A Moral Matter

Thousands of American nuns have come together to oppose Congressional efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, demonstrating that they are an indomitable force with a popular position that demands recognition.

Karl-Ludwig Poggemann / Creative Commons

Organized by NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization, 7,150 Catholic sisters representing all 50 states have signed a letter that not only reiterates how the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) will harm millions of Americans, but also carefully articulates why such legislation runs incongruous to the Catholic faith. Sister Simone Campbell, who heads the NETWORK, plans to hand deliver the letter to all Catholic senators on Monday. The letter is adding momentous waves to the tsunami of opposition that towers over the heads of republican senators, but what sets this action apart is the appeal to religious morality.

In an astute appeal to the same reverence-for-life logic that Catholic senators use to oppose abortion, the letter emphasizes the “live-giving value” of Medicaid, and argues that supporting the cuts and caps to this crucial healthcare program is “not a pro-life stance.” Medicaid provides essential medical services to one in five women of reproductive age, and covers nearly half of all births. As the letter explains, the proposed health bill would strip away “hundreds of billions of dollars” from the program and give it to the “very wealthiest individuals and corporations in the form of tax breaks.”

“[Our] faith urges us to care for all people,” the letter reads, “especially the most vulnerable.”

American nuns have a history of leveraging Catholic morals to challenge politicians as well as well as their own church hierarchy in the fight for social justice. In 2010, NETWORK stood in opposition to Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in supporting the Affordable Care Act. Outside the U.S. as well, Catholic women are stepping up to advocate for rights that have for centuries been considered taboo within the church. In Mexico, the pro-choice advocacy group Catholics For the Right to Decide is working to lesson abortion bans across the country. In Chile, one of the six countries worldwide where abortion is entirely illegal, catholic women’s groups are at the vanguard in the fight to ease sweeping measures that harshly criminalize abortion.

Although NETWORK is not explicitly pro-choice, the organization chooses to focus its energy on supporting economic development opportunities for women rather than advocating to outlaw abortion. Their broader, more inclusive understanding of morality sets this group of Catholic women far apart from the many Senators who continue to use religious doctrine to push back on women’s bodily autonomy.

In urging Republican Senators “to be mindful of the needs of all of our people and the call to the common good,” American nuns are broadening the scope of the resistance and expanding the opposition discourse to emphasize that this bill is not just a matter of health, but also a matter of moral integrity.

Jessica Merino is an editorial intern at Ms. As a Community Studies student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Jessica’s academic studies have centered on how histories of racism, sexism, and militarism are folded into contemporary notions of health, what roles language and metaphor play in conventional feminist health activism, and how women live vibrant, creative and healthy lives under conditions of dominance and oppression.

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