Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The nuns, the bishops and health care (continued)

In today’s Post, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, writes to challenge an assertion in my March 18 column on health care.

In that column, I noted that while Cardinal Francis George, speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged defeat of the health-care bill before the House because of flaws and loopholes in its abortion provisions, the Catholic Health Association had urged passage of the bill.

Sister Mary Ann specifically takes issue with Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive of the CHA, for saying that Cardinal George’s letter had misrepresented her organization’s position on the matter of whether the Senate bill provides any federal funding of abortion. I contacted Sister Carol this morning. She continues to believe that Cardinal George’s original letter mischaracterized her organization’s position. I think Sister Carol is right, and I stand by what I wrote. Because feelings are running very high right now, I’d like to take readers through the issues here.

Here is the relevant passage from my column:

Cardinal George acknowledged that the bishops' "analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association." Then he said: "They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill."

But Sister Carol, as she is known, said the latter assertion was flatly not true. "We're not saying that," she said. Her organization believes the bill as written guarantees that there will be no federal funding for abortion and does not need to be "corrected." Why the bishops would distort the position of the church's major health association is, to be charitable, a mystery.

Sister Mary Ann wrote, in part:

What must be known is that Cardinal George stated what Sister Carol herself said in a March 11 letter from CHA to the House of Representatives. In it, she wrote that CHA "believes the Senate legislation should be amended through a 'corrections' bill to address the following issues." Sister Carol listed five points, the last of which reads, "The bill should ensure that the final, overall health reform package will provide no federal funding for abortion."

Mr. Dionne, who also accused the bishops of misrepresenting Sister Carol, wrote that her organization believes the bill does not fund abortion as it is currently written and therefore "does not need to be corrected."

Cardinal George's statement reflected the March 11 letter from Sister Carol. To suggest otherwise now is puzzling at best. The U.S. bishops have not misrepresented CHA's stated position.

By implication (and perhaps inadvertently), Sister Mary Ann’s follow-up letter to The Post, has the same effect as Cardinal George’s original letter: It suggests that the CHA believes that the Senate bill’s abortion language needs to be corrected. But Sister Carol has repeatedly made it very clear that neither she nor her organization believes this. She insists that the Senate language does not provide federal funding for abortion.

Here is the key passage in Cardinal George’s letter:

This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.

What bothers Sister Carol, as she told me this morning, is the implication that the CHA would be willing to buy “a pig in a poke” and accept any abortion funding in a health-care bill. She has made very clear that this is not her position or that of her organization.

Sister Mary Ann’s quotations from the Catholic Health Association’s March 11 letter are accurate. (I include links in this post to the relevant documents so readers can see them in full.) A CHA spokesman said that one of the statements she cites -- "The bill should ensure that the final, overall health reform package will provide no federal funding for abortion" -- was not a call for changes in the bill. Rather, it was aimed at insisting that any final bill maintain the ban on federal funding of abortion that the CHA believes is already included in the Senate bill.

I have read the CHA’s March 11 letter over many times now, and there is a certain ambiguity in its language -- though no ambiguity in Sister Carol’s other public statements. The sentence in the letter on abortion was included in a set of bullet points that followed a statement saying that CHA believed that “the Senate legislation should be amended through a ‘corrections’ bill to address the following issues.” This, a CHA spokesman explained, was a reference to the reconciliation bill that was still being written at the time the CHA letter was issued. While three of the five bullet points in that section referred to specific changes the CHA was seeking in the Senate bill – all of them related to expanding coverage and not to abortion -- the reference to abortion was simply a flat statement and did not call for any changes in the bill. I think it's an important difference and it supports what Sister Carol has been saying.

