Fair. Balanced. American.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

E.J. Dionne

On yesterday's biggest domestic story: the decision of American nuns to back health care reform:
One of the tragedies of the viciously politicized battle over health-care reform is the defection of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops from a cause they have championed for decades.

Indifferent to political fashions, the bishops were the strongest voices in support of universal health coverage, a position rooted in Catholic social thought that calls for a special solicitude toward the poor.

Yet on the make-or-break roll call that will determine the fate of health-care reform, bishops are urging that the bill be voted down. They are doing so on the basis of a highly tendentious reading of the abortion provisions in the Senate measure. If health reform is defeated, the bishops will have played a major role in its demise. [...]

The provisions they dislike were written by two Democratic senators strongly opposed to abortion, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Pro-choice groups condemned the Nelson-Casey language from the start.[...]

Fortunately, major Catholic leaders -- most of them women in religious orders -- have picked up the flag of social justice discarded by a bishops' conference under increasing right-wing influence. [...]

"We as sisters focus on the needs of people," said Sister Simone Campbell, a spokeswoman for the group [representing more than 59,000 nuns]. "When people are suffering, we respond." Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, loyally refuses to criticize the bishops but argues that their interpretation of the abortion language is simply wrong. She, too, released a forceful statement in support of the Senate bill.

"We looked at the bill. We spent a lot of time with Sens. Casey and Nelson," she said in an interview. "We agreed to support it because we believe it meets the test of no federal funding for abortion. Perhaps the language is not the way I would write it, but it meets the test. . . . I was not going to take a little bit of abortion [in the bill] to get federal funding."

She added: "I can't walk away from extending coverage to more than 30 million people."[...]

House members voting on health care will be representing primarily their positions as Americans and as agents of their constituents, though many will also be influenced by their faith. Those with a special affection for the Roman Catholic Church have an extra reason for voting in favor of the health bill.

By passing it, they would save the bishops from the moral opprobrium that would rightly fall upon them if they succeeded in killing the best chance we have to extend health coverage to 30 million Americans. I suspect that many bishops would be quietly grateful. In their hearts, they know the nuns are right.

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