Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't believe everything you read about FOCA

If you've been paying attention to certain news sources, you may get the impression that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) will have no impact on Catholic hospitals. This may be the beginning. First of all, the real danger with FOCA is its ambiguity. It is a very short bill that essentially declares abortion a fundamental right, which has never been done before. (Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision, just decriminalized abortion - it didn't technically make it legal via legislation.) There aren't many specifics in the text of FOCA besides the fact that no state or local governments have the right to infringe upon this federally-mandated "right" to abortion. This is what is scary. FOCA's sponsors intentionally leave the bill vague because they know that any future challenges to the law will be lost in court.

This brings me to Catholic hospitals. You may have heard that the threat to Catholic hospitals isn't real, or is just a scare tactic. But the truth is, with legislation this undefined, anything is possible...even likely. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida recently downplayed the threat in a statement through Catholic News Service. "Idle threats about the certain closing of Catholic hospitals if certain things happen are simply that – idle," he said. "Catholic hospitals will not allow abortions to be performed in their facilities," Lynch wrote and they will not comply with forced abortion laws “even if our actions constitute civil disobedience."

This sounds good and would be if it weren't for the fact that if they don't comply under FOCA, they'll eventually be shut down! I would hope that Catholic health care would put up a good fight, but most likely, if this law is passed as-is, it would be a losing battle. And if that happens, we're in serious trouble.

In 2005, 573 Catholic hospitals treated 84.7 million patients. Catholic hospitals treat the majority of poor an uninsured patients. If they were to close, that would leave a huge void in the healthcare system, costs would skyrocket, and secular hospitals would overflow like we've never seen before.

It would be devastating to the U.S. healthcare system for Catholic hospitals to be forced to close their doors. But perhaps Bishop Lynch is right. Perhaps the threat to Catholic hospitals is not as grave as some are making it out to be. Perhaps. But in my opinion, as unspecific as FOCA is, anything is possible. And I know the agenda of those who support FOCA. It seems our best bet is "better safe than sorry" and to urge our congressmen immediately to oppose FOCA...before we even have a chance to find out if Bishop Lynch is right.

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