Survey of Catholics: Strong Support For Health Reform and Women’s Rights

Kathleen Reeves

Many Catholic bishops have voiced unconditional opposition to any health reform bill that “funds” abortion--though no current bill does. Catholics, many of whom self-identify as "pro-life," would support health reform even with abortion coverage.

This post was changed on October 14th, 2009 at 2:45 pm to correct a mistake.  The corrected sentences now read:
"The survey found that only 21 percent of Catholics believe abortion
should be legal in all cases. At the same time, 50 percent of  all
respondents believe that health insurance policies, whether they are
private or government-supported, should cover abortions “whenever a
woman and her doctor
decide it is appropriate.”"

Catholics for Choice recently surveyed American
Catholics
on the issue of health care reform, and, lo and behold, the
Catholic hierarchy is not in line with Catholics. Many Catholic bishops have
voiced unconditional
opposition
to any bill that “funds” abortion,
and a recent letter
sent to Senators by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outlines admirable
goals for affordable, universal health care—only after demanding that abortion
not be a part of anyone’s health plan. Catholics, many of whom are pro-life,
have different priorities, with 68 percent of respondents disagreeing with the
idea that Catholics should oppose the entire health care reform plan if it
includes coverage for abortions. The survey breaks down “health care reform,”
words which have acquired so much baggage as to become inscrutable to some
people, into its essential components in an attempt to clarify the debate.

Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice discusses his organization’s recent survey that shows strong support among Catholic laity for access to basic reproductive health services condemned by the Catholic hierarchy.

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Lowering health care costs was the highest national priority
for 37 percent of survey respondents, making it the second-highest issue, after
improving the economy. Improving public education, cutting taxes, and resolving
the war in Afghanistan all came behind the cost of health care. And 73 percent either
strongly favor or somewhat favor “a new government plan that would make health
insurance available to people who do not already have it.” Insurance for the
uninsured, lower costs—sounds like what Obama has been saying all along. But
for some reason, the survey found, people haven’t been hearing him. As opposed
to the 73 percent above, only 52 percent of people strongly agree or somewhat
agree with “President Obama’s ideas about how we should change the nation’s
health care system.”

In their analysis of the survey, Catholics for Choice
suggests that the fault lies with Obama—that the President hasn’t been able “to
make an effective argument for the American public, including Catholics.” While
this may be true—perhaps, as Matt
Bai
has argued, Obama needs to more directly address Americans’ antipathy
towards bureaucracy—Obama has worked hard to articulate his ideas, and he’s a
man who knows how to communicate. I’m hesitant to blame Obama for the damage
done by the summer’s conservative campaign against health care, which
disfigured the debate beyond recognition.

 

It seems to me that people are wary of an idea of health care reform—a system in
which the government makes decisions instead of doctors, in which various
questionable practices, some you might not even know about, are funded by the
government or, worse, practiced on you without your knowledge or consent. But
when you talk to them, people are in favor of lowering the cost of health care.
They’re in favor of providing coverage to those who have none, either because
they’re good-hearted or because they realize that we, the taxpayers, are paying
for their health care already.

 

The Catholics for Choice survey supports the idea that the
majority of Americans (in the survey, almost three-quarters) are in favor of
health care reform much in the way that Obama has proposed it, without
necessarily claiming to support Obama’s plan. While the right wing has done a
great deal to confuse people about health care reform, I’ve been particularly
dispirited by the Catholic Church’s recent
jump aboard the bandwagon
. And the most interesting elements of the survey,
to me, are those that probe the question of the Catholic hierarchy’s
involvement in the health care debate. Sixty-eight percent
of respondents somewhat or strongly
disapprove of U.S. Catholic Bishops position that all Catholics should oppose
the entire health care reform plan if it includes coverage for abortions. It is
not surprising that Catholics feel puzzled and betrayed by their leadership’s
desertion of health care, an issue that’s been central to the Church in the
past.

The survey found that only 21 percent of Catholics believe abortion
should be legal in all cases. At the same time, 50 percent of  all respondents believe that health insurance policies, whether they are
private or government-supported, should cover abortions “whenever a woman and her doctor
decide it is appropriate.” This is one of the survey’s most valuable findings—that
is, you don’t have to be “pro-choice” in any traditional political sense to
believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, regardless of the
circumstances of her pregnancy, or to that insurance should cover this medical
procedure.

America is a country in which we acknowledge that we can’t
think for others. This was an idea central to the founding of our country, and
it’s a way of thinking that we’re still good at, as bad as things look
sometimes.

Moreover, even if some Catholics don’t believe in abortion and don’t believe that any health plan
should cover abortion, these Catholics don’t necessarily wish to sacrifice
health care reform for these beliefs, as shown by the respondents’ opposition
to the Catholic hierarchy’s all-or-nothing approach. Our country promises
religious freedom, and much of our great social progress has been informed by
religious philosophies. Health care reform could be the next example of this.
Perhaps Catholic bishops should look to their flock for a reminder of how
religion does what it does best; that is, to fight suffering, degradation, and
despair.

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