Lose-Lose on Abortion
Obama's threat to Catholic hospitals and their very serious counterthreat.
And those who argue that FOCA poses no actual threat to Catholic hospitals are not so laid back when it comes to assessing the threat that conscience laws supposedly pose to clinics. Whenever I see conscience laws written about in—even in print, I have to sigh before saying this—the mainstream media, they are always framed as Italianate laws that would force unsuspecting abortionists to hire kooks who would then crow, "Ha! Gotcha, I'm a pro-lifer, so I'm going for coffee now. See ya on payday.''
Even without the passage of FOCA, conscientious objectors are already feeling pressure to provide services they don't believe in. Sister Carol Keehan, a former hospital administrator who runs the Catholic Health Association, told the Times that "we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations." This is why the Bush administration is trying to rush through a new Health and Human Services regulation that the New York Times said would grant "sweeping new protections'' to health care providers opposed to abortion on moral grounds.
If Bush's HHS does manage to push through the proposed changes before Tom Daschle takes over there, Obama has promised to rescind the new regulation. The president's supporters say it merely implements existing legal protections for conscientious objectors (much like abortion-rights supporters say FOCA only codifies Roe).
So where does all this leave us? On the one hand, I agree with Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., who reminded his brother bishops in Baltimore to "keep in mind a prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin, and it seems to me what we need is a prophecy of solidarity, with the community we serve and the nation that we live in."
And as I think I have made clear—here, here, here, and here—I have high hopes for President Obama, I was so looking forward to dancing at this party. Yet, although abortion was not a major issue in the race, the pro-life argument that he was the candidate most likely to decrease the need for—and number of—abortions did make it easier for many Catholics to cast their votes for him. I think we should hold him to that commitment now.
At the very moment when Obama and his party have won the trust of so many Catholics who favor at least some limits on abortion, I hope he does not prove them wrong. I hope he does not make a fool out of that nice Doug Kmiec, who led the pro-life charge on his behalf. I hope he does not spit on the rest of us—though I don't take him for the spitting sort—on his way in the door. I hope that his appointment of Ellen Moran, formerly of EMILY's List, as his communications director is followed by the appointment of some equally good Democrats who hold pro-life views. By supporting and signing the current version of FOCA, Obama would reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign. This is a fight he just doesn't need at a moment when there is no shortage of other crises to manage.
Melinda Henneberger is a Slate contributor and the author of If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians To Hear.
Photograph of Barack Obama by Brian Kersey-Pool/Getty Images.