The Bishops’ Huge Financial Stake in Stupak-Pitts

Wendy Norris, a freelance reporter and editor in Denver,  writes regularly on assignment for RH Reality Check.

The justifiable anger at the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops for lobbying on the Stupak-Pitts amendment overshadows what is possibly
the bigger motive for the Vatican: the billions of dollars at stake for the
church’s hospitals.

The scale of the church’s involvement in the rapidly growing
$2.5 trillion dollar American health care industry
is staggering.

What the Stupak-Pitts amendment does for the Catholic health
care system is omit a competitive advantage secular and other
religiously-affiliated hospitals without doctrinal restrictions can use to
simultaneously market their services to both the expected influx of newly
insured patients and the outpatient medical professionals who will treat them.

By restricting insurance coverage of women’s reproductive
health care, the competitive barriers faced by Catholic institutions will be
eliminated — provided the amendment is not stripped out of the final bill that
emerges from House-Senate health care reform conference committee. Which is why
pro-choice advocates should expect nothing short of a full-frontal attack by
the Vatican on conservative Senators.

And in the case of an industry that accounts for 18 percent
of the gross domestic product and is expected to double in less than 10 years,
it’s absolutely critical to follow the money.

One in six patients are cared for in 624 Catholic
scattered throughout the U.S. in 2006, according to the Catholic
Health Association. The church also operates more than 800 post-acute care,
senior living and skilled nursing centers across the nation. All told, $84.6
billion was spent on Catholic church-affiliated care.

The Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives is now the
largest of the church’s hospital systems in the country with 78 hospitals and
40 long-term care facilities in 20 states and operating revenues exceeding
$9.6 billion
ranking it sixth among all for-profit and charity health care

Now consider that there are 60 some Catholic-affiliated
hospital systems in all 50 states — representing 13 percent of the nation’s
entire in-patient health care system. That’s easily tens of billions of dollars
flowing through the business arm of the Catholic church that continues to grow
through mergers with private and other religiously-affiliated hospitals.

Congressional health insurance reforms promise the prospect
of 36 million uninsured Americans
— who are currently self-rationing care,
paying on sliding fee scales, or not paying at all — flowing into hospitals,
clinics and outpatient facilities via subsidized insurance, mandated policies
and more affordable options in the proposed insurance exchange.

Conservatively, those newly insured people will not only add
millions of dollars more to hospital coffers in the short term but the
potential for trillions in billable services over their lifetimes.

So why would the bishops risk the House health reform bill
collapsing under the weight of a bitter abortion debate? It appears to be a
fairly brazen attempt to kneecap their health care industry competitors while
knowing the president’s top domestic agenda would be passed in some way, shape
or form.

Catholic institutions are uniquely bound by religious
directives on care
, effectively eliminating key reproductive health and
end-of-life treatment that other institutions will provide to patients and bill
to their insurance carriers.

Add those restrictions and compound it with two simple
facts: 73 percent of the now uninsured are of reproductive age and the leading
cause of death
among people aged 15-44 is accidents.

In essence, the people most likely to benefit from the
proposed public option and insurance exchange will undoubtedly be seeking the
type of care Catholic hospitals refuse to provide as a matter of religious
principle. And these prospective patients are young and will conceivably need
care for many decades to come.

For the business arm of the Catholic church it’s a
theological and economic two-fer.

The bishops can extract abortion care from the private
insurance benefits of millions of American women that are federally subsidized
ten ways to Sunday (with the blessing of conservative lawmakers’ corporate welfare
earmarks) and they level the competitive playing field without having to revise
its medical doctrine to modern standards of care.

Analyzing the bishops’ lobbying efforts from a cold,
calculating green eyeshade perspective adds a very different dimension to their
motives that may help spur secular business interests to protect both a woman’s
right to choose and their own bottom line.

The pro-choice community should raise holy hell with
lawmakers for passing the discriminatory Stupak-Pitts amendment. But while
you’re grabbing your pitchfork look to some new allies in unlikely places where
the password is money.

