Bishops, Keep Your Hands Off Health Care!

Is this a theocracy or a democracy?

As Congress is working feverishly to pass health-care reform, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is once again trying to kill it.

We’re having deja vu here. As Ms. reported in our current Winter 2010 issue, the bishops  swooped in during House negotiations over a reform bill last fall and insisted on an oppressive amendment, known as Stupak-Pitts, to significantly restrict access to abortion. It would prohibit public or private health insurance plans participating in the proposed national insurance exchange from offering any abortion coverage. Many believe that such a law would kill abortion coverage in all insurance plans, amounting to the greatest setback for women’s reproductive rights since the Hyde Amendment in 1976 banned federally funded abortions for poor women.

The House bill nonetheless passed with that amendment, while the Senate bill permits insurers in the exchange to offer abortion coverage.

Now it’s time to reconcile the two bills, and the bishops are renewing their pressure. Once again they seem to have the ear of Bart Stupak, the Roman Catholic, anti-choice Democrat from Michigan, who has said that he and an unnamed 10 or 11 other Democrats will vote against the bill if it doesn’t meet his religious standards .

But are his standards shared by the majority of U.S. voters? Hardly. According to polling by The Mellman Group, only a quarter of voters believe that the U.S. should halt health-care reform until we’re certain that U.S. monies won’t be used for abortions; half of voters believe that political differences on abortion should not hold up reform, and another quarter want to be sure that women’s right to choose is protected in the new law.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, essentially a wealthy trade association, doesn’t even represent the large majority of Catholic voters, who actually support health-insurance coverage for abortions, either in private or government-run plans, according to a September 2009 poll conducted by Belden Russonello & Stewart. The bishops seems guided more by the Church’s huge financial interests, especially in health care. Did you know that there are 624 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., along with 373 other Catholic health-care institutions? In 2008, more than 90 million patients were treated at Catholic health-care facilities in the U.S, and many of their bills were paid by Medicaid or Medicare. In other words, the Catholic Church has a huge stake in federal funding of U.S. health care.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has expressed confidence that she has the votes necessary to pass the Senate version of the health care reform bill in the House. Then, certain budgetary matters–but only budgetary matters–need to be reconciled. But all sorts of complicated procedural shenanigans might be attempted by those hoping to either block the bill entirely or somehow codify the abortion language to the bishops’ specifications.

Here’s our message to the bishops: Hands off! Let’s keep the separation of church and state clear, and let’s have a health-care reform bill that doesn’t make religious judgments but instead prioritizes the lives and well-being of women and men.

Update 3/19/10:With the Sunday health-care vote deadline looming, Talking Points Memo reports that priests have been seen in the halls of the Capitol.

But leaders of U.S. nuns’ groups yesterday  spoke out en masse FOR reform.

Photo from Getty Images.


  1. Helen Haft says:

    It is outrageous that the Catholic Church hasn’t lost it’s tax exempt status given that it is clearly influencing the political system. These amendments should be barred based on the fact that their only justification is a religious one. Freedom of religion has been a key part of our American ideals,but what is interesting is that religion is now undermining a bill which intends not only to grant people the right to health care, but it is also attempting to take the basic right to an abortion away from women. It is more important than ever to uphold the separation of church and state that is supposed to exist.

  2. As a former Catholic I am outraged by the Bishops attempt to hold health care reform hostage to their religious beliefs. As a native Michiganian, I am furious at Congressman Stupak’s willingness to defeat health care reform if we don’t adopt his Catholic amendment. This is the American Taliban. Nancy Pelosi is to be commended for her commitment to get national health care reform passed in the House without the votes of anti-choice Democrats. Next, we should get the Church’s tax exempt status revoked.

  3. Gillian Spencer says:

    What outrages me the most about this is the fact that the plan is a joke. America needs single payer and this doesn’t provide that. It does force all Americans to purchase insurance. Right now we have that option already, under the plan that option becomes a law with penalties.
    This is nothing but a give-away to big business.
    The proposals (House and Senate) need to be scrapped and too bad that Dennis Kucinich is the only one with enough guts to say so.

  4. Gillian Spencer says:

    And what is with these links? I came to this site from The Common Ills and I will be e-mailing C.I. to let her know that this is not a feminist site. That’s obvious by your links.
    Which couldn’t call out the sexism against Hillary once during the primaries?
    FAIR? Are you kidding me?
    Ezra Klein?
    I’m on the floor laughing.
    Ms. is already too tight with the Democratic Party as evidenced by their laughable “This is what feminism looks like” cover in 2009 (Barack Obama on the cover). I had hoped that the blog would mean a return to feminism. Christine ran Ms. Musing like a feminist site and she linked to feminists — including The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review.
    Count me as grossly unimpressed with your faux feminism that places the Democratic Party ahead of women’s needs.

  5. hollytomlinson says:

    Gillian, if Ms. was so tight with the Democrats, they wouldn’t have mentioned that the people holding up the bill are 10-11 Democrats led by another Democrat Bart Stupak.

  6. hollytomlinson says:

    But I agree with you, Gillian, that a single payer is a much better system. I grew up being cared for by the British National Health Service, which automatically covers everyone regardless of ability to pay. It doesn’t use insurance companies so doesn’t waste money on their profits and administration costs. It’s sad that the insurance industry is so entrenched in the U.S. that healthcare reform, while doing some good like helping those with pre-existing conditions, won’t challenge insurance company’s ability to siphon money away from actual healthcare provision.

  7. hollytomlinson says:

    Not linking exclusively to feminist sites, doesn’t stop this being a feminist blog. You should judge Ms. on its content.

  8. Gillian, your assertion is strange and barely logical: How is there something overtly anti-feminist about one progressive journalistic publication following the work of other progressive journalistic publications? Particularly when the publications in question have a history of covering women’s issues and feature prominent feminist writers like Courtney Martin and Ann Friedman?

  9. Valerie Ann Johnson says:

    Seems to me that Gillian’s comments take us away from the heart of the post – the problem with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I am glad to read how this “wealthy trade organization” heavy-handedly influences our government. Outing these activities squares with my understanding of feminist praxis.

    By the way, I think those Catholic bishops need to direct their attention to issues closer to their spiritual home…ie antics in the Vatican.

  10. The bishops represent themselves, not the majority of Catholics. These guys have covered up clerical sexual abuse worldwide for centuries, have campaigned ceaselessly for tax support for their faith-based private schools (Lieberman’s school voucher amendment was fortunately shot down in the Senate on March 16), and have sought to make everyone share their “malignantly patriarchalist” preference for embryos over real people (like preferring acorns over oak trees). It’s time to put these guys out to pasture.

  11. Joel Welty says:

    Foolishness such as the bishops are showing explains why the Catholic church is in a state of collapse. Instead of interfering with political questions, they should take steps to eliminate sexual perversions among themselves.


  1. […] may be feeling deja vu. Backed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Stupak pulled the same trick–an 11th hour meeting with Pelosi–to get his ban into the first House […]

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