Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Numbers Back the Bishops

The recent survey commissioned by the USCCB on Americans' support/opposition to health care reform and abortion provisions within said reform paints an encouraging picture for the Catholic Church in the U.S. The poll finds strong support for efforts to reform health care so that it covers everyone, strong support for maintaining current conscience protections for medical professionals, and strong opposition to efforts to fund abortion through health care reform -- all positions endorsed by the U.S. bishops.

The survey was conducted by International Communications Research (ICR), a nationally recognized market research organization, and a break-down of their survey finds that:

Americans favor efforts to pass health care reform to provide health insurance for all (60 percent to 30 percent); those favoring health care reform oppose “measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their federal taxes" (60 percent to 25 percent); those favoring reform oppose “measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their health insurance premiums” (49 to 39 percent); those who favor reform also favor maintaining “current federal laws that protect doctors and nurses from being forced to perform or refer for abortions against their will” (60 percent to 30 percent).

When the field is widened to include all adults surveyed, even more are opposed to requiring people to pay for abortion coverage through their taxes (67 percent) or through their insurance premiums (56 percent). Also, when asked “If the choice were up to you, would you want your own insurance policy to include abortion?” the overwhelming majority said no (68 percent to 24 percent who said yes).

These numbers should certainly be encouraging to the Catholic Church for the simple fact that they reflect a real pro-life sensibility. But they're even more encouraging for the bishops in that they confirm that the principles and priorities that the bishops have been calling for on health care reform are in sync with mainstream American values. The proverbial wind is at their backs.

It's something that members of Congress should really stop to consider. Even when the bishops send letters critical of abortion provisions in proposed legislation, they express the view of a majority of supporters of health care reform when they say abortion should not be part of it. They're saying, in effect, we're the leaders of the largest religious denomination in this country, we've advocated in favor of this issue for decades, and we stand with a majority of Americans on this point. I'm not a member of Congress, but I'd like to think that's a powerful message.

It's also a particularly powerful at a time -- now -- when the eventual shape of health care reform is so up in the air. Both houses of Congress have bills, all of which have failings in their abortion language and other areas. But those bills are subject to amendments, and the bishops and their staff are highly engaged in the process of urging legislators to make these bills acceptable. The bishops will not support a final bill that funds abortions or doesn't include adequate conscience protections.

Of course, even stronger than just the bishops speaking out and holding up the principles of Catholic teaching would be the entire Catholic community witnessing to what our teaching and tradition have to say about health care. Hence the call in this video from Bishop Murphy (USCCB Domestic Justice and Human Development chairman) for all Catholics to speak with a united voice on this issue.

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