- one Democrat and one Republican -- to explore the Catholic commitment to political life, and how Catholic faith ought to shape a person's understanding of politics. Here Patrick Whelan comments on Catholics and their role in the state.

Read Deal Hudson's comments here.

What is your biggest concern about the present state of Catholic participation in politics?

Fifty years ago, Pope John XXIII addressed the question of the Christian vocation in his first encyclical, Ad Petri Cathedram. Christian striving for peace, he said, depends upon people responding freely to "God's call to the service of His merciful designs," and he described our lack of response to this vocation as the "most terrible problem of human history." Citing this passage, Thomas Merton later wrote, "Christ Our Lord...brought to His disciples a vocation and a task, to struggle in the world of violence to establish His peace not only in their own hearts but in society itself."

So often, the magnitude of global suffering seems so great, and perhaps it's not surprising that newspapers are failing and Americans are disengaging from current events in record numbers. The average viewer of network news is approaching the retirement age of 65.

But data that our organization, Catholic Democrats, has generated indicates that Catholic voters are significantly more engaged than non-Catholics in civic affairs. In our modern world, which can bring news so quickly and images so vividly into our lives every day, how can we not respond as Catholics to the suffering of others without regard to where they live?

No issue beckons our Catholic sensibilities today more than the urgent need to fix our broken health insurance system. Health and healing hold a special place in Catholic life, in part because modern, hospital-based care has its roots in the Catholic monastic tradition -- and perhaps because twenty-five of the thirty-five miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament involve health and healing. In 2008, a decisive majority of Catholics voted to elect Barack Obama president, in part because of his pledge to end a century of debate over health insurance reform and to provide coverage for the roughly 70 million Americans who lose it in any given year.

My biggest concern about the present state of Catholic participation in politics is the new focus of several Catholic conservative organizations that have decided to join the Republican chorus of opposition to any health insurance reform. Bizarrely, these groups are trying to drag the abortion issue into the debate as a means of preventing healthcare for all. Their fundraising letters typically echo the comments of Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who said, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo."

I was struck by two recent examples of supposedly non-partisan groups exploiting the health debate to boost their own fundraising with strong language opposing any effort to cover uninsured Americans. With nearly one-sixth of the U.S. population lacking health insurance and nearly 20,000 people thought to be dying every year because they have no insurance, it is difficult to understand how any group can claim to represent a moral point of view while condemning the entire enterprise of health insurance reform.

Both these groups focus on the possibility that some abortions may be paid for with public funds under a new health insurance system, and they use this as an excuse to condemn the entire effort. One organization, for example, has labeled the health reform legislation a "stealth version of the Freedom of Choice Act," and alarmingly states that "they (the federal government) will force YOU to pay for the killings that will follow! Make no mistake. The 'health care reform' bills being finalized in Congress will set off a chain reaction that will result in a massive expansion of abortion!"

What's wrong with this logic? Federal funding of abortion already occurs in all fifty states under the Hyde Amendment, mostly under circumstances involving sexual assault. Beyond that, twenty states pay for Medicaid recipients to have abortions in all or most health circumstances. An additional three states provide public funding where fetal anomalies are present. This coverage in states with nearly 152,000,000 people represents half of the total U.S. population. So it is incorrect to claim that new health insurance reform will "for the first time" result in public funding for abortion.

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