Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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February 2nd, 2011

Reform and the Church (Health Care Part 2)


reformandchurch-flashOur baby is due mid-February and in last week’s post I wrote about how our health insurance plan does not cover maternity care.  In fact, many pregnant women are not cared for adequately by our health care system in its current form.

Bringing up the subject of health care reform is a risky move these days as the issue has become an increasingly hostile partisan debate.  Just turn on the TV or radio and you will witness mud-slinging and fear-mongering on both sides of the aisle.  Both sides would agree our current health care system needs some kind of change, but it’s hard to know which side and which arguments to support.

The media likes to report on what the Catholic Church says about certain hot-button issues.  Every time I hear a news story attempting to explain the Church’s stance, I usually end up mad at the Church, expressing, “Come on Church, that can’t be right.”  Then I turn to the USCCB website and read up on what the Church’s actual response is and realize how unclear and slanted the media can be in explaining the Church’s stance on matters.

This happened with health care reform.  I was upset with the Church because of how it was being portrayed on the news until I decided to read what the bishops were actually saying.  Despite how some try to explain it, the Church’s teachings are non-partisan.  I realized how important it is to read actual Church documents rather than just get Church Cliff Notes from the 5 o’clock news.

“Basic health care for all is a moral imperative.” – Archbishop Dolan

Access to universal health care is not a question.  For decades, the Church has stated that there should be access for all people to universal health care.  Case open and shut.  Of course how to get this to happen is open to debate but there is no question in the Church’s point of view that everyone should have easy and affordable access to health care for themselves and their family.  They go so far as to state that it is a basic human right.  Most recently, the Church has stated that now is the time to devote energies to correcting the current law through further legislation rather than wasting energy trying to do away with whole thing.

The USCCB opposed the recent health care legislation mainly because of three issues:

ISSUE #1: The language in the legislation does not specifically state that no government funding will go toward paying for elective abortions.

This is the part that had me mad at the Church.  Wait, wait – of course I don’t want any government funding to go to pay for abortions but I couldn’t understand why the Church was making such a big stink about it when the Hyde Amendment and President Obama’s executive order clearly stated that no government funding would be used for abortions.  I didn’t understand why this wasn’t enough for the bishops.  It was enough for me.

Then I came to understand that the Hyde Amendment has to be re-passed every year and only covers certain funding given to health care institutions.  It does not cover all funding given to health care entities.  So while this policy has consistently been upheld in Congress for the last 35 years, there is a chance that it may change one day.  This was not enough to convince the U.S. bishops of the health care reform’s abortion neutral authenticity.  The USCCB wants a law to clearly state that not a single penny of government funding will ever be used for abortions instead of just hoping that Congress will continue the precedent it has been following.

ISSUE #2: Excludes immigrants.

Sadly, one thing the health care reform did not provide is a way for immigrants to be able to purchase its “universal” health care.  The Church has always upheld the rights of the immigrant, legal or not.  Again, the Church is clear on this: immigrants, even if undocumented, should have access to affordable health care.  Under the new legislation, legal immigrants are only eligible for limited coverage.  As for undocumented immigrants, even if they wanted to pay for a government insurance plan in full with no subsidy, they are not allowed to do so. This is not only a shame, but also it forces people to wait until their health concerns are emergency room material.

ISSUE #3: Does not have specific language protecting the consciences of doctors and institutions from refusing services they believe to be morally wrong.

Again, this is similar to the Hyde Amendment problem.  Congress has upheld certain amendments for conscience protections but they must be renewed each year.   The bishops don’t want to depend on these passages from year to year.

A big part of the beef the bishops have with the reform is that they want guaranteed laws passed to affirm the abortion neutrality of the health care system and to affirm conscience protections.  Not just a good faith statement or a gentleman’s agreement, but a law.  That makes sense.

In my own family, talking about our health insurance wants and needs does not rank very high on our list of discussion topics with our friends, but after writing last week’s post many friends have confided in me their own struggles navigating the anxiety-ridden waters of the health care system.  I was not surprised when quite a few actually admitted that they too did not have maternity coverage.  I should have been surprised.  Pregnant women are among the most vulnerable and in need of care.  There are about 6 million pregnancies in America every year.  Such a huge part of the population should get the support they need from our health care system.  I know our story is just one story, but it is a common story and it shouldn’t be.  We need health care reform.  So let’s do what the bishops recommend – let’s fix what needs fixing and start insuring the uninsured.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • BK

    The notion that until an institution speaks to every point we want them to before we’d take any of it seriously seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    I agree–I wish more was said about gun control. The U.S. Bishops support gun control and the eventual elimination of handguns in our society – http://www.uscatholic.org/news/2011/01/gun-control-church-firmly-quietly-opposes-firearms-civilians – but, yes, it could be said more boldly.

