Catholic Health Association: We Agree With Bishops on Abortion, Health Care

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 28, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Health Association: We Agree With Bishops on Abortion, Health Care

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 28
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — The president of the Catholic Health Association is saying in a new interview today that her organization agrees with the bishops on banning abortion funding in the health care bill. However, the organization released a statement recently that made it appear otherwise.

On December 17, Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the CHA, released a statement obtained showing it praising a phony compromise on abortion funding

Sen. Bob Casey floated a compromise in an attempt to get Sen. Ben Nelson to withdraw his then-objection to the Senate bill because of its abortion funding. The measure would have forced pro-life advocates to opt out if they objected to their tax dollars paying for abortions. Otherwise, Americans would be forced to pay for abortions under the legislation.

The proposal was thoroughly trashed by pro-life groups with the National Right to Life committee and other organizations calling it "unacceptable" and Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying the bishops appreciated the goals of some of Casey’s proposal, but that they did not actually stop taxpayer funding of abortion.

But Keehan said in the statement that, although she hadn’t seen the text of the Casey proposal, "we are encouraged by recent deliberations and the outline Senator Casey is developing."

Keehan claimed that "now that a public health insurance option is no longer on the table, we are increasingly confident that Senator Casey’s language can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion."

"It is our understanding that the language now being written would prohibit federal funding of abortion," Keehan said.

The language did not ban abortion funding and it left some Catholics — and the New York Times — with the impression that CHA was at odds with the Catholic bishops.

In a Christmas Day news story, "Catholic Group Supports Senate on Abortion Aid" the Times reported that there is "an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul" and that "the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise."

The Times exploited the supposed divide with quotes from pro-abortion Representative Diana DeGette, who said “We have known for quite some time that the Catholic hospitals and also the nuns are really breaking from these hard-line bishops."

Today, Keehan talked with the Catholic News Service about the dustup.

She said CHA has never wavered in its commitment to health care that protects "from conception to natural death" and she disputed the Times’ report.

"There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops," Sister Carol said. "We believe there is a great possibility and probability that in conference committee we can work toward a solution that will prevent federal funding of abortion."

She told CNS that CHA, representing over 600 Catholic hospitals, "brings a lot of expertise with funding structures in the marketplace" to the debate and hopes to "bring that to bear" during the conference committee process.

Keehan also commented on the December 17 statement praising the Casey amendment, that was not ultimately adopted.

"I felt they were making progress and were getting where we needed to be," she said. "I understand that it doesn’t make a good story to say (CHA and the USCCB) are working together. But it would have been an honest story."

Catholic Culture, a pro-life web site that follows Catholic and pro-life issues, commented on the tenuous situation — which clearly saw CHA have a different take on the Casey language than the Catholic bishops, even if Keehan doesn’t want to describe it as a difference of opinion.

‘The Catholic Health Association has not endorsed the health legislation that was passed by the Senate," it noted. "Nor did it endorse the Casey compromise language that was later opposed by the bishops’ conference."

However, the web site pointed out that "a Catholic Health Association officer made significant contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Obama campaign."

"One or more of the officers of the Catholic Health Association, then, may privately support the health care bill that was approved by the Senate and opposed by the bishops," it contended.

Whether the CHA is in disagreement or not, Catholic Culture appeared to urge CHA officials to do a better job of crafting its take on the abortion-health care process to help avoid future confusion.

"The failure of the Catholic Health Association to follow the bishops’ conference’s lead in opposing the Casey compromise and the eventual Senate legislation lends plausibility to the idea of a private parting of ways on the issue," it concluded. "Reports of a public split, however, seem premature."

That may be good advice because Keehan’s December 17 statement also alleged: "As we understand it, the Senate intends to keep the President’s commitment that no federal funds will pay for abortions and in addition, provide significant new support for pregnant women."

But President Barack Obama has repeatedly violated that commitment and the Senate actually rejected the Nelson amendment to ensure no federal funds pay for abortions.

Also, the CHA statement made it appear to many pro-life Catholic stalwarts — including respected writer Deal Hudson — that it had endorsed the phony Casey compromise.

This isn’t the first time Keehan has raised eyebrows within the Catholic community.

She caused controversy last December when she defended President Barack Obama against criticism from pro-lifers and praised his choices of pro-abortion Health and Human Services secretary Tom Daschle and deputy health care director Jeanne Lambrew.

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