This opinion piece originally appeared on Politico.com and is co-authored by Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice.
The passage of the Stupak-Pitts amendment goes far beyond the status
quo on abortion restrictions and would make it nearly impossible for
insurance plans in the new system to offer abortion coverage.
This campaign succeeded in large part because its supporters perpetuated falsehoods about abortion coverage in the new system.
Most notably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its allies in
the House distorted the facts about the health reform proposal by
claiming that the proposed system would have used federal dollars to
cover abortion care. They’re wrong.
The original House bill included a compromise that required all plans
to separate public and private dollars in the new system — ensuring
that no tax dollars would ever cover abortion services.
In fact, the bishops should be familiar with this arrangement because
it reflects the same principle of separation that guides their
financial interaction with the federal government. The bishops have a
long history of almost unlimited access to enormous quantities of
federal funding. When it comes to funding for Catholic schools and
hospitals or programs run by Catholic Charities, they accept federal
funding with open arms. The bishops never question their own ability to
lawfully manage funds from separate sources to ensure that tax dollars
don’t finance religious practices.
Yet they reject the idea that others could do the same. This is the very definition of hypocrisy.
For example, Catholic hospitals depend on federal funding. Indiana has
35 Catholic hospitals and 26 other Catholic health-care facilities. In
2007, 58 percent of patients who visited these facilities were covered
by Medicaid or Medicare, a proportion reflected across the country.
With well over half of their revenue coming from the government, it is
safe to say that Catholic hospitals survive on government funding as
well as contributions from private sources.
Catholic Charities, the domestic direct service arm of the bishops,
also depends on state and federal dollars. Sixty-seven percent of
Catholic Charities’ income comes from government funding. That
represents over $2.6 billion in 2008 — an amount that is more than
three times as large as the next largest charitable recipient of
federal funds, the YMCA. Just as Catholic hospitals do, Catholic
Charities receives enormous quantities of government dollars while
abiding by existing constitutional and statutory requirements that
prevent government sponsorship of religion.
The bishops know that a vast majority of Americans, including
Catholics, disagree with their hard-line dictates regarding
reproductive-health care, including the bishops’ opposition to
However, when it comes to health care reform — from which many millions
of people will benefit — the bishops injected divisive politics into
the process and overran a compromise that would have guaranteed that no
federal dollars would cover abortion care.
As this debate moves forward, U.S. senators and the public should
challenge the bishops’ hypocrisy. If separation of federal funds and
private dollars works for the church hierarchy, then it should also
work for women’s reproductive-health care.