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  • brianh

    Wow Wendy! What an amazing discovery! This explains the sudden and totally unexpected opposition to abortion by the Catholic Church! I was wondering why out of nowhere all of a sudden the Church came up with this new position that abortion was horrific and people shouldn’t have to pay for it, but you have astoundingly discovered the hidden truth!


    Your skills of investigative journalism amaze me! Keep up the good work!




    Wait, no, that’s not it….maybe the Church knew that this health care change was coming and have been convincing people that they were actually concerned about abortion for the past 2000 years and now it’s all paying off in the form of big bucks!  Yeah that’s the ticket.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Is a rather recent development.


    And politically motivated at that.

  • gkc80

    You make two assertions in that comment and offer evidence for neither.  Since neither is a well-enough known or universally accepted claim,  and, in fact, both seem to fly in the face of what is well known and accepted, I call on you to provide not only evidence (meaning not only links to things that prove it in your mind) but how that evidence leads to these conclusions. 

  • jgbeam

    Like about 2,000 years, that’s all.  Sure, you and Nancy Pelosi can find all kinds of sources that appear to support your claim, but the Catholic Church has opposed abortion since its very beginnings.  And NOT for political reasons


    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • markinsonmarshal

    It was a great pleasure being the part of discussion in this post.
    configuration management

  • waterjoe

    This is right up there in the long history of anti-Catholic conspiracy stories. Wait, I better be careful about what I post since the Jesuits have spyware in all our computers.

  • wendy-norris



    You’re right that the church has a long and not so storied history of inserting itself into global politics, especially in early Europe and the colonization of Africa.


    However, this foray into direct lobbying by the U.S. bishops is unprecendented. 


    The Vatican has long issued strongly worded letters and Papal encyclicals on a host of controversial moral issues, including nuclear proliferation, capital punishment and most recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


    Yet, I can find no evidence that the bishops lobbyied members of Congress on war and weapons appropriations, or demanded that state legislatures rescind death penalty expenses — all of which, like abortion, are legal but highly politically charged activities in this nation. 


    Why is that? Perhaps, it’s because the church has no financial stake in ending on-going wars against Muslim nations, the execution of prisoners or the environmental and political fallout from weapons of mass destruction?


    Is my theory on the competitive gains won for Catholic hospitals the only potential motive for the bishops lobbying (which is actually illegal since they’re not a registered lobbying block), of course not.

    But anyone who believes this unparralleled and aggressive political move by the bishops, at the behest of the Vatican, is terribly naïve about how the $100 billion Catholic industrial-health care complex really works.

  • paul-bradford

    The Church’s Opposition to Abortion….Is a rather recent development.And politically motivated at that.




    Can it be that you believe that?????


    Let me quote from the Second Chapter of the Didache, which was written in the late First Century or early Second Century.


    from verse 2: thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born


    From the Letter To Diognetus, written before the Fourth Century:


    from Chapter 5 (Manners of the Christians):  . They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.


    From Tertulllian’s Apologeticum, written in 197:


    from Chapter 9: To us murder is once for all forbidden ; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man, who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed. 


    Your statement is not only a lie, it is an outrageous lie.  You might as well say that the Church’s belief in Jesus is a "rather recent development". 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • therealistmom

    During the same time frame, even up to fairly recent times (comparatively speaking) there was a lot of conflicting views on the issue.

    From, “Roman Catholic teachings about abortion”.

    A brief timeline:

    Circa 100 to 150 CE: The Didache (also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”), was a document written for the guidance of Christians. It forbade all abortions.

    Prior to 380 CE: Many Christian leaders issued unqualified condemnations of abortion. So did two church synods in the early 4th century:

    Circa 380 CE: The Apostolic Constitutions allowed abortion if it was done early enough in pregnancy. But it condemned abortion if the fetus was of human shape and contained a soul.

    St. Augustine (354-430 CE) accepted the Aristotelian Greek Pagan concept of “delayed ensoulment”. He wrote that a human soul cannot live in an unformed body. Thus, early in pregnancy, an abortion is not murder because no soul is destroyed (or, more accurately, only a vegetable or animal soul is terminated).

    Pope Innocent III (1161-1216):
    -He determined that a monk who had arranged for his lover to have an abortion was not guilty of murder if the fetus was not “animated” at the time.

