Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

Catholics and the Healthcare Debate

It is now three days since the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) constitutional (with the exception of the Act’s threat to withhold federal funding of State Medicaid programs) by a 5-4 margin. Everywhere I go and no matter who I encounter, this topic is on the minds of everyone. And nearly all are passionate about their opinions, no matter on which side of the debate they line up.

The court has settled the constitutional issues and tossed it back into the political arena. That means that the future of healthcare reform in general and ACA in particular will be decided in the 2012 Elections.

So what are Catholics to do? Now some would say that our religious beliefs and the practice of our faith have no place in politics. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) addresses this very point.

“Some question whether it is appropriate for the Church to play a role in political life. However, the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. Civil law should fully recognize and protect the Church’s right, obligation, and opportunities to participate in society without being forced to abandon or ignore its central moral convictions. Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’” (Faithful Citizenship, No. 11, 2011, USCCB).

We, both as Catholics and as citizens of the United States, have a moral obligation to live out the teachings of our faith in the public square. This obligation includes participating in and influencing the political process. I am the same person whether I am in a church on Sunday, in a voting booth on Tuesday, or at a political rally on another day. To say that I do not have the right to vote my conscience, formed by the teachings of the Church, is to say that I do not have the right to live according to my conscience. We are obligated to do both. We are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” in all our endeavors.

Need for Healthcare Reform

It is clear that the bishops of the United States have long been concerned about what they see as a need to reform access to healthcare in this country. They would like, among other things, to correct what they see as injustices in the present (pre-ACA) system – better access to healthcare for the poor, portable health insurance coverage for those who find themselves between jobs, a just solution for dealing with those with pre-existing medical conditions who seek health insurance, increasingly unaffordable healthcare.

Every Catholic should heed the concerns expressed by our bishops. Human Dignity demands a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Remove politics from the discussion and I know of no one who would disagree that the healthcare system in this country, even though it may be the best in the world, is in need of reform.

But make no mistake; ACA, as it stands, is not a morally acceptable solution, no matter on which side of the political fence you fall. Non-parish Catholic institutions, including schools, hospitals, shelters and charities will close rather than cooperate with the killing of the innocent, unborn children.

In their June 28, 2012 News Release, the USCCB identified three areas of urgent and grave concern:

  • First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy. The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of “high risk” insurance pools that would have covered abortion.
  • Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context. We have provided extensive analyses of ACA’s defects with respect to both abortion and conscience. The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACA’s new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHS’s “preventive services” mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.
  • Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly.ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money. This undermines the Act’s stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need.

Six Important Things Catholics Must Do this Political Season

  1. First and foremost, be at peace; God remains in control. Remain in His love. Be joyful and faithful ambassadors for Christ.
  2. Pray daily for your own conversion, for moral truth to guide our nation and its leaders, and for the courage and wisdom you need to properly engage in the political process.
  3. Do not forget or be confused about the HHS Mandate. This court decision did not address the question of religious liberty. That will come after the lawsuits seeking to overturn that particular regulation make their way through the court system and are decided by the Supreme Court at a later date. Remain vigilant and prayerful.
  4. Become better educated… about the grave issues that confront us and the moral obligations upon us as Catholics.
  5. Share your knowledge with others and inspire them to become involved. Become passionate but not mean-spirited. Shed light, not heat on the issues.
  6. Let your political leaders and candidates know what you expect of them. Hold them accountable. Vote in November, guided by a conscience formed by Catholic Moral and Social Teaching.

Into the deep…

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, Editor-in-Chief for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization at his parish and a deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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