Catholic bishops silent on private insurance and abortion

Catholic leadership has worked to block health care reform mostly by arguing that Democratic plans fail to guard against public funding for abortions. Money paid into a government plan would be “fungible,” argued Cardinal Justin Rigali (pdf), chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in an August letter to Congress. Taxpayer money, therefore, would end up “subsidiz[ing] the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions.” Denver Archbishop Chaput agreed, urging Catholics in an August column to oppose any “shrewdly hidden” plan to expand abortion through health reform.

So why haven’t the same Church leaders been asking Catholics to stop paying into plans sold by private insurers that provide abortion services? Aetna, Blue Cross, Cigna, United Healthcare– all the major private insurers provide for abortion services in their policies. Everyone who pays into an Aetna policy, by Rigali’s logic, for example, is “subsidizing pro-abortion operating budgets and provider networks.” Where’s the Catholic outrage?

That’s what Dan P, who blogs on abuses of executive power at Pruning Shears, wants to know. He wrote a personal letter to Chaput, which has so far gone unanswered:

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.

In a blog post on his letter to Chaput, Dan P argues that Church opposition to the House bill begs a few questions:

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? […] 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?

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

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