Kissling Is Wrong Again

Frances Kissling may be my least favorite co-religionist. She has made a career vaunting her credentials as a courageous woman, challenging the hierarchy of the Church, seemingly unaware that in a culture that is already fiercely anti-authoritarian and which champions dissent in any form, her stance is not precisely one that merits the adjective courageous. The fact that her moral views track so neatly with the ambient secular culture's views suggests that any claim to a prophetic stance is also beyond her reach. She has become, to borrow a phrase from Cardinal George, a chaplain to the status quo.

In a post at Religion Dispatches, she takes on the USCCB's and the Catholic Health Association's objections to a proposed new rule that would require all health care insurance plans to cover certain procedures that the Church finds morally objectionable. She wrongly states that this has nothing to do with abortion. First, the drug "Ella," which is clearly an abortifacient, would be covered and, secondly, the issue is what a government can and cannot dictate so allowing the government to say you must cover contraception sets a dangerous precedent for any future governmental effort to require insurance plans to cover abortion.

The heart of her argument, however, is found in this paragraph:

Many years ago, when Fr. Michael Place, then director of CHA, and I were on a panel at the American Bar Association regarding conscience and Catholic hospitals, I asked him a very simple question: “I respect your right to refuse to perform a procedure you consider immoral, but I do not understand how you can feel so passionately for your own right to follow your conscience and that you seem not to see that women and patients also have consciences. How are you going to honor their conscience if we as a society agree to honor yours?” He had no answer, and it seems that the Catholic bishops and the CHA are still unable to address that dilemma.

I will take Kissling's word for the assertion that Father Place had no answer. Here is mine. The Church is not saying people are unfree - legally, we are not talking about the moral law here - to purchase contraception or to get sterilized or even to purchase abortifacients. We are saying that our Catholic institutions should not have to pay for insurance plans that cover those procedures or those drugs. The government has long recognized the rights of organizations and, indeed of individuals, to opt out of such mandated coverage. In the federal employee health plan, there is a robust conscience exemption alongside the robust mandated care. It is not the bishops who are trying to change the rules of the game here.

I suppose Kissling is concerned about those women who wish to procure such services and who work at Catholic institutions. Well, I know there is no definite way for the law to provide for common sense, but my hunch is that most women who decide to work for the Church do not do so in order to get insurance coverage for abortifacients. Lord knows they don't work for the Church for the money either! Kissling's complaint is akin to a vegetarian complaining about the lack of menu options at a burger joint. Complain away, but the solution is to head down the street to the tofu cafe, is it not?

Kissling also notes that Catholic institutions could, in fact, get along with the new rule by asserting that their cooperation is only "immediate material cooperation under duress." But, why should the government seek to make Catholics act under duress in the first place when there is a ready solution at hand in the form of more robust conscience exemptions?

What is most insidious about Kissling's article - and indeed her entire career - is that she is trying to sow divisions within the fold, to suggest that Catholic hospitals should oppose the bishops, or that the Catholic Health Association is somehow caving to pressure from the bishops. Excuse me, but anyone who knows Sr. Carol Keehan knows that the verb "to cave" is not in her vocabulary. There is a woman who follows her conscience and knows that there is a difference between the dictates of conscience and the editorial stance of the New York Times, a fact seemingly lost on Kissling. She and the organization she founded, Catholics for Choice, are deeply confused in their moral reasoning and, in this article, she expands that confusion to elemental constitutional concerns. It is sad.


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