he 40 days of Lent which evokes the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert is a time of conversion and reconciliation. Yet, even as we have passed the mid-point in our Lenten observances, the word “reconciliation” has taken on a new and infelicitous connotation in our secular world. Reconciliation as a “legislative process intended to allow consideration of a contentious budget bill without the threat of a filibuster” seems now to be the preferred tactic of the Democratic leadership in Congress to secure passage of what has come to be known as Obamacare. While such reconciliation might bring together the House and Senate health care reform proposals, it will not bring together the nation – for, however, the two bills may be reconciled, serious flaws remain.
Almost everyone regardless of political ideology agrees that there is a need to fix “health care” in our nation: our present system serves too few people and at too high a cost. The U.S. Bishops have consistently advocated for health care reform for more than 40 years. We believe that health care is a basic human right – and we continue to support adequate and affordable health care for all. Health care coverage should not be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here.
However, no health care legislation is better than bad health care legislation. And, we fear that the “reconciliation” process will give us bad legislation. Any genuine health care reform must protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death and not threaten it. Those pushing “reconciliation” in order to get health care pass now have opened the door to an expansion of abortion coverage by refusing to incorporate language that would honor conscience protections presently afforded individuals and institutions by the Church, Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Using taxpayers’ money to pay for other people’s abortions would make all citizens complicit in what many regard as a morally heinous act. The so called “pro choice” advocates now argue that Roe v. Wade did not merely declare a “right” to have the government not interfere with a woman’s privacy; they assert the “right” to have the government positively assist in a woman’s having an abortion. Whatever you might call it, a procedure that results in the death of a living human being – whether at the beginning or end of life – is not health care.
The lack of conscience protections in proposed health care legislation – like recent attempts at “redefining” the traditional understanding of marriage – undermines the religious freedom that has been part of the history of this country for more than two centuries. Religious freedom is at the foundation of all of our other freedoms. Cardinal George said in a recent speech: “The founding Fathers understood when they amended the Constitution that the separation of church and state springs from a concept of limited government and favors a public role for churches and other religious bodies in promoting the civic virtues that are vitally necessary in a well functioning democracy.”
The deep moral flaws in the Congressional majority’s health care reform proposal must be corrected through amendments that protect conscience before any attempt to push it through by “reconciliation”. For the continued flourishing of our society, Congress must not dismantle a social order that respects religious freedom and recognizes that government should never stand between the consciences and the religious practice of its citizens and Almighty God. If congressional “reconciliation” gives us expanded abortion coverage and eliminates conscience protection, the results will not be a healthier nation but one more divided and less reconciled than it had been before this debate began.