Monday May 10, 2010

Commentary: Sister Carol Keehan Misrepresents Her Support of the Health-Care Bill

Commentary by Deal W. Hudson

May 10, 2010 ( – Sr. Carol Keehan responded to the standing ovation she received at a gathering of Obama’s Catholic coalition by making a very strange claim about her support of the recent health-care legislation signed by President Barack Obama.

“We were in complete accord with our bishops and our church that abortion is a grave evil. There is no justification for abortion, and we would not ever have supported this bill if we thought it funded abortion.”

Huh? The bishops made it very clear they did not want the health-care bill to pass the Congress, precisely because it did contain abortion funding.

If, somehow, Sister Keehan missed the series of press statements from the USCCB opposing the health-care bill, perhaps she also missed the national parish bulletin insert sent out by the USCCB prior to the final House vote. In the March 11 insert, the bishops explained that the Senate bill rejected the Hyde Amendment “and passed health care reform that requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions.”

Why did Sister Keehan misrepresent her opposition to the bishops’ position on the health-care bill? Why would she underscore her “accord” with the bishops, when she directly rejected their request that she, and all Catholics, oppose the bill?

It’s a fascinating study in political-ecclesial double-talk. The standing ovation itself confirms the position Sister Keehan took against the bishops. There’s no way the Catholics who support Obama would have risen to their feet if she had joined forces with the bishops in an effort to kill the bill. No, Keehan was applauded because she ignored the bishops. Michael Sean Winters — a fan — explains the adulation:

That applause came from somewhere deep in the consciousness of the assembled Catholics, all of whom share a commitment to the Church’s social justice traditions and teaching.

Once again, the banner of social justice is waved to justify trading the lives of the unborn for a policy goal — universal health care — as though they were morally equivalent.

I think it very likely this coalition of Obama’s Catholic supporters could have exerted the pressure necessary to pass universal health care without abortion funding — but there was no evidence any such pressure was applied. Rather than remove the abortion funding, they just claimed it didn’t exist.

More than one bishop has called out Sister Keehan and her Catholic Health Assocation for supporting the health-care bill. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, in a column for his diocesan paper, responded to Sister Keehan’s denial of abortion funding in the bill:

I find this statement by Sister Keehan either incredibly naïve or disingenuous. Either the bill permits previously prohibited government funding of abortion or not. This is not a technicality.

Archbishop Naumann also encouraged the Catholics of the diocese of Kansas City, KS, “to contact Sister Keehan and the Catholic Health Association expressing to them your disappointment in their willingness to accept government-funded abortion as part of health care reform.”

The scope of the fall-out for Sister Keehan and the CHA has not been made public, apart from the decision of Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI, to remove his two hospitals from membership. In a previous column, I reported the decision of a prominent lawyer in Columbia, SC, to leave the board of the Sisters of Charity Foundation because of its support of the health-care bill. There are undoubtedly more consequences down the road for the CHA as the ramifications of the promised abortion funding become more public. Planned Parenthood is already crediting the health-care bill for the opening of a new clinic.

What does Planned Parenthood know that Sister Keehan doesn’t? As Archbishop Naumann put it, her denial of the abortion funding is “either incredibly naïve or disingenuous.” Either way, the damage is already done.