One can certainly argue that CHA’s letter would have been clearer if the statement on abortion had been included elsewhere in the text. But I think Cardinal George’s letter took those ambiguities to suggest that CHA holds a view that it, in fact, does not. (While I’m suggesting edits to other people’s letters, if the Cardinal had just said the CHA had differences with the Bishops and left it at that, we wouldn’t be having this particular controversy.) For her part, Sister Carol said this morning that Cardinal George or someone from the Bishops’ conference could easily have contacted her to clarify any ambiguities in the letter. “I wish they had called us,” she said. “If they didn’t understand the statement, or if they thought we were buying ‘a pig in a poke,’ it would have been helpful if they had called me.” I think they should have called her, too.

Why does any of this matter? It matters to me because I try very hard to be accurate in what I write and believe I owe an accounting to readers when my accuracy is questioned. I believe I was accurate in this case. I also believed Sister Carol, whose courage on this issue I greatly admire, deserved a chance to reply to Sister Mary Ann’s letter.

But these issues are secondary to the larger question here. Catholics are divided over the health-care bill. I believe passionately, as does Sister Carol, that it would be an enormous mistake to miss this opportunity to extend health coverage to more than 30 million Americans. I also share her view that the Senate bill, as written, does not provide for Federal funding of abortion. Cardinal George and the Catholic Bishops Conference believe just as passionately that the bill is not clear enough on the abortion question and should therefore be opposed. As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed that the Bishops have taken this position, and I disagree with their reading of the bill, even as I also think that they are acting from good will and sincere belief. I hope that this afternoon's talk of an executive order to satisfy the concerns of abortion's opponents will allow those who believe in the cause of life to find a way of supporting this health care expansion because it will reduce the number of abortions in our country while also preserving and enhancing lives.

I’d like to offer the last word to my former Washington Post colleague T. R. Reid. In his excellent book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, he wrote:

Those Americans who die or go broke because they happened to get sick represent a fundamental moral decision our country has made. Despite all the rights and privileges and entitlements that Americans enjoy today, we have never decided to provide medical care for everybody who needs it. In the world’s richest nation, we tolerate a health-care system that leads to large numbers of avoidable deaths and bankruptcies among our fellow citizens…

All the other developed countries on earth have made a different moral decision. All the other countries like us—that is, wealthy, technologically advanced, industrialized democracies—guarantee medical care to anyone who gets sick. Countries that are just as committed as we are to equal opportunity, individual liberty, and the free market have concluded that everybody has a right to health care—and they provide it.

We should, too. And I think we will.

By E.J. Dionne  | March 20, 2010; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Health care isn't like civil rights
Next: Michael Steele's disgraceful comments on Tea Party epithets


We have brought our family of boys up to respect the law and follow the rules. Then along comes this crook that has no respect for right and wrong. How do you explain that to young adults? If you or I did that we would be arrested at the least. Now you hear a congressman's wife was perswaded by OBAMA to change his vote.Have they never heard of honest voting? What will the younger generation think after they have been brought up to believe in honest voting.We don't need or want this trash going on now.

Posted by: swansonmorganb | March 20, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

It's funny how the passing of this Bill has come down to a handful of Democrat votes over "abortion funding". The words just trip off the typed text and the tongue and it seems that everyone has forgotten or doesn't want to be reminded that on the pointy end of the phrase "abortion funding" are the lives of many American children at risk of abortion.
Genuine health care does no intentional harm to these children at risk. Abortion remains a lethal psuedo-medical procedure that can have no place in a humane and truly universal health care system.
Truly universal health rights belong to absolutely all human beings, including children at risk of abortion.
The proposed trade-off of their rights violates the fundamental human rights principle of indivisibity. No domestic legal or health system may sacrifice the human rights of one group of human beings (in this case, millions of children at risk of abortion) to enhance the human rights of another group (such as 30 million other Americans). The health and well-being of all Americans, including children whose lives are at risk of Government approved and funded abortion, must be pursued with equal integrity.

Posted by: ritaJ2 | March 20, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

sawnsonmorganb: "Then along comes this crook that has no respect for right and wrong."

When people's comments degenerate to garbage like yours, how can you convince us that you're bringing up your family to "respect the law."?

