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Sebelius, Reproductive Health and Health Care Reform

March 5, 2009

Washington DC – Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement today about the role of reproductive health services in reforming the health care system in the United States:

“Today, as the more than 100 health care experts attend a White House summit, we are reminded that there are many health care issues that deserve our attention in these troubled economic times.

“The nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has an immense task ahead of her, one that we feel she is more than qualified to accomplish. Ms. Sebelius joins many other prochoice Catholics in the administration and in the Democratic hierarchy, including Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While some have decried the abundance of prochoice Catholics in the new administration, it is worth reminding critics that this is what 53 percent of the American electorate and 54 percent of American Catholics voted for last November.

“We do not think that reproductive health services need to be at the center of every debate; nor, however, should they be pushed aside for expediency, or for the sake of an extra vote to get a bill through Congress. We do, however, think that it is time to move on from the culture war over abortion and contraception and, to that end, we initiated a new campaign to facilitate progress in this area.

“Our Prevention Not Prohibition campaign was started with the intention of moving the abortion debate forward here in the United States. Prevention Not Prohibition speaks for Catholics and indeed for the majority of all people throughout the country. The campaign identifies a number of areas where policy makers can improve public services. These include ensuring the availability of and promoting the use of safe, reliable and affordable contraception; securing health care for all, whether they are employed or not; promoting sexuality education that provides accurate facts; and guaranteeing that parents have access to child care.

“It is important to note that the goal of prevention efforts should be to reduce the need, not the number of abortions. This is a critically important distinction. Holistic prevention efforts address all the factors under which women decide to terminate pregnancies. These needs, like access to health care and affordable child care, should be addressed by a society that supports women, children and families. Those who speak of reducing the number of abortions seek to decide for women instead of letting women decide when to terminate or continue a pregnancy. We remain hopeful that the Obama administration will continue to respect the moral agency of all women to make the decisions that are best for them.

“It is now time to end the childish, petty name-calling that has characterized this debate. Rather than seeking to present reproductive health as a distraction from the real issues of the day, we need to emphasize that these services are an integral part of the debate. It is in economically tough times such as these that access to these services become more difficult for many people–not just those who have lost their jobs, but also those whose hours have been cut and those who live from paycheck to paycheck at the best of times.

“At the center of the social justice tradition that is so important for Catholics is the preferential option for the poor, a belief that we must never ignore the needs of those struggling to provide for their families. Budgets are tight for us all, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale. It is at times like these that state and federal policymakers need to be cognizant of the value–both to individual women and their families, and to the greater economy, that family planning and abortion services provide. Indeed, in a society that truly values choice, a society that truly believes that women and families should be the ones making decisions about whether and when to start a family, the government needs to think long and hard about what cuts to make and what services to fund. Now may be time for the administration to seriously consider expanding access to the entire range of reproductive health services–and given the overwhelmingly prochoice turnout of the last election, including a majority of Catholics, the level of support for such a move may surprise us all.”