Commentary by Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 11, 2009 ( – As Catholic groups issue conflicting statements on whether to join the push for health care reform, the answers to once-simple questions may appear to be growing increasingly muddled: what is the pro-life Catholic response to President Obama’s push for a health care overhaul? And can we acknowledge a need for reform while actively opposing a plan that, by promoting abortion and other troublesome aspects, threatens to undermine the very essence of health care?

The Catholic organizations that have joined this recent push for “health care reform” – without actually opposing the current abortion-promoting bills – have replied to dismayed pro-lifers by only pledging not to specifically support legislation that promotes or provides for abortion.

Pro-life Catholic leaders have argued that, while endorsing good health care is central to Catholic social teaching, Catholics responding to the debate ought to give priority to guarding against the current legislation’s explicit expansion of abortion – as well as its potential to promote other evils such as contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, and health care rationing.

And because Congress has already rejected dozens of pro-life amendments, pro-life critics argue: by failing to explicitly oppose the vast dangers of the current bill, groups such as Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association may end up pushing health reform at the expense of unborn lives.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the crux of the matter in his July encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), where he pointed out that any attempt at social progress is undermined without openness to life.

“When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good,” he wrote. “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

In keeping with the Pope’s call for life-centered reform, the USCCB Pro-Life Office has also expressed eagerness for genuine health care reform, but hit hard against the current bills for their mandated abortion coverage and funding. Bishops William Murphy and Cardinal Rigali issued letters to lawmakers in recent weeks with strong warnings against the danger of abortion expansion in the bills.

“One thing is certain,” wrote Pro-Life Office Executive Director Tom Grenchik last week. “The bills approved so far by House and Senate committees include mandated abortion coverage and abortion funding, and that is a line we can never cross.”

The USCCB’s action alert encouraged Catholics to tell legislators that any bill “must exclude mandated coverage for abortion.”

In contrast, a Catholic Charities USA joint action alert that called for Catholics to push for health care reform “immediately” included no mention of the danger to the unborn embedded in the current bills. reported that, while the group did not specifically support Obama’s legislation, the sudden call to action reinforced the simultaneous White House pressure on lawmakers to pass the bills.

Catholic Charities then issued a statement against “inaccurate media reports,” and asserted that it “unequivocally” does not support legislation failing to uphold the sanctity of human life. It also states that it “will continue to work with the Catholic Health Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure that any health care reform legislation will not include such provisions.”

However, multiple attempts at amending the bill in committee to protect against abortion expansion have all failed, while an amendment sponsored by pro-abortion Rep. Lois Capps explicitly opening the public plan to abortion was accepted.

When sought clarification from the groups on whether they opposed Obama’s health care legislation, only Catholic Charities USA responded to LSN’s calls. In a telephone interview today, CCUSA spokesman Roger Conner steadfastly refused to explicitly state that his organization would oppose the Obama legislation. Conner also would not agree that health care reform should wait until the Obama legislation was amended or struck down. The complete text of the interview is available on LifeSiteNews.

Evidence from a investigation points to CCUSA playing a central role in gathering support among Catholic organizations for immediate health care reform, despite the current bill’s abortion mandate and other problems. St. Vincent de Paul Society Executive Director Roger Playwin told LSN last week that Catholic Charities told him that the claim that the current bills include a mandate for abortion coverage was “inaccurate.”

A follow-up statement disavowing “any legislation, provision or amendment that fails to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life,” similar to that of CCUSA, was also issued by the Catholic Health Association as they push for health care reform.

CHA president Sister Carol Keehan said the group has “written letters to members of Congress and the White House – often in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – calling for legislation that does not include an expansion of abortion,” and that it “continues to work to ensure that public policies reflect the importance of religious freedom and conscience clause protections in the delivery of health and social services.”

Yet CHA has already thrown its weight behind Obama’s plans for health care legislation.

In a visit to the White House on July 8, Keehan represented CHA among a group of hospital associations committing $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings over several years to help cover the cost of the pro-abortion president’s health care reform.

The Obama administration has also recently shown favor towards Catholic Charities: on July 20, CCUSA annonced that the administration granted the group its first-ever federal grant to the tune of $100 million, for the purpose of aid relief. in February, President Obama appointed CCUSA president Fr. Larry Snyder as among the first to join the newly-formed Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

American Life League president Judie Brown said that her position in the debate over health care reform, as a pro-life Catholic, was simple.

“They can make all the nuanced statements they want about health care reform,” said Brown, “but the two questions I have for them are: number one, why, all of a sudden, is it required that the Catholic Church succumb to the federal government and support national health care reform? That is not the only answer.”

“And secondly,” she continued, “no Catholic entity, including the USCCB, should be doing anything but requiring and demanding that any health care reform proposal considered by the federal government have a total ban on abortion, euthanasia, health care rationing, sterilization, and birth control. That’s all Catholics should be doing.”

See the full text of the interview with CCUSA’s Roger Conner.