Posted by: bigfish2 | March 20, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that the Bishops have once again demonstrated they are more concerned about the lives of unborn babies than the lives of babies once they are born.

The US is far down the list of nations in infant mortality. Far below other developed countries and sinking into the company of the emerging economies. How can the Bishops so easily brush this concern aside in their effort to absolutely fireproof protection for babies not yet born. And this after many opponents of abortion, including an influential group of nuns, have declared the provisions in the law adequate?

I would like to hear the explanation why protection for the unborn trumps every other health concern, including a scandalous infant mortality rate.

Posted by: pgr31 | March 20, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

EJ - I fear that you are being too kind and charitable to the Bishops. I suspect their motive in opposing the bill has more to do with their desperate need to re-establish their moral authority within the Church that it does with abortion.

Posted by: prhogan | March 20, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

swansonmorganb: persUaded

Posted by: Bertilak | March 20, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

The bishops are concerned with pre-born babies because it is legal in this country to rip them apart in their mothers wombs while they are developing. It is even legal to stick a syringe into their necks as they are leaving the birth canal. Look at how a baby develops and what abortion does to that development. Look at a ultrasound.

The bishops are also concerned about the poor and under-privileded. Remember they want Health care for all, but not at the expense of funding with public dollars what is not health care. If you don’t care for humans in their most vulnerable stage of development how are you going to care for them at a later stage? Because one evil is focused on does not mean that another is being neglected.

The bishops are calling out a grave injustice that too many people around the world are ignoring that being that abortion is the taking of an innocent life. Stand up both children in the womb and out.

Posted by: fom4life | March 21, 2010 1:17 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you, swansonmorganb. Dictator Obama is trampling on our Constitution to force us to swallow his Marxist Obamacare scam, which would destroy our health care, our economy, our freedoms and our country.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | March 21, 2010 2:58 AM | Report abuse

The bishops whould stand against the whole Obamacare scam and not only the abortion part of the scam.

No amendment can transform a criminal scam like Obamacare into an honest bill. Any "amendments" will be just tricks, like the Stupak amendment, to force us to swallow the scam.

The Stupak amendment was just another trick used by Obama and his Comrades to pass the Obamacare SCAM through the House. Tricked by the amendment, some Catholics (not all) actually believed the lies of Obama and his accomplices regarding abortion coverage! Tricked by the amendment, they failed to look at the evil behind the whole Obamacare scam.

Informed Americans, however, understand that, if Obama gets his way, Obamacare will FORCE us to pay for abortions, infanticide (late-term abortion) and probably euthanasia, in spite of Obama’s lies and tricks like the Stupak amendment.

Lies do not change Obama's pro-abortion and pro-infanticide (late-term abortion) stand, nor the aberrant stands of Obama's Health Care Czar Ezekiel Emanuel and Science Czar John Holdren.

Lies do not change the FACT that we are broke and Obamacare will further destroy our economy, our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Lies do not change the FACT that Obamacare is another scam to enslave us.

We expect our Church to stand against the whole Obamacare scam, and our representatives to defend us from it. They must not give in to the lies, manipulacion, intimidation, coercion, BRIBES, and fraud of Obama and his comrades.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | March 21, 2010 3:02 AM | Report abuse

It seems that T. R. Reid must a colleague not only of Dionne, but also of Robert Creamer, a CONVICTED FELON and Obama’s ACORN associate, who outlined the guidelines for the Obamacare SCAM in his 2007 book, “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win.”

As per Creamer’s book, the main objective of Obamacare is only to increase the power of "progressives" (Marxists) through the “democratization of wealth” (socialism/Marxim) as per the teachings of Saul Alinsky. They created the health care crisis to enslave us!

Creamer wrote in his 2007 book:

* “We must create a national consensus that health care is a right, not a commodity; and that government must guarantee that right.”
* “We must create a national consensus that the health care system is in crisis.”
* “Our messaging program over the next two years should focus heavily on reducing the credibility of the health insurance industry...”
* “We need not agree in advance on the components of a plan, but we must foster a process that can ultimately yield consensus.”

