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American Catholics Want Bishops Out of Healthcare Reform

March 5, 2010

“Interference by the US Catholic bishops in healthcare reform does not help women,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The bishops claim that this is an issue of ‘conscience.’ However, in seeking to impose their views, the bishops show no regard for the consciences of millions of women in the United States who want the ability to prevent unintended pregnancies or have an abortion when they need it.

“In November, the bishops’ last-minute backroom power play with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) derailed meaningful healthcare reform. The Democrats said from the outset that those who were happy with their coverage would be able to keep it. The bishops should not be allowed to use healthcare reform to restrict women’s access to safe and legal reproductive healthcare services. Congress has listened to the bishops, now it is time for Congress to listen to American Catholics who want comprehensive healthcare reform.”

American Catholic voters don’t want the bishops’ help in healthcare reform. Local and national polls have found that i) Catholics want healthcare reform to provide coverage for abortion and ii) that the bishops should not involve themselves in this battle. The American electorate wants its representatives to listen to the voters, not to the Catholic bishops.

Majorities in three of four Congressional districts recently polled: Maine (61%), Pennsylvania (55%) and Ohio (54%), oppose the Catholic bishop in their area having much of an influence on how their member of Congress votes on healthcare reform. In all four districts, the survey findings suggest that a member of Congress who takes the side of the Catholic bishops on abortion in healthcare reform could pay a price at the ballot box. Voters in Texas are much more likely to view their member of Congress less favorably (41%) than more favorably (23%) if that Congressperson votes for a healthcare reform bill that “makes it more difficult for women to get health insurance that covers abortion.”

Read an Executive Summary containing the results of all four polls. Individual District results:Maine’s 2ndOhio’s 9thPennsylvania’s 14th and Texas’ 16th.

Nationally, 68 percent of Catholic voters disapprove of Catholic bishops saying that Catholics should oppose the entire healthcare reform plan if it includes coverage for abortion. Fifty-six percent think the bishops should not take a position on healthcare reform at all. In fact, only a small minority of Catholics, fewer than 15 percent, are in line with the bishops in believing that all abortion should be banned. The rest can see circumstances in which legal abortion is an acceptable, even essential, aspect of healthcare. In addition, large majorities of Catholic voters support health insurance coverage for abortions in any private or public option.

The full results of this poll are available here.

O’Brien continued, “Many assume that the bishops speak on behalf of the 65 million Catholics in the US. This just isn’t true. In fact, during the healthcare debate, the bishops have consistently misrepresented the views of American Catholics. Religious and ethical concerns can legitimately inform public policy, but the bishops have overstepped the mark. Lawmakers would do well to listen to the views of those who elect them and reject attempts by the bishops to influence the outcome of this vital debate.”