The Catholic Church, Private Insurance and Abortion

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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.

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