What Catholics Really Want in Health Care Reform

Jon O’Brien

What some are really doing in the health reform debate is projecting their own vision of what is moral onto those who will be most affected by distorted views and limited coverage: the taxpayers who will fund and use whatever system emerges.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post  online "On Faith" section.  It was co-authored by Jon O’Brien, President and Sara Morello, Vice President of Catholics For Choice.

The United States is embroiled in a debate over health care. Ideological divides over morality and money are front and center, and threatening to derail any real progress on what has become a major crisis.

 

There is a curious divide in the national conversation we are having about what exactly health care is or what it should be. More often than not, it’s about who or what should be left out of the final plan. Some say that it should only be about providing care to some people; others say it should be only about covering some parts of people. Proponents of these positions claim the moral high ground while seeking to leave out undocumented residents or restrict access to reproductive health care. What they are really doing is projecting their own vision of what is moral onto those who will be most affected by this distortion: the taxpayers who will fund and use whatever system emerges.

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Coming on the heels of the economic crisis, it is no wonder that many focus on the questions, "What can we afford?" or more precisely, "What are we willing to pay for?" They are not unreasonable questions. But the answers that some people — some who claim to speak for American Catholics — provide are not reflective of what Catholics in the United States believe. We know, because rather than simply relying on those who seem to have the best public relations, we asked nearly a thousand American Catholics what they believe about health care and health care insurance. If you’ve relied on the newspapers, bloggers and television news, the answers might surprise you.

Most American Catholics think providing health care to all people who need it is a matter of social justice. As Catholics, we understand that social justice means we are obliged to be concerned about and care for people who are poorer than we are, or marginalized, or those who don’t have a voice in decisions that have an impact on their lives and the lives of their families. When we asked Catholics, they said that their understanding of social justice includes extending health care to the whole person, not just some parts of people. As a result, a majority of American Catholics think that reproductive health care services should be covered in any eventual reform of the U.S. health care system–including pre- and postnatal care for women, contraception, condom provision as part of HIV/AIDS prevention, and, yes, even abortion.

American Catholics don’t want to be denied the health care services they need at hospitals and clinics that receive their tax dollars. Two-thirds (65 percent) of Catholics polled think that these hospitals and clinics should not be allowed to claim a religious exemption to providing procedures or medicines. Perhaps they understand better than many that the right to object to providing health care belongs to doctors, nurses and pharmacists, actual people who have a conscience. These people have the right to exercise their conscience to act–or not act–in a way their internal moral compass prescribes. They understand that it does not make sense to suggest that an insurance company, HMO, hospital system, pharmacy or clinic has a conscience or a religion.

American Catholics can picture themselves as patients, and want to be able to get birth control and condoms when they go to their doctor. They trust in patients to decide, in good conscience and with the advice of their doctors, on their best options. They don’t want yet another obstacle placed in the way of receiving health care they’re paying for–especially one that’s based on a false premise. American Catholics also think they can speak for themselves. While most are not strongly opposed to the U.S. Catholic bishops taking a stand on the issue of health care reform legislation, they certainly do not want the bishops telling Catholics that they should oppose health care reform if it includes coverage for abortion that they themselves, their wives, sisters or daughters might need. And despite his historic election with support from 52 percent of Catholic voters, the Catholics we polled don’t think President Obama–or the Democratic Party–are well representing their interests.

Catholics for Choice is clear about what we believe. We believe that all people should have access to the health care they need. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of American Catholics polled agree. We believe contraception should be available and covered by insurance. More than 60 percent of American Catholics agree.

We believe that abortion should be covered by insurance–whether private or government subsidized. Depending on the circumstances, as many as 84 percent agree with us, and when the question really comes down to respecting a woman’s conscience in regard to her own health, a full half (50 percent) of Catholics polled agree that abortion should be covered whenever a woman and her doctor decide she needs it. Catholics are far more progressive than their bishops, our instinct tells us that, and our poll results prove it.

This conversation about health care and what Catholics think about it is, however, bigger than reforming health care and health insurance in the United States. US commitments to improve the health of people around the world, especially for women and girls, have been neglected for many years. Unfortunately, this neglect is compounded by the power of the Catholic hierarchy and other conservatives to do exactly what we are trying to avoid in the health care reform process. We cannot allow the voices of a small, well-funded and politically powerful group without much personal stake in the outcome to decide what parts of people are worthy of care, to decide from afar what women and men need to live healthy lives.

At Catholics for Choice, we believe in a world where women and men are trusted to make important, moral decisions about their lives. Perhaps no issue is more central to people’s lives than their health. Using the status of political or religious leadership to promote an agenda to which one’s community does not subscribe does a disservice to that community. It is not a social justice agenda. Social justice does not mean telling people what would be best for them, and then seeing to it that those who disagree do not have the means to do otherwise. We believe it means making sure everyone has a chance to make the most of their lives, trusting people to make the decisions they need to make for themselves and their families. That means giving them a hand up when they need it–whether we are of the same nation, political party, faith or family. We believe the conversations on health care should focus on social justice and doing the right thing.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.