U.S. Catholics support health reform; reject position advanced by bishops

According to a poll conducted this month by Belden Russonello and Stewart for the group Catholics for Choice, churchgoing Catholics support both a public option in health reform and a national plan that would include funding for abortion.

Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien said the poll results suggest the views of Catholics on health reform have been seriously misrepresented by outspoken Catholic leaders like Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“It is telling that the U.S. bishops have done two polls on abortion recently. On neither occasion did they poll only Catholics. We did, and the results are clear: U.S. Catholic voters see reproductive health care as part of a comprehensive health care package— and that includes abortion for women who need it.”

The new survey (pdf) was conducted online, September 16 through 21. Pollsters interviewed 923 Catholic registered voters and found 68 percent disapprove of U.S. bishops directing Catholics to oppose the entire health reform plan if it includes coverage for abortion. The poll further found that 56 percent believe the bishops should not take a position on health reform legislation. A high number of those polled, 84 percent, attend church regularly, from several times a week to a few times a year.

Catholic leaders have worked to block health 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. He said taxpayer money 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.

But the people in the pews apparently take a larger view of the issue. From the CFC poll summary:

Catholic voters… want to see costs lowered and overwhelmingly support a government plan that would make health insurance available to the uninsured. Large majorities of Catholic voters support health insurance coverage for abortions—either in a private or a government-run scheme:

* when a pregnancy poses a threat to the life of a woman (84 percent)

* when a pregnancy is due to rape or incest (76 percent)

* when a pregnancy poses long-term health risks for the woman (73 percent)

* when test results show a fetus has a severe abnormal condition (66 percent)

Despite what many conservatives argue, Catholic voters are against refusal clauses for institutions that take taxpayer dollars. Sixty-five percent said that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to refuse certain procedures or medications based on religious beliefs. In addition, 60 percent believe that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should be required to include condoms as part of HIV prevention.

The sample group and interviewing were provided by Knowledge Networks using a random-digit-dial-based sample. Knowledge Networks reports that the margin of sampling error for a random sample of 923 is ± 3.2 percentage points.

Hat tip to Amie Newman.

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