How Catholics Can Make or Break Healthcare Reform

Abortion policy is not just a sideshow in the healthcare debate. It can make or break reform efforts.

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Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Roman Catholics swing elections (voting for the winner of the popular vote in every U.S. presidential election since 1972), and they can swing policy, too. Here's the top of my most recent God & Country column from U.S. News Weekly on how Catholics can make or break healthcare reform: 

Antiabortion groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family Action have spent the last month pummeling Democratic healthcare reform proposals over abortion coverage. They've attacked the House Democrats' healthcare bill, for instance, for leaving the door open to abortion coverage in the public health insurance option and for using federal funds to underwrite private healthcare plans that cover abortion. But conservative Christian groups have also made little secret of their opposition to the very idea of a greater government role in healthcare, the abortion controversy aside. A recent E-mail update from the Family Research Council blasted President Obama's push for healthcare reform without ever mentioning abortion. "The American people," it said, ". . . don't want healthcare delivered with the empathy of the IRS, the efficiency of FEMA, or the mismanagement of the post office."

One of the most prominent voices in the antiabortion movement, however, has carved out a much different position in the healthcare debate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while fiercely opposed to abortion rights, has lobbied for decades for universal healthcare coverage as a fundamental right. "We think the right to have basic healthcare is corollary to the right to life," says Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the bishops conference, which represents the Roman Catholic Church's roughly 270 American bishops. "And that society has some obligation to help provide it."

That antiabortion, pro-universal healthcare stance—and the fact that a full quarter of the U.S. population is Catholic—make the bishops and the wider Catholic community a key swing constituency in the escalating healthcare reform battle. If they can allay Catholic concerns on abortion, Obama and the Democrats stand to enlist the church as a powerful ally in the fight. But if the bishops and other Catholic institutions wind up opposing the Democrats' healthcare plan because of its abortion provisions, they can help bring down the whole effort. Says Doerflinger: "People on both sides of the issue want us to join their coalition."

Read the full piece here.