Religious Dogma and the Health Care Debate

March 18, 2010

Readers of my blog are aware that I'm occasionally critical of religious beliefs.

OK, more than occasionally.

Critical examination of beliefs, religious or nonreligious, is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. We should question our fundamental beliefs and try to ensure they're justifiable based on reason and the available evidence.

In fostering a secular society, however, we should not limit ourselves to supporting critical reasoning. As stated in CFI's mission statement, we also need to work to end the influence that religion has on public policy. The heavy and distorting hand of religious influence on public policy can be felt in many areas, but the current debate over health care legislation provides us with a very poignant and disturbing example.

As everyone knows, debate on the Obama administration's health care plan is coming to an end and an up-or-down vote will be taken soon. The vote will be very close. The outcome may well depend on a small group of Democrats, led by Bart Stupak of Michigan, who have stated that they will vote against the proposed legislation because they are concerned that the bill may allow federal funds to be used to finance abortions. They are supported in their opposition to the bill by the nation's Catholic bishops.

First, by way of background, you should be aware that current law prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions. The health care bill will not change that.
Nonetheless, because the health care bill will fund Community Health Centers (CHC) and will provide subsidies to some individuals to help them purchase private insurance, Stupak and his friends claims that federal funds might be used to pay for abortions. They make this claim despite the fact that no CHC currently provides abortions. Furthermore, they make this claim despite the fact that the current language in the bill would require women who receive coverage under a subsidized plan to write a separate check for that portion of the premium that provides abortion services. Effectively, Stupak and his friends are worrying about an entirely hypothetical situation that has little, if anything, to do with the proposed legislation.

Stupak's position is so extreme that the other day a group of nuns and Catholic hospital administrators threw their support behind the current health care bill, rejecting the reasoning of Stupak and his allies.

What is truly amazing about this situation is that a handful of Congressional representatives, motivated entirely by their religious beliefs, can hold hostage a bill that is of monumental significance to millions of Americans. Obviously, there's a division of opinion among Americans about the merits of the proposed health care bill. Some maintain the bill is essential to remedy inequities in our health care system and that it is cost-effective. Others maintain it is a budget-buster and improperly requires Americans to obtain insurance coverage. But whatever one's views on the bill, the debate on the bill and the final vote on the bill should be based on the merits of the legislation -- not fears and suspicions fueled by religious dogma.

It is a tragedy that the status of American health care in the 21st century may depend on how some powerful clergy and their religiously rigid supporters interpret church doctrine.

Our secular society is still very much a work in progress.