When Catholic bishops control health care for all of us

This piece, written by SC Progressive Network member Herb Silverman, ran in The Washington Post.

By Herb Silverman
Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America and Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry

Q: U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have — or not have — in government policymaking?

I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with a pilot who had never before flown, nor would I seek sexual guidance from a Catholic bishop who, presumably, had never “flown.” I also think Catholic bishops should have no moral authority when it comes to matters involving sex. The Catholic faithful may choose to live their lives based on pronouncements by priests, bishops, and the pope, and I support their right to do so. But bishops have no right to impose their sectarian beliefs on the rest of us.

Catholic bishops have injected themselves into Congressional deliberations over health-care reform for one primary reason, their updated scarlet A–abortion. And abortion is, after all, first a matter of having sex–which Catholic clergy condemn when it is outside of marriage; when it is within marriage if birth control is used; when it is between homosexuals (whose marriage they would also condemn); and even when it is with oneself (masturbation). Reasons for having abortions vary greatly, and include pregnancy that threatens the mother’s health or life, pregnancy that comes from rape or incest, likelihood of seriously deformed or incurably ill baby, an inconvenient pregnancy, an inability to support and care for a child, a dislike of children. Catholic clergy ignore individual cases with their one-size-fits-all pronouncement about abortion. Americans should be allowed to make up their own minds about the need for and morality of abortion, and should not be denied on the basis of the Catholic theology of sin.

This is not to condemn those from either the left or the right whose faith motivates them to enter the political arena or engage in political issues. However, whatever the motivation, Congress needs to make sure their policies are backed for good secular reasons. That is why we have as law the Three Commandments: don’t steal, murder, or commit perjury. Most of the other seven are sectarian and deal with whom, how, and when to worship. These are properly left for individuals to decide.

Since there are good secular reasons for providing health care for the poor, I see nothing wrong with Catholic bishops and other religious people advocating for reform. Unfortunately, if the bishops don’t get their way on abortion, the signs are that they will try to scuttle health care reform for millions of Americans. The irony is that some women have abortions because they could not afford contraception and cannot afford to provide for a baby because of our inadequate health care system. As far as I can tell, the biblical Jesus said nothing about abortion, but had a lot to say about the poor. Perhaps some Catholic bishops should ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?”

2 thoughts on “When Catholic bishops control health care for all of us

  1. While I appreciate Mr. Silverman’s wit, I wonder if he’d also say, “‘I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with a pilot who had never before flown, nor would I seek emergency suicide counseling from someone who had never jumped off a bridge”? His argument can be applied equally to Mr. Silverman himself, as a male pontificating on abortion: how many women, particularly in their 3d TERM, think ANY pregnancy is anything but “inconvenient”? Only a man could write that!

    Mr. Silverman seems to think that abortion is the only issue of interest to the Catholic bishops… and then only to ensure that it is restricted (his anti-Christian predilictions make him a bit silly, too; I’ve heard of very few people getting pregnant from homosexual sex or masturbation, so it has little to do with the health care argument over abortion). Perhaps he missed the part about ´health care for the poor’ being a moral, rather than a purely economic, issue. Perhaps he has equally failed to note that a great many hospitals in the US were founded by the Roman Catholic Church to serve the poor (including St. Francis Hospital in his home town of Charleston), and many continue to be owned in full or in part by the Roman Catholic Church.

    I started much closer to where he stands on the issue, as a believer that it was the right of the woman to choose what she did with her body and her life. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am the grandfather of a perfectly healthy and intelligent second grader who was born significantly prematurely to a mother made very ill by the pregnancy (placenta praevia, gestational diabetes, etc.)… born so prematurely that he could have been, and was encouraged to be, legally aborted.

    The argument lost a lot of its weight with me when I realized that my grandson, who is certainly a human being (or as human as any 5 year old can be!) would, under current law, have no choice at all about what happened to his body and his life, given that he was not yet born. Had my daughter chosen to abort, she would have been legally justified. My grandson would be dead.

    The fact that a child is still within the womb certainly doesn’t mean he’s not yet a human being… my grandson didn’t suddenly ‘become human’ at some specified moment during the C-section. Yes, he required hospital care after birth, and was hospitalized for a month. Does his inability to survive without assistance mean he was not human? Can a full-term, healthy infant feed, clean and dress himself, or will he too die if left untended?

    When I look at the ‘reasons’ for abortion Mr. Silverman gives, I’m a bit stunned. “The likelihood of a seriously deformed baby”? I am handicapped (or disabled, or ‘otherly abled’, or whatever) and am in pain 24/7. I still wouldn’t want to be dead, particularly without being allowed my own right to choose. “Inability to support and care for a child” or “a dislike of children”? Has he any idea how long the waiting lists are to adopt, and how difficult/expensive it is? Families now wait almost three years, and pay $25-50,000 for a child from China, because there aren’t any available here. In cases where the mother’s life is at risk, I’ll make some exceptions, but otherwise I have trouble buying the idea that the avoidance of six or seven months of annoyance or unhappiness weighs more heavily than an entire human lifetime, such as that of my grandson.

    Abortion is only one of the bishops’ issues… but it’s the only one that Mr. Silverman can use to attack religion, even if he risks losing a chance at health care for the great mass of the poor in order to protect the “right” to abortion for the far, far smaller percentage of the population who might desire one (and at the cost of the lives of an equal number of people like my grandson, whose desires, obviously, aren’t taken into account).

  2. Conego, I’m happy your grandson and daughter are healthy.

    But you were right to begin with. It’s my body, my life, quit trying to legislate my reproductive tract. Having a child is a life-changing event, whether it is given up for adoption or kept. College students, young professionals, fear of the foster care system that the child would be placed in… there are plenty of circumstances that warrant an abortion instead of adoption.

    The Catholic church has no business interfering in American politics. The last time I heard there was separation of church and state in this country…

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