Posts Tagged ‘health care’

Religious Freedom and Protecting Healthcare for Women and Children

Friday, March 16th, 2012

“These are the ones most grateful to you for the new well . . .”

With that, the chieftain of this Islamic village in Ethiopia, not far from Meki, took me over to meet about twenty beaming young girls, all who looked to be about the age of my niece, Grace, seven or eight years old.

I was in the village with a delegation from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the acclaimed international assistance agency supported by the Catholic community of the United States.  We had just been enthusiastically welcomed to this small village to bless and start-up their new well, dug and outfitted by CRS.

The hundred-or-so inhabitants were all ecstatic over the new well . . . but the happiest, the leader told me, through the translator, were the little girls.  Why? I inquired.

“Because up to now everyday was the same for them, as it has been for centuries of our women.  The girls are the ones designated to walk the daily two-hour trek to the river, to fill up the buckets with water- – enough for their hut and family – - and walk two hours back.  Each day,  the men go out to the fields; the boys go off to school; the women stay in the village to care for their families . . . and the young girls ‘take the walk.’  They’ll do it until they marry and have a baby.  The survival of the village depends on them.  But this means,” the chief wrapped-it-up, “that they can never go to school.  If they did, who would get the water? But now” he pointed radiantly to the jubilant girls, “they can go to school because we have good water right here because of our new well.”

Episodes like that occur all over Ethiopia, as well as other impoverished, thirsty countries throughout the third world, because of CRS “fresh water projects.”  Villagers benefit; crops flourish; livestock fatten; all the people drink; but the girls are the happiest because they’re free and can now improve their lives.

When it comes to the health of women, their babies, and their children, the Catholic Church is there, the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around.

Another example:

We bishops of New York sponsor an agency called Fidelis, which provides health insurance to low-income folks.  I’m told we’re the largest such private provider in our state.

A recent physician survey of Fidelis showed that we got the highest ratings of anybody else in the area of – - guess what? – - supporting healthcare for women and children.

Here’s another illustration:

A couple years ago, I visited India, and travelled to particularly poor areas.  At one stop my host-brother-bishop asked me to visit a convent nearby.  “The sisters will appreciate your stopping-by,” he told me.  “They’re scared, and they might be harmed, run-out-of-town, or even put in jail!”

“Whatever for?”  I asked.

 “A couple years ago, they opened a residence for young girls.  Nearly a hundred of the girls, all Delats (“untouchables”) from the surrounding villages, live there, and go to school, learn handicrafts and skills, and are loved and cared for by the sisters.

“And that’s earning them threats?” I wondered aloud.

“Yes it is,” the bishop explained.  “Seems as if the wealthy people depend upon these young girls to clean their houses, cook, and baby-sit their own infants.  Now they’re losing this cheap labor source.  They’re mad.  They don’t like this social upheaval.  As one of them yelled at the sisters, ‘You take these girls, who will prepare my tea!’”

You getting a pattern here?  I could go on and on:  if you want to see creative, daring, lifegiving healthcare for women and their children, look at what the Church is doing.

And now understand why Catholics rightly bristle when politicians and commentators characterize the Church as backwards and insensitive when it comes to women’s health.  Yes, the PR experts advise them that this tactic is a proven ploy to take the attention off the current urgent issue of religious freedom.  The marketers advise them that, if they can reduce the issue to one of contraception, stereotyping the Church as opposed to women’s rights, they have a chance of clouding the towering issue of the First Freedom.

But the Church should not be the ones on the defensive here.  We’re on the offensive when it comes to women’s health, education, and welfare, here at home, and throughout the world.  We hardly need lectures on this issue from senators.

We just want to be left alone to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.  We cherish this, our earthly home, America, for its enshrined freedom to do so.  Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work.

A couple of years ago I visited a woman’s prison. The warden asked me if I wanted to visit the expectant and new mothers’ healthcare center. It then dawned on me that, of course, some women would enter prison pregnant. I was so happy to see the expectant moms, getting good health care for themselves and their unborn babies, and to see the moms with babies under two getting classes in childrearing and parenting skills, with the babies receiving tender care right next to their moms. When I told the warden how grateful I was to see such excellent care for these women and children, he replied, “Thank yourself. Catholic Charities runs it.”

Case closed . . .

Lent Offerings

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

In my last blog post, I referred to Francis Cardinal George’s excellent column from Catholic New World entitled What are you going to give up this Lent?  I found this column to be especially interesting. I thought I would highlight it for you by reprinting it in its entirety.

Catholic New World

The Cardinal’s Column

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

February 26, 2012

What are you going to give up this Lent?

The Lenten rules about fasting from food and abstaining from meat have been considerably reduced in the last forty years, but reminders of them remain in the fast days on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and in the abstinence from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Beyond these common sacrifices that unite us spiritually to the passion of Christ, Catholics were and are encouraged to “give up” something voluntarily for the sake of others. Often this is money that could have been used for personal purposes and instead is given to help others, especially the poor.

This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice. It is the consequence of the already much discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.

Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.

So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.

Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.

Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.

If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.

The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.

 

Protecting Religious Freedom

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A few days ago, I came across an interesting column in The Long Island Catholic written by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville CentreHe writes about President Obama’s healthcare mandate.