    The Church has spoken quite a bit against the war in Iraq… – http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/iraq.shtml not to mention the Pope’s statements urging the United States to not invade Iraq.

    I digress. I’m disappointed that this or that isn’t given as much as attention as I would like, but that doesn’t mean what the Church is trying to teach should be completely disregarded. I think the city is wrong to have a 30 MPH speed limit on this street that seemingly doesn’t have a safety issue with a faster limit, it doesn’t mean I disobey that speed limit sign or any other.

    If you feel strongly that the Church needs to speak up about other issues, engage with it. Most dioceses, if not parishes, have social justice offices and programs that advocate against unjust force, including war, torture, etc.

    If there isn’t a big outcry of support for reforming the gun laws, then work to start one. Just dismissing the teachings of the Church and the organization that tries to disseminate those teachings isn’t going to advance those other issues to the forefront.

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    Just to clarify, the USCCB expects the government to maintain its “abortion neutrality”. This means to uphold the precedent the government has followed for decades stating that no government funding will go toward elective abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or the endangerment of the mother’s life.

    As for conscience protections, the bishops specifically want the government to uphold its precedent of conscience protections that would ensure that no person or institution would be forced to perform or refer for or cover abortions or sterilizations if it is against their morals.

  • Leonora

    “In America I don‚Äôt see an outcry for sensible gun laws saving innocent lives…” Amen Dani! What about the innocent Catholic child who was killed at the shopping center in Tuscon last month? I have not heard a peep from the Bishops regarding stricter gun laws. Why is a woman exercising her legal rights so much more threatening than an unstable person having access to lethal weapons to the Bishops? The circumstances that bring women to choose abortion are much more troublesome than the act itself. Those
    circumstances are what the hierarchy should be “teaching” to correct rather than seeking to limit women’s rights or access to the healthcare they need. William, Dani and Laura you bring up good points especially how the conscience clause could spark discrimination against people when they are at their most vulnerable.

  • Frank Jackson

    Mr. Grogan — I wish I could have stated it as eloquently. You are absolutely correct. Thank you for your comment.

  • William Grogan

    Speaking as a nursing professional, I will support the church’s views only when, #1, they also insist that no government funding be allowed for military invasion of other governments, #2, they insist on no government funding for torture or capital punishment, #3, they insist that the treatment of individuals can not be based upon personal moral views. Conscience clauses have no place in the treatment of patients, any patients, from a saint to an ax murderer. If a nurse or doctor doesn’t want to perform an abortion, fine. But if it is in their job description, then find another job. If a patient requires a medically necessary abortion, the doctor or nurse must treat for the patient’s welfare. A conscience clause is an open invitation for discrimination. What about the homosexual patient with AIDS, the imprisoned inmate, the pregnant rape victim, the child molester, etc., etc., etc. Where does it end? I thought we are all God’s children.

  • Dani Purpero

    Thank you Vanessa for a well informed article. I would however like to comment on the issue of abortion not being funded in our healthcare reform bill. Abortion is legal. Why would it not be funded? Is it because it is the taking of an innocent life? In America I don’t see an outcry for sensible gun laws saving innocent lives. More accurate DNA testing that we know has put many innocent people on death row. The estimated number of 100’s of 1000’s of innocent women, children, people who have died due to our pre-emptive actions in Iraq. Abortion is legal in America. Let me repeat, legal. To force victims of incest and rape to carry a child to term within their own bodies is a barbaric practice. Didn’t we already have this discussion. I thought our Supreme Court decided that abortion was a woman’s right. I guess it all depends on how much respect one has for the rule of law.

  • Laura Mitchell

    The “Conscience Clause” needs to be overhauled to require that the provider refer the patient to another provider for care. I’m thinking about the pharmacist in Idaho who refused to fill a prescription for Methergine. It doesn’t matter who prescribed it (Planned Parenthood)or why the patient needed it (don’t know, don’t care). Methergine is prescribed to control uterine bleeding. Period. If a provider feels that the “Conscience Clause” allows him/her to not provide care that addresses the ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation), then that provider needs to do something else.

  • James

    Very good article. It’s sad that the media has that much power to shape our opinions with the incomplete and often incorrect information regarding Church teaching.

  • John ODonnell

    The media reported the bishops’ position accurately. The bishops urged that health insurance reform be completely defeated because of what was percieved as “their” issues. A lot of people saw the bishops as being opposed because they couldn’t get their way on the abortion funding issues. So, once again, the bishops come across as anti-deluvian. Perhaps they could have exercised some prudential judgment, supported the bill, and worked to amend it after it passed.

  • James Leo Oliver

    Wonderful. Thank you for not stopping until you found the truth.

  • Lindsay

    This is another great article, Vanessa! Thank you so much for writing so clearly, eloquently, and personally about such a complex and challenging issue.

  • Steve

    Thanks, Vanessa. This was very informative.

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