As per those guidelines, Obama and his comrades planned to brainwash people about health care being a "right," so they could manipulate them with that "right." They don't care about the "components of the plan." All they want is CONTROL over our health care and our lives.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | March 21, 2010 3:11 AM | Report abuse

We are in grave danger as Obama and his comrades are bent on forcing us to swallow a Marxist scam that would destroy our health care, our economy, our freedoms and our country.

We must do everything in our power to defend ourselves -- and our children and grandchildren -- from Obama's criminal scams.

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

Posted by: AntonioSosa | March 21, 2010 3:27 AM | Report abuse

simple fact, universal health care lowers the incidence of abortion. to bad the right and the left conspired to keep us funneling $$$$ to big insurance. Tort reform? will somebody please explain how the rare and all to often justified litigation that supposedly destroys our selfless physicians financially is the problem? At my local hospital, Winchester Med Center in winchester VA, they sue over 100 working poor every month! Go to our local Winchester/Frederick general district court website for some real info. type "WINCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER" into the search bar, and look at page upon page of working poor under/uninsured people who get sued for amounts they could never afford. Doctors? TORT reform? I have observed the quality of life of the american Doctor, it is fat and obscene and they also can afford good lawyers, so stuff your TORT reform garbage into your public option, teabaggers.

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 3:57 AM | Report abuse

real reform would be single payer, medicare for all. I pay 300 dollars a month for my insurance plan, and I still have one kid "subject to pre-existing conditions"! I bet if insurance was mandated and single payer I'd never get a bill and my monthly outlay wouldn't change much. Hell, even if it went up a bit it would be worth it for peace of mind and the knowledge that all those insurance companies would shrivel up and die!

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 4:04 AM | Report abuse

it is late to attempt to engage the conservatives, they are rather old. I'll check back and see if anybody actually attempts to explain to me why the party of my father/grandfathers, etc...can turn it's back as hospitals and providers sue the working poor by the hundreds, get garnishments and really stick it to the poorest amongst us! Doctors as the that the true narrative of you teabaggers? what hogwash! go to the website of your local govt. and courts, search for the real truth! I keep spending my time off looking for the trail of financially ruined docs who, through no fault of their own, get run out of town penniless and ashamed. I can't find it yet. They must be where the canadians who line up for our awesome health care are, right behind all those blacks and hispanics who register to vote dozens of times just so they can run all over town on election day voting more than once. Yeah. Anyone?

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 4:18 AM | Report abuse

swansonmorganb: perswaded?

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 4:21 AM | Report abuse

pgr 31 states:
"Interesting that the Bishops have once again demonstrated they are more concerned about the lives of unborn babies than the lives of babies once they are born."

To this writer I say:

If Congress and pro-death Obama cared one bit about the lives of unborn babies, why have they NOT proposed a national ADOPTION program complete with pre-natal care for those who cannot or will not carry their babies to term? ? ? ?

Posted by: DiscerningCitizen | March 21, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Nuns don,t get children. A pregnent woman or his boyfriends, or his husbund have right to choose abort the foetus or not. If gone to the hell is theirs own choice. Shut upp and clean your house in your chrch with your homo, lesbian, and other hell- absolutely incoming soonerly.

Posted by: osman-gharanizadeh | March 21, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Re: jbird... spot on.

Re: DiscerningCit... more to the point is - WHY didn't the CONSERVATIVE pols, when in office, offer an Adoption measure? You now have the audacity to accuse President Obama, burdened by the destructive aftermath of the Govt- cash-starving Cheney/Rove coup-de-tat of not now promoting such a measure? How dishonest and disingenuous you are!.

Ask many pro-choice citizens to actually adopt some of the unborn they fight so earnestly for (to be fair, a very (very) small number actually do volunteer) and you'll mostly get silent stares. Care for the living (which includes Univ Health Care, abolishing Capital Punishment and non-defensive, trans-national military operations forever) and abortions would gradually begin to decrease over time, no question.

