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Catholics face moral crisis between healthcare reform and abortion

Catholics have long supported healthcare reform. But many now worry that it might compromise existing restrictions on federal funding of abortions, leaving them with a tough choice.

By G. Jeffrey MacdonaldCorrespondent / December 11, 2009

The healthcare reform debate could soon bring many Roman Catholics to a wrenching moral dilemma: Should they support a bill that expands healthcare to the poor, even if it involves so many uncertainties surrounding access to abortion?

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For months, bishops have made their guidance plain: If the final bill weakens a ban on public funding for abortion, then Catholics should oppose it. But they are finding many of their antiabortion adherents willing to embrace what they see as a greater good – improving access to healthcare – even if it undercuts the church’s stand against abortion.

For Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, a 50,000-member lay movement that pushes for public policy to reflect Catholic social teachings, Catholics must have open minds: “The wrong thing would be for anyone to be so firmly entrenched in their positions on federal funding of abortion that they’re not willing to come to the table and talk about a compromise.”

Healthcare reform is a historic opportunity, adds Victoria Kovari, interim president of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a 45,000-member advocacy group informed by Catholic social teachings.

“We share all the bishops’ concerns,” she says. “The difference is [our] feeling that we would be morally remiss if we walked away from all of healthcare [reform]. We have to take seriously our call to be about what’s good for the whole human family.”

Strong support of healthcare reform

During the past decade, Catholics have overwhelmingly supported a government guarantee of healthcare access for all citizens – regardless of cost. More than 70 percent of US Catholics supported such a guarantee in 2002 and again in 2006, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington.

Catholic opinions on abortion rights have been more evenly divided. But opposition to abortion rights has been growing, and certain types of Catholics – such as minorities who struggle to pay for medical services – are likely to be especially conflicted about the tension between healthcare and abortion, says John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio who studies religious dynamics in politics.

The issue is contentious in congressional debates, too. The question is not whether tax dollars ought to directly fund abortion; most lawmakers and President Obama agree they should not. Rather, the question is how to limit public money for insurers who cover abortions while still guaranteeing access to the procedure.