Bishop Dismisses FOCA Threat to Catholic Hospitals

Deal W. Hudson
February 2, 2009

A Catholic News Service (CNS) article on January 27 reported a comment by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Asked by CNS reporter Nancy Frazier O’Brien about FOCA, Bishop Lynch spoke against it but then tried to dismiss Catholic concerns about the impact of the bill on Catholic hospitals: “But there is no plan to shut down any hospital if it passes. There’s no sense of ominous danger threatening health care institutions.”

Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, took the identical position when interviewed by O’Brien. Keehan caused some controversy weeks ago 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.

Since the election of President Obama, Catholics have been deeply concerned that the physicians and staff of Catholic hospitals will be required to perform abortions if FOCA becomes law. But according to O’Brien’s CNS piece, those fears are only Internet “rumors.” Indeed, she begins her article by saying, “Internet rumors to the contrary, no Catholic hospital is in danger of closing because of the Freedom of Choice Act.”

It’s strange that O’Brien would attribute Catholic fears to “misleading e-mails flying around the Internet,” when the USCCB’s Office of General Counsel itself released an analysis of FOCA last August.

The bishops’ own legal counsel wrote:

The combined impact of these various provisions is the likely invalidation of a broad range of state laws if challenged under FOCA, including… government programs and facilities that pay for, provide, or insure childbirth or health care services generally, but not abortion; laws protecting the conscience rights of doctors, nurses and hospitals, if those laws create even minimal delay or inconvenience in obtaining an abortion or treat abortion differently than other medical procedures… (emphasis added).

Both Bishop Lynch and Sister Keehan directly contradict the opinion of the USCCB, while O’Brien attributes the concerns over FOCA articulated by the bishops’ own legal counsel to “misleading e-mails.”

But that’s not all: The Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities released a statement last September titled, “The Freedom of Choice Act: Most Radical Abortion Legislation in U.S. History.” It argued that the impact of FOCA would go “far beyond even Roe.” Among other things, it stated that “FOCA will bar laws protecting a right of conscientious objection to abortion,” which means the consciences of doctors and nurses in Catholic hospitals.

Furthermore, a week before the inauguration, Francis Cardinal George wrote a letter to Obama laying out the bishops’ concerns about life issues. One of the items was Catholic hospitals: “Suggestions that government involvement in healthcare will be aimed at denying conscience or excluding Catholic and other health care providers from participation in serving the public good, could threaten much-needed health care reform at the outset.”

Finally, the USCCB’s own national postcard campaign to “Fight FOCA” says in its instructional statement, “For the first time, abortion would become an entitlement the government must fund and promote.” Making abortions an “entitlement” would require Catholic hospitals to offer them.

All of these public statements on FOCA from Cardinal George and the USCCB make O’Brien’s article surprising. Surely CNS is not characterizing the USCCB as a rumor mill; no doubt they fully respect the analysis of the USCCB Office of General Counsel, the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and Cardinal George himself. Maybe O’Brien was somehow unaware of the range of issues being addressed by the bishops’ national postcard campaign?

Unfortunately, Bishop Lynch and Sister Keehan clearly part here with the USCCB and Cardinal George. The statements contained in the CNS article will now be used to undermine the expressions of Catholic concern about FOCA. The CNS article provides Catholic supporters of FOCA the opportunity to blame the anxiety about the fate of Catholic hospitals on “right-wing bloggers.”

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