21 March 2010

Catholics and Bureaucrats

It's been clear for a while that health care legislation in the House has been hung up on the question of federal funding for abortion. The Catholic bishops have been active and vocal opponents of any health care reform where this specter is raised. However, last week a significant number of Roman Catholic nuns and Catholic hospitals voiced their support for reform, citing the good that will come of extending insurance to millions of presently uninsured individuals.

This is interesting because we're so accustomed to the Catholic Church being univocal: what the Pope says, goes. ABC's political team put together a pretty straightforward and helpful story which notes the open question of "which group has the authority to speak for the Catholic faith on matters of public policy."

For a more provocative analysis of an entirely different sort, see this commentary from my professor Paul Griffiths. A Roman Catholic theologian, he takes the position that federal dollars should not be used to pay for abortions. However, he thinks that we are incapable of judging the current health care bill according to that standard: "Legislation of this sort in a complex bureaucratic pagan state such as ours is beyond the competence of anyone reasonably to assess as to outcome." In other words, he thinks that the Stupak Amendment demands assurances that legislators cannot actually deliver. As a result, he seems to advocate a sort of quietism: "When we don't know, the thing to say is that we don't know, and the action to take and advocate is that which accords with not knowing."

I'm not convinced that his skepticism about one's ability to know the effects of legislation is well-placed. In a pair of helpful posts over at Theolog, Steve Thorngate argues that the Senate bill (which Stupak aims to remedy) in fact does not make new federal dollars available for abortion. It seems like Stupak's amendment is a rather redundant gesture. I'm not sure if Griffiths is concerned by the complexity of the bill, the enforceability of the regulations, or the law of unintended consequences. But I don't see how you can argue against the possibility of banning the use of federal funds for abortion, if that is what Congress wants to do.

Note: Although the House has not yet begun their Sunday debate and vote on health care legislation, the latest rumors are that Rep. Stupak and his allies are going to vote yes. Their votes may have been secured with the promise of yet another redundancy, in the form of an executive order.

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