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In response to some recent posts about the Catholic Bishops position on abortion and health care, some have chided me for caring too much about what the Bishops think. After all, there’s plenty of evidence that Catholics don’t follow the Bishops on a wide variety of political or social issues, from abortion to contraception to the Iraq war.
But I believe Bishops matter a great deal politically when it comes to the abortion-and-health care debate.
1) They want health care reform to pass. Most pro-life groups are either opposed to Democratic-style universal health care plans (e.g. Family Research Council) or neutral (Right to Life Committee). The Catholic Bishops are the only major pro-life group that wants health care reform. As a result, they have no interest in using the abortion issue to block health care. So when they raise objections about abortion provisions, members of congress may perceive them to be substantively rather than politically motivated.
3) The Bishops give Democrats political cover. The question of abortion and health care is complicated. Some of the issues reside in gray zones, where both pro-life and pro-choice groups can make plausible claims. If the Bishops support the health care package, Democrats and moderate Republicans would have a simple, jargon-free, non-technical response to charges that the plan encourages abortion: “Would the Catholic Bishops really have supported this if it encouraged abortion?”
My usual disclaimer: I’m not commenting on the substance of abortion policy, just the political realities.