At root, NO ONE wishes that abortions occurred, but with no respect for the already living - including respect for our Living Planet (Earth) - how will we ever truly respect the potential living?

Pro-Life means ALL LIFE - period.

The Nuns have this one straight away, they're spot on. Right - ask a bunch of aging, celibate, mostly white, 50-60 yr old Bishops to hold forth on the well-being of children, unborn or otherwise. That argument - see recent Irish Bishops/Papal new items - is OVER. They'll never be trusted with opinions about children ever again by this lifelong Catholic.

Posted by: 8mihi | March 21, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

pregnant, not pregnent. Discerning citizen, you chickened out!

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Don't tell little E.J., but there ain't no Santa Claus.

And unless you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy combined, it is simply nonsensical and meaningless to assert that everybody's entitled to free "health care" (whatever that is).

Posted by: thebump | March 21, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

well then, those of us that KNOW Santa and the bunny and the tooth fairy exist can happily go on deluding ourselves. I have become a sudden fan of FOX NEWS this weekend as I get quite the rise from watching an aged, white, regional and out of touch party/ideology in it's red-faced bawling death throes.

Posted by: jbirdisaturd | March 21, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

E.J. the nun.Ever notice where ever nuns are there is rampant poverty that lingers for eternity.Like welfare you must find more takers after all what do we do with all those vested employees operating the system????????

Posted by: jmounday | March 21, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

What are the Bishops doing meddling in the affairs of government? Don't they have major problems in their Church that need their attention? Does Congress meddle in their business? I think that the Church is losing touch with reality in returning to their reactionay mode. I doubt they have very much in common with Jesus who devoted his ministry to helping people and letting the Law get in his way.

Posted by: willin46 | March 22, 2010 2:11 AM | Report abuse

I carry no portfolio for radical leftist Catholic Nuns. Nevertheless, the Pope, Bishops, and Cardinals all managed to bring this crisis on themselves with their deplorable mishandling of the priest pedophile scandal.

Merely saying your sorry for protecting, promoting, and nurturing the perps does not even begin to address the problem. Who do these arrogant men think they are, Bill Clinton?

Memo to the Pope: Try firing some Bishops for their gross negligence and dereliction of duty in the discharge of their offices. Maybe then the Church will regain whatever credibility it once had in speaking about abortion issues.

Until then, however, crazy communist imbued Nuns will continue to act like crazy communist imbued Nuns.

Posted by: pgould1 | March 22, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

If the bill was SO CLEARLY against abortion funding, why not remove all ambiguity and include the Stupak Ammendment? It must be because the pro-abortion Dems think there is wiggle room in the wording of the legislation. They wouldn't vote for the bill with Stupak wording. There is no other reason for this.

Posted by: marisman | March 22, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I pray that Antonio Sosa never loses his job and his health insurance and gets ill, or gets ill and his wealthy insurance company decides that there is a reason to weasel out of paying for his care...
Further, although I would never have an abortion, I do not think the roman catholic church has authority over this entire country (I thought we had separated church and state)--but if it did, perhaps it would deal better with poverty, hunger, and priests abuse of children.

Posted by: Marywexler38 | March 22, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Such a well-written and clear article, clarifying two ambiguities: between the bill in its present and earlier form, and between reservations about other parts of the bill that had nothing to do with abortion and the part that did. Incidentally, swansonmorganb, it's "persuaded," not "perswaded." If you want to set a good example for your boys, as you claim, you might start with accuracy of statement and spelling. If there is anything illegal or dishonest about a congressman deciding to "change his vote," you don't explain it. Yet this congressman seems to be the "crook" you describe. You say he has "no respect for right or wrong." We should all respect the "right," as we see it, but why should we respect "wrong"? This was just slopping language, of course, but it's quite clear that you're saying the congressman broke the law. Easy to say when you know you'll never be sued for libel because he's a public figure.

Posted by: gregh2223 | March 22, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company