    -Early in the 13th century, he stated that the soul enters the body of the fetus at the time of “quickening” – when the woman first feels movement of the fetus. Before that time, abortion was a less serious sin, because it terminated only potential human person, not an actual human person.

    Pope Sixtus V (1588) issued a Papal bull “Effraenatam” which threatened those who carried out abortions at any stage of gestation with excommunication and the death penalty.

    Pope Gregory XIV (1591) revoked the previous Papal bull and reinstated the “quickening” test, which he determined happened 116 days into pregnancy (16½ weeks).

    Pope Pius IX (1869) dropped the distinction between the “fetus animatus” and “fetus inanimatus.” The soul was believed to have entered the pre-embryo at conception.

    Leo XIII (1878-1903):
    – He Issued a decree in 1884 that prohibited craniotomies. This is an unusual form of abortion used under crisis situations late in pregnancy. It is occasionally needed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

    – He issued a second degree in 1886 that prohibited all procedures that directly killed the fetus, even if done to save the woman’s life. (personal note- nice guy.)

    Canon law was revised in 1917 and 1983 to refer simply to “the fetus.” The church penalty for abortions at any stage of pregnancy was, and remains, excommunication.

  • james-macdonald

    For me, this is the point where the argument took a left turn away from reality:

    Add those restrictions and compound it with two simple facts: 73 percent of the now uninsured are of reproductive age and the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44 is accidents.

    In essence, the people most likely to benefit from the proposed public option and insurance exchange will undoubtedly be seeking the type of care Catholic hospitals refuse to provide as a matter of religious principle. And these prospective patients are young and will conceivably need care for many decades to come.

    Leave aside that the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44 isn’t accidents — it’s trauma — as a mere quibble. Are you assuming that “accidents” is a euphemism for “accidental pregnancies”? Or are you seriously claiming that there’s a religious principle that forbids the doctors at Catholic hospitals from treating a person who’s been in a motor vehicle collision or suffered a gunshot wound?

    You say, “the people most likely to benefit from the proposed public option and insurance exchange will undoubtedly be seeking the type of care Catholic hospitals refuse to provide.”

    It doesn’t take me five seconds to doubt it. Because what they’ll undoubtedly be seeking is help for their traumas. After that you get to diabetes and neoplasms. Complications with pregnancies and childbirth are way far down the list of causes of mortality/morbidity in the 15-44 cohort.

    Your “In essence” summary is a cheat.

    See: Patterns of mortality across 44 countries among men and women aged 15 — 44 years.

  • kate-ranieri

    I would add that the Church is on thin ice with their non profit status. Even small churches have crossed the IRS boundary by dictating who to vote for in elections and which petitions to sign for legislative action. When is the country going to wake up to the illegal activities of the Church (besides all the philandering, child molesting, criminal cover-ups, etc)?

  • paul-bradford

    During the same time frame, even up to fairly recent times (comparatively speaking) there was a lot of conflicting views on the issue.




    I’m not the kind of Catholic who’s going to assert that the Church has maintained unwavering and unambiguous opposition to abortion for two thousand years.  Catholics who do that raise the bar so high that they’re easily contradicted by well-informed people such as yourself.


    My claim — and the reason I objected so strongly to Jodi’s post — is that Christian objection to abortion goes back a very long way, and that the reason for that objection is a respect for the rights of fetuses.  The reason I quoted Tertullian’s Second Century treatise ("He is a man, who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.") is to demonstrate that even ‘way back when’, Catholics considered abortion an issue of justice. 


    I am constantly coming up against an attitude that assumes that those of us who are strong on fetal rights are weak on the issue of women’s health.  This certainly is not true in my case.  Like Tertullian, I believe that if you are to become a person you already are a person.  You can’t turn a non-person into a person — so if you’re ever a person you’re always a person. 


    I believe in bodily autonomy.  I agree that an individual ought to have full authority over what happens in her/his body — I just deny that anyone can take full authority over someone else’s body, especially when that authority is used to do something that obviously conflicts with the other somebody’s interests. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • harry834