Here is an excerpt:

This mandate is a radical incursion on the part of our government into freedom of conscience founded on our religious beliefs! It contravenes the First Amendment and several federal laws. More importantly, it violates the law of God who gave us life and calls us to respect all human life. The Bill of Rights assures us that we have a right in this country to obey God’s law and follow our conscience, free to live out our religious beliefs as individual persons and as institutions. Forcing all of us to buy or provide coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into our freedom of conscience and religious exercise.

There is in this mandate a very narrow exception clause that is practically meaningless to the exercise of freedom of conscience and religious belief. It would, in an alarming number of circumstances, not except or exempt even Jesus, or anyone else who offers the healing care of Jesus to others, from being forced to act like persons who do not share their beliefs. It is, therefore, a direct assault on our own right to freedom of exercise of our beliefs. Further, with so few exceptions protecting religious freedom, this mandate forces virtually all insurance plans to cover such services and, in so doing, endangers the ability of our Catholic hospitals to continue to provide health care according to the tenets of Jesus and the Church, rather than the government.

You can read his whole column here.

Public Discourse

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I came across two great articles from Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good that I thought was worth sharing.

Austin R. Nimocks, a Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, wrote an article about the Defense of Marriage Act. He explains why the state should support the Act.

Here is an excerpt:

What DOMA addresses is not just a law or creature of statute, but a social institution that has universally crossed all political, religious, sociological, geographical, and historical lines. As the philosopher and self-described atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex.” He continued, “it is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.” Renowned anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss observed that “the family—based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children—appears to be a practically universal phenomenon, present in every type of society.”

You can read the whole article here.

Public Discourse has another article written by Helen Alvaré, an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law. Alvaré opposes the new health-insurance plans that requires contraception to be included in preventive care services for women.

Here is an excerpt:

The greatest attack on women’s freedom is last week’s recommendation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that the new health care law should mandate “the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods [and] sterilization procedures” as “preventive services.” This means that every health insurance plan must provide these services without co-pays or deductibles. “Grandfathered” employer plans are exempted, but these lose their “grandfathered” status if the plans are significantly changed; HHS estimates that by 2013, about 88 million Americans’ preventive services coverage will be affected by federal decisions.

You can read the whole article here.

Keeping Health Care Universal

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This is a very significant week for a cause championed by an overwhelming majority of Americans: health care reform. Our prayers are with our president and elected officials in D.C. as they work hard at bringing about a bill that is just and good for the country we love.

Thoughtful Catholics are especially attentive to this effort, but we find ourselves in a tough spot.

On the one hand, we are enthusiastic about universal health care. The Catholic community in the United States, led by brave sisters, have been on the front line of tending lovingly for the sick and frail for centuries, way before government ever got into it.  The bishops have been advocating universal health care for nearly a century. So, we sure want to see it work, and appreciate the efforts of the president and both parties in Congress to bring it home.

On the other hand, we’re worried.  Health care, we insist, has to be truly universal. That means everybody – the baby in the womb, his or her mother, the poor, the immigrant, and our elders until natural death.

So, although there’s a lot for us to cheer about, especially a provision for expectant mothers in the Senate’s version – which, if I understand correctly, is what the president and many of the majority party are promoting – there remains a grave concern: that our money will be used for abortion.

For the last three-and-a-half decades, the only legal protection the unborn baby could count on was the Hyde Amendment, guaranteeing that no tax money could pay for an abortion.  Simply put, this provision has to be assured in any bill.  If not, health care would not be universal at all.

That’s why we were so relieved when the president himself stated that no federal money should ever pay for an abortion, and that he had no plan to tamper with the status quo on abortion.

That’s why we applauded when the House bill assured precisely this in the Stupak Amendment.

But – and here’s the alarm – the Senate bill has been gutted of such a guarantee.  We’re worried, because a cause we very much welcome has become ominous, and could be unacceptable.

Our analysis, made in broad consultation with partners from other faiths and with an array of health providers, is that the Senate version does not reflect the protections of the Hyde Amendment.

Some others, even a few Catholic observers, tell us not to worry, because the Senate bill would keep the protection of Hyde in place.  Good.  Then they will not mind an explicit mention of it, or even the language of the Stupak or Casey amendments.

All we ask is that the bill be consistent with the president’s assurances, that the abortion license will not be extended, and that the decades-long protection of the Hyde Amendment continue.

We’re not the obstructionists here, since all we’re insisting upon is that the understanding that tax money not pay for abortions, in place since 1975, remains.

It is instead those who have radically altered the debate to open a loophole to eliminate the Hyde Amendment who are risking the very fate of this legislation.

It’s so easy: just say straight-out that the Hyde amendment is still in place.

That keeps health care universal.

Bishop Tobin and Representative Kennedy

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Over this past weekend, several people mentioned to me Representative Patrick Kennedy’s blast at bishops for allegedly dividing the nation on the issue of healthcare; you can view the video here. His remarks were sad, uncalled-for, and inaccurate.

The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare. We’ve been energetically into it for centuries. And we bishops have been advocating for universal healthcare for a long, long time.

All we ask is that it be just that — universal — meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider’s right to follow his/her own conscience.

This is what the President says he wants; this is what we bishops say we want.

Bishop Thomas Tobin, Representative Kennedy’s bishop, has a good point: Mr. Kennedy owes us an apology.