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Media Matters Response to WaPo Piece on Kennedy

Liberal group Media Matters has an interesting response to the Washington Post piece by David Waters that I mentioned this morning on Congressman Patrick Kennedy's war of words with the Catholic Church over health care reform and abortion.

The backstory, in a nutshell: some Catholic bishops support universal health care, but say they'll oppose health insurance reform legislation that doesn't bar any government funds from being used to pay for abortions. Kennedy has criticized that as "an absolute red herring and I don't think that it does anything but to fan the flames of dissent and discord and I don't think it's productive at all" and said "If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health care reform because it's going to provide health care that are going to keep people alive."

In response, Waters writes:

"Kennedy's comments do seem to ignore some crucial facts: Most importantly -- as Georgetown/On Faith blogger Thomas J. Reese points out -- U.S. Catholic bishops for decades have been at the forefront of the campaign for health-care reform. 'The bishops are appalled that more than 46 million people do not have health insurance,' Reese wrote."

Well, no.  Kennedy's comments don't "ignore" the "crucial fact" that the bishops say they are appalled at the number of people without health insurance.  Kennedy's comments are in response to the bishops prioritization of abortion over health care.  People may agree with the bishops on that prioritization, but Waters is wrong to claim that Kennedy is "ignor[ing] some crucial facts."  In fact, Waters is missing the nature of the disagreement between Kennedy and the bishops, which is not about whether it is appalling that people lack health insurance, but about whether the bishops should oppose legislation that would insure them because it doesn't ban federal funds from indirectly paying for abortions.

Now, keep in mind, the question at hand isn't whether abortion should be legal -- that has literally nothing to do with  the current debate.  Nothing in the health care bill would have any effect on that.

The question, then, is whether to sacrifice what Waters describes as "a basic human right" that "Catholic bishops have spoken out consistently and courageously for" -- universal health care -- so as to avoid the possibility that public funds indirectly pay for abortions that are, regardless, quite legal.

Waters is so intent on siding with the Catholic Bishops and against Kennedy -- and on defending the Bishops for being "consistent" -- that he misses the real question.  It isn't whether the Bishops have long held the same position -- that's a standard that could be used to defend any number of unfortunate policy positions.  It's whether it is wise to sacrifice what you believe is a "basic human right" for the sake of what is essentially an accounting issue.  It's a question about the choices the bishops make when two long-stated priorities are in apparent tension.

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