Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Opposing Obamacare Not a Tough Choice for Catholics

by Cathy Ruse

The New York Times reports that President Obama's health plans have caused a "struggle" within the Catholic Church over "how heavily to weigh opposition to abortion against  oncerns about social justice."

There are two problems here.  First is the suggestion that there is a collision of competing priorities at play, the social justice imperative of achieving health care for the poor and the pro-life imperative of battling abortion, with which Notre Dame law professor Cathleen Kaveny agrees.  She tells the Times, "It is the great tension in Catholic thought right now."

Surely there are bureaucratic squabbles between parish or diocesan offices, but this idea that there is some dichotomy in "Catholic thought" is utter fiction.  Social justice is concerned with the dignity of the human person, and there is no greater indignity than the taking of innocent human life in the womb; it champions the rights of the poor, and there is no one poorer than the child marked for abortion.

In fact, not only does the Church teach that abortion is a social justice concern, successive popes have called it the preeminent social justice issue of our time, which highlights the second problem in the New York Times report.  The competing imperatives are not of equal weight.  Teaching documents at all levels of the Church demonstrate that concern for the right to life takes pride of place because it is the foundation for all other rights.  Pope John Paul II wrote in Christifidelis Laici that, "the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture - is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination."

The Catholic Church doesn't see abortion as an issue that can be given more weight in some circumstances and less in others; it is always and everywhere an attack on innocent human life and gravely immoral. The Church will never embrace "a little abortion" in exchange for achieving another desired goal.

The Catholic bishops have worked for decades to achieve access to quality health care for all, especially the poor, in furtherance of their belief that health care is a basic right belonging to all human beings.  But the Church has never taught that this obligation must be met by a government-run health system and certainly not a government system which sponsors the killing of children before birth.  Indeed, for the Church, the fundamental requirement of any health care system is that it respects human life.  The Church has been extraordinarily consistent throughout the debate on health care:  any system that authorizes or subsidizes the killing of unborn children is unacceptable.

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