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« This Week In Tyranny | Main | This Week In Tyranny »

The Catholic Church, Private Insurance and Abortion

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

I normally cover the general vicinity of executive power, but I feel strongly enough about recent developments in the health care debate to change focus this week. As a Catholic I feel I have a personal stake in this issue, and I hope regular readers understand the departure.

On Monday I sent the following email to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Colorado:

The recent letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] opposing a House health care plan on the grounds that its prohibition of abortion funding was a “legal fiction” raised a question to me. I first learned of you because of your statement that voting for John Kerry in 2004 was cooperating in evil due to his position on abortion, so I know how seriously you take the issue. My question is, has the American church, the Conference or any other official Catholic body or agency taken a position on Catholics’ purchasing insurance from companies that provide abortion services? All of the major ones - Aetna, Blue Cross, Cigna, United Healthcare and so on - provide abortion services in their policies. Doesn’t anyone who pays premiums to these insurers help to fund abortion, and wouldn’t that also amount to cooperating in evil?

It seems the Catholic Church has focused all of its energy and activism on government’s role but left the private sector off scot-free. I am not aware of any visibility on this from the church, and that appears to be a glaring omission. Has it been addressed, and if so has it been addressed as forcefully? On the face of it, it seems to me that anything contributing to abortions, public or private, would be equally objectionable.

Thanks in advance for any time and attention you are able to provide.

Archbishop Chaput declined to provide an on the record response. He is obviously not obligated to, but the opposition to the House bill raises what I believe is a legitimate question: Why has the church not targeted private insurers for the last thirty years? They are indispensable players in providing abortion services, yet as far as I know they have not been highlighted the way pro-choice politicians have. The Democratic nominee for president is singled out for his position. Why not the CEO of Aetna?

How is it that the USCCB can object to increased health care coverage that will “subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions” while having never said a word about the provider networks themselves? Why oppose raising the quality of life of millions of people through insurance reform if the objection is to the health care infrastructure? Or conversely, if you object to adding new people to the system then why not also work to get current enrollees out of it? Don’t employers who provide health care plans subsidize provider networks? Why aren’t they being targeted for doing so? Why is the system as it exists now and has existed for decades so studiously ignored if putting new people into it is so problematic?

The disparity between the easy treatment of private insurers and the objection to a public one could create a philosophical tipping point. Since Roe v. Wade the church has been visible and energetic in its opposition to abortion while giving comparatively short shrift to other life issues such as capital punishment and war. The fact that such emphasis lined up nicely with conservative ideology is presumably coincidence. The church’s recommended political course for addressing abortion is to support pro-life candidates on the theory that they will appoint pro-life judges who will eventually overturn Roe. That too benefits the GOP, coincidentally I am sure. In a few years this strategy will conclude its second full generation as an exercise in futility. Meaning, in practice it boils down to perpetual straight ticket voting for the party in pursuit of a goal forever just out of reach. As year after fruitless year passes, claims of nonpartisanship begin to strain credulity.

Any religion worth its salt will periodically cause great discomfort at points across the political spectrum, and opposing Democratic health care reform because it expands coverage may be a coincidence too far. It makes the leadership’s position look more political than moral - abortions paid for by the private sector are acceptable, abortions paid for by the public sector are not. The long running alignment between the church’s antiabortion activism and the right wing has been plausible as just circumstance, but we may now be entering an area where the American Catholic Church risks looking like nothing so much as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party.

Reader Comments (8)

Sounds like the ancien regime. Well argued, sir!

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlambert strether

Excellent point. It also is amazing to me how when it comes to politics, abortion trumps, for example, opposition to the death penalty, which is based on the same tenet. Why don't pro-death penalty Catholic politicians have to explain themselves the way pro-choice ones do. In fact, I'd argue the death penalty is worse because in those instances the politician may be the one making the decision to impose the death penalty as opposed to simply permitting others to decide on abortion.

BTW, OT, Bioshock totally rocks! Thanks for the rec.

September 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBDBlue

Thanks BDBlue - great point about the death penalty. I think the whole spectrum of life issues should get attention and it seems like abortion crowds out everything else. In terms of activism, visibility, etc.

September 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterDan

Excellent post. I used this as part of a posting over at Political Irony

September 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIron Knee

Thanks for the kind words and the link Iron Knee!

September 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterDan

Get a grip Dan! Your fantastic theory about the Catholic church going Republican is making you sound like an alternate version of Glenn Beck on Fox News. Like Beck, your fantasies are propagating to the weak-minded like gossip. Here's part of my response to one of the blogs that aped you:

"Dan says that he sent the email to Chaput on Monday, and his post was Wednesday! Even if Chaput didn't respond in 48 hours, do you suppose that the shepard of 157 parishes (see: http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/4/PARISHES/
has the time to drop everything and respond to Dan's demand? If Dan had done his own homework, and then reported that he had found no evidence of church opposition to private insurance sponsored abortion, then you might have a weak case, perhaps requiring a low-level response from the Archbishop's office. But to make an unsubstantiated accusation, and immediate declare Chaput unresponsive, seems to be grossly disingenuous.

Did you really think clearly about the nature of your question before you looked for a response from Chaput? Do you really think that an organization that so strenuously opposes abortion would turn a blind eye to private insurance sponsored abortion?! You imply some sinister collusion, like some deluded conspiracy theory, full of obvious contradictions."

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercireader

Thanks for the feedback, cireader. I did receive a response from Archbishop Chaput, and he specifically declined to provide an on-the-record response. I also sent a follow-up when I posted with a link to what I wrote (as a courtesy and not as a request for response).

Having said that, I still would have gone with the post when I did if he hadn't answered. I'm not sure how long a request can go unanswered before it's safe to assume it will never arrive, but 2+ business days seems appropriate. That is especially true when it involves a quickly-developing topic like the health care debate.

To his great credit he posts his email address at his site, which is where I got it:


Anyone who advertises availability like that should be expected to be responsive to emails. And again, it speaks very well of him that he does - and I hope he continues, even when it means hearing from the likes of me. :) In the course of researching the post he was the only bishop I found who didn't hide behind a "Contact Us" form.

I put a good deal of thought and research into the post and I hope it shows, but obviously it will strike each reader differently. It certainly didn't strike you as brimming with intelligence, but I hope others find it better written. And I didn't make any allegations of conspiracy, I simply noted the Church's and the USCCB's silence (or relative silence) with respect to private sector funding of abortion. I specifically wrote that I took the church's longstanding methods of activism on the issue at face value - the exact opposite of a conspiracy theory. With respect to its opposition to health care reform, I think it risks appearing more like a political alliance with the GOP. I wouldn't call that a wild-eyed conspiracy, though maybe it comes across that way to you. Fair enough if so. But I'm not alleging some kind of secret, wide ranging plot as much as saying it might give the impression of tailoring moral teaching to fit a preferred political tilt.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.

September 24, 2009 | Registered CommenterDan

Thank you for this post.

The Church has a long history of moral teaching. The Church's history of aligning itself with financial interests is not as long, but it dominates.

I have hope that it will change, but I do not expect that it will.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSchreiberBike

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