The Failure of the Bishops’ Healthcare Bill Strategy

Deal W. Hudson
March 15, 2010

The Catholic Health Association (CHA), a lobbying group for Catholic hospitals, has offered its support for the health-care bill as it currently stands. A statement from CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan expresses “concern on life issues” while underscoring the bill’s requirement that “a separate check” would have to be written for abortion services.

Sister Keehan’s statement – along with the March 11 letter to Congress from her vice president, Michael F. Rodgers – is a masterpiece of doublespeak. On behalf of CHA, both Sister Keehan and Rodgers urge passage of the bill. But, while Sister Keehan cites the “separate check” stipulation for abortion coverage to assuage her concern, Rodgers admits that abortion coverage would have to be “amended” in a second corrections bill.

The position of CHA and its member hospitals puts them in direct opposition to the Catholic bishops, who have stated unambiguously that the Senate health-care bill leaves the door open for federal funds to be used for abortions. Bishop Robert F. Lynch of St. Petersburg is on the CHA board, while Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth is its episcopal liaison. Other board members include four CEOs and seven VPs of Catholic hospital systems.

CHA has long enjoyed an intimate relationship with the USCCB: It is often cited by the USCCB as a partner, along with Catholic Charities USA. In September 2008, Sister Keehan cosigned a letter with the head of Catholic Charities USA and Bishop William F. Murphy, the chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urging Congress to pass a stimulus plan. CHA has also been involved in joint efforts with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in welfare-to-work projects. The long list of such collaborative efforts between CHA and the USCCB is easily found by searching the USCCB Web site.

At present, the USCCB has not issued any statement directly opposing CHA or any of the Catholic groups supporting the Senate bill, such as Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The lack of such a statement allows the press, the White House, and the Congress to hold up these groups as providing official Catholic support to a public that doesn’t know any better.

A direct rebuke of CHA from the USCCB would not be in keeping with what I have termed the conference’s strategy of qualified support, but it would certainly keep wavering members of Congress from finding political cover from these groups willing to accept abortion funding.

With a vote on the bill coming as soon as Friday or Saturday, the USCCB is running out of time to get tough. The parish bulletin program emailed last Friday by the USCCB comes too late to have any serious impact on a vote this week.

The willingness of such an intimate partner with the USCCB to break with the bishops on the health-care bill is just another sign of the conference’s failure to negotiate powerfully with Congress and speak loudly and clearly to the media on this legislation. Its strategy has left them in a weakened position and allowed the initiative to be taken over by groups with apparent vested interest in seeing the bill passed: CHA would receive federal money for its hospitals, while Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good do little more than put a Catholic spin on Democratic talking points.

It’s common sense that you can’t win a negotiation if you aren’t willing to walk away from the table. Thus far, the USCCB hasn’t shown that willingness. Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando understood this when he wrote a few days ago, “No health-care legislation is better than bad health-care legislation.”

It’s alarming to hear the nonchalant attitude of those who remark how many other countries have government-run health care systems that pay for abortions, so why not us? Bishop Wenski knows what it is that has so many Catholics outraged at the prospect of this bill’s being passed:

Using taxpayers’ money to pay for other people’s abortions would make all citizens complicit in what many regard as a morally heinous act… Whatever you might call it, a procedure that results in the death of a living human being – whether at the beginning or end of life – is not health care.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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