Supreme Court’s health-care decision: Two Catholic cheers

JASON REED REUTERS Protesters against President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare overhaul react outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 28, … Continued



Protesters against President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare overhaul react outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 28, 2012. A sharply divided Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the centerpiece of Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul law that requires that most Americans get insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

What might Catholics think about the Supreme Court’s narrow vindication of the basic features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Like many Catholic progressives, I shouted out two big cheers. But, I can’t quite yet raise that loud third cheer. The court’s decision wonderfully affirms the act’s basic provisions. And those provisions can get America close to the dream that the institutional Catholic Church has long promoted —government-assured, universal health care for all. So, two boisterous Catholic cheers!

Why not a third cheer? Because despite nearly a year’s hard efforts, faith-based groups and the Obama administration have not been able to hammer out the critical last tweaks on exemptions needed by religious organizations in regard to the ACA’s contraception mandate. With the momentum and enthusiasm from the court’s vindication, let’s put shoulders to the wheel and roll out those needed tweaks now.

With those tweaks, many more Catholics can support the law. At least since 1919, the Catholic Church in the United States has insisted that government must assure universal health-care coverage to all Americans. In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI has insisted that such coverage is a right the foundation of which is found in both the divinely ordained dignity of the human person and the moral imperative of the common good.

This century-long advocacy for government’s role in assuring health-care coverage flows not from Catholic teachings about charity, but from teachings about justice. In the same way that the church perceives the protection of life from conception to natural death as an issue of justice, so, too, it perceives the moral imperative for health care for all as a basic requirement of justice.

Health care for the poor and others who cannot pay is in no way a charitable gift from those who have to those who have not. Its morality is not that of noblesse oblige. Rather, for traditional Catholic teachings, health care’s moral weight comes from the justice at stake in assuring the dignity of life and from the mutual social justice that requires putting the common good ahead of self interest.

Thanks to President Obama, thanks to extraordinary leaders in Congress, and now thanks to brilliant adjudication by the Supreme Court, America, at long last, is close to measuring up to those measures of justice. Many Catholics are poised to join in the cheering.

Like many of those Catholics and other pro-lifers, I’m also gratified that decisions by lower courts have time and again affirmed the effectiveness of President Obama’s executive order against any federal funding of abortions in the ACA. I’m grateful for the stalwart leadership of Democrats like outgoing Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in helping to insure that protection. The attorneys of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remain mistaken in interpreting the ACA’s state exchanges as allowing federal funding of abortion. The leadership of Democrats like Nelson and Stupak resolved those issues.

This week’s Supreme Court decision makes all of this more glorious. Health care for almost all Americans! No more denial of coverage for people with cancer or other expensive conditions! Better health care for seniors! Medicaid coverage for the working poor! Extended family coverage for college-agers! A host of special programs (thanks to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania) for at-risk pregnant moms and newborns! The law is not perfect, of course. Some Americans such as undocumented immigrants aren’t covered. But for Catholics, the ACA brings us close to what our church has pushed for since 1919. Hooray, hooray!

So, why not make the celebration complete? With the energy that supporters of the ACA are all feeling today, let’s push through those last couple of tweaks to the law’s religious exemptions to enable millions more Americans to join in the applause for this historic law.

Surely there are ways within the law to provide contraception coverage to all who want it that don’t require religious organizations to compromise tenets of their faith. Indeed, there are ways to exempt religious organizations completely while also providing more comprehensive contraception coverage than under the complicated tangle of existing ACA rules and accommodations. Religious organizations and contraception advocates can both cheer.

Let’s do these last tweaks! Let’s bring millions more supporters of universal health care into our celebration! Hooray, hooray… hooray?

Steve Schneck is director of Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America and a board member of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Written by

  • cricket44

    Actually, two cheers is better than getting a third by discriminating against female employees by denying them benefits they’ve already earned. Let’s protect *their* religious liberties.

    Religious organizations do NOT have their tenets compromised within the scope of religion. It’s the *over-reach* that has been, justifiably, stopped.

    I realize that anti-choicers don’t give a sh** but women DO actually have the same right to healthcare coverage as men. You keep your last hooray, and we’ll all be better off.

  • jfair1

    Good grief…preserving religious freedom and liberty goes a little beyond a tweak!


    You catholics already threw out the baby with the bath water, so you have come out firmly against health care reform.

    All because of your primitive notions about reproductive freedom.

  • job22

    Thanks Steve, We don’t agree on the third hurrah, but I appreciate someone who can at least separate out the fact that there is a lot more good going on in this bill, rather than the “evil” some religious claim because they don’t like one part. Asthe song goes
    “you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need” and we desparately needed a healthcare overhaul. I hope that we can come to a reasonable compromise on the last part, keeping in mind that there are also many that believe contraception is part of God’s plan, just as many other medical advances are. It’s a two way street.

  • verbummilitant


    Noone is trying to discriminate against a mother’s right to have an abortionist slowly cut off the arms and legs of an baby in their mother’s womb before sucking out the mutilated remains. I know you relish the right to butcher babies. That is your choice. I ,however, do not want to fund or support your ObamaNation!

    Seems reasonable to me.

  • IntellectOne

    When did they take out the ‘Birth-control Pills, Abortion on demand, and sterilization? When did the President sign an Executive Order to rectify this ‘Bad Law’? He never will and he never did. After all he is the ‘Poster Boy” for The and Planned Parenthood. Just last week he was campaigning at a High School about Birth-control pills. He said, ‘Let’s keep the Birth Control Pills affordable in the Healthcare Bill aka Obamacare.. Since when does the President of United States Pimp from his Bully-pulpit?

  • IndependentLiberalRepublican=Moderate

    Why can’t you all just do this, we just need the tweak to say that it doesn’t force Catholic Institutions to provide birth control in any form. We’re not trying to control the other hospitals. Just Catholic Institutions, Is it that hard to ask for just a small favor, we want the Health Care Bill just don’t make us do something that is against our beliefs, Otherwise if you want to fund contraception, birth control pills, abortions feel free to have those at other hospitals. But to ask a Catholic Institution to provide any of these things is like asking Jewish or Muslim people to eat pork when they don’t want to or Hindus to eat beef. Or to tell Jews to come to work on the Sabbat or tell Muslims to stop praying in the middle of the day during work or in a public place. Or Amish people to use “English World” things, or some sects of Buddhist monks to use technology. It just against their given principle. Is it that hard to ask for tiny small amendment that exempts Catholic Institutions? You’re just giving ammo to Mitt Romney and wedging liberals against each other.

  • cricket44

    Verbumm, your stance is based on chosen ignorance. You really ought to do some legitimate research or continue to look foolish. That, too, is a choice.

  • twmatthews

    verbummilitant, I was and remain today, vehemently against the war in Iraq not only because of the impact on America and Americans, but also because of its impact on Iraqis and the way in which “W” sold this war to America.

    Should I be allowed to withhold my portion of taxes that a family paid toward funding that war?

    The author of this article was talking about the right to exclude contraception from a religious affiliated healthcare plan. They weren’t talking about abortion.

    When any religion’s beliefs violate the law, religion must yield.

  • twmatthews

    What do you do with a hospital that is part Catholic and part something else? There are at least 8 hospitals that are the result of a merger between a Catholic hospital and one or more nonCatholic hospitals.

    The reality is that Catholics want to not have to follow the law related to what minimum healthcare coverage but still want to enjoy tax benefits of a charitable organization and still want to hire nonCatholics.

    There’s nothing in the law requiring a practicing Catholic to use birth control. But the same options for contraception must be available to all employees.