In the News 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Do We Know What Catholics Want?


One of the pending pieces of legislation in the House and the Senate is the Reproductive Health bill, now subject to the politics of brinkmanship as this Congress enters its dying days.

The bill hasn’t yet been passed by either chamber, but if circumstances had been different (as in having a different president), it would have easily made it through the House, since the number of authors already exceeds the number needed to pass it. But a determined filibuster by a few members slowed down the bill’s passage, and now there’s word that the Catholic hierarchy has talked to Arroyo and wrangled an agreement that in exchange for their continuing support, the President would prevent passage of the bill by talking to her congressional allies, many of whom have chosen to simply absent themselves from the chamber’s sessions.

And that’s our situation today: the greater good of citizens, but especially of women and children, held hostage to political accommodation and moralistic bullying.

Interestingly, in the United States, the House of Representatives just recently passed a Health Care Reform bill that is expected to sail through the Senate. The measure faced last-minute hurdles over the issue of abortion, more specifically whether federal money could be used to pay for abortions. Though the bill would have provided health coverage for the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans, a social justice goal that the American Catholic bishops had long championed, the bishops chose to oppose the bill based on the abortion provision.

Provoked by this seeming conundrum, Jon O’Brien and Sara Morello, president and vice president of Catholics for Choice, wrote an op-ed piece that was published last Oct. 27 in the Washington Post. It is entitled “What Catholics Want in Health Care Reform,” and save for the parts about abortion, could very well reflect the Philippine situation. For whatever it’s worth then, here are excerpts from the piece:

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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 US health care system—including pre- and postnatal care for women, contraception, condom provision as part of HIV/AIDS prevention, and, yes, even abortion.

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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.

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 US 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.

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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.

US commitments to improve the health of people around the world, especially for women and girls, have been neglected for many years…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.

On the way to the eventual passage of the RH bill, do we know the answers to the question: Do we know what Catholics want?

The article originally appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Catholics for Choice