The system of health care we have in America is decisive in determining whether our country protects our most vulnerable citizens: the unborn, their pregnant mothers, the poor, and the disabled. The right to life and religious freedom hang in the balance.
Today, our country may be less than three years away from a single-payer, centrally planned health care program. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) introduced the Medicare for All Act in the US Senate and House earlier this year, to great fanfare. The proposed legislation has been supported by several other presidential candidates, including Senators Booker, Warren, and Harris, as well as over 100 Members of Congress.
Establishing a single-payer health care program, such as Medicare for All, would place over 15 percent of the nation’s economy under government control, forcing over 150 million Americans to lose their private health insurance. Under Medicare for All and similar proposals, the federal government would make most of the major decisions about what medical procedures should and should not be paid for, what care patients can and cannot receive, and what procedures doctors can and cannot do.
Patient freedom would not survive a single-payer federally controlled health care system. The right to life would not survive a single-payer health care system. The right of religious freedom and faithfully Catholic health care would not survive such a federally controlled single-payer system.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Now is the time to advance a vision for patient-centered health care that preserves patient freedom, provides a safety net for the poor and vulnerable, and authentically upholds human and civil rights in our country.
The Stakes of the Health Care Debate
I am particularly sensitive to the importance of upholding civil rights in health care, since I attended a historically black law school with hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney. After graduation, through God’s providence, I came to see that the right to life is the foundation for all human and civil rights. These words of St. John Paul II became a beacon of light to me:
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
Our American way of life is founded upon sacrosanct human and civil rights, all of which rest upon the fundamental right to life. Without these rights, the Republic would be lost.
Today’s health care debate will play a large role in determining whether these treasured freedoms will survive. Health care deals with foundational questions about each person’s life, dignity, and identity. On a practical level, Medicare For All touches on every major issue in the pro-life movement, including whether:
- federal law will continue to prohibit federal funding for abortion, preserving the Hyde Amendment;
- pro-life women’s medical clinics and crisis pregnancy centers will remain open;
- abortion will be falsely normalized as “health care” across the country; and
- religious freedom will be protected for patients, doctors, hospitals, health insurers, other health care entities, and employers more broadly.
In addition, the outcome of this health care debate will determine whether patients and consumers will control their own health care decisions. It will determine whether persons who are chronically ill or disabled will receive the medical care they deserve or will be denied care because they do not have sufficient “quality of life.” Ultimately, the outcome of this debate will decide whether we respect the right to life.
A Federal Abortion Mandate
Specific provisions of the Medicare for All legislation introduced this year clearly demonstrate that it attempts to land a death blow to the pro-life movement. The Act’s provisions, for example, create a federal abortion mandate. Section 201 of both the House and Senate bills require that the Medicare for All program pay for “comprehensive reproductive, maternity, and newborn care.” Within the health care industry, the term “comprehensive reproductive care” includes elective abortion.
Furthermore, Section 701 of both the House and Senate legislation prohibit any restrictions on the use of funds for reproductive health: “Any other provision of law in effect on the date of enactment of this Act restricting the use of Federal funds for any reproductive health service shall not apply to monies in the Trust Fund.” In other words, Section 701 would override existing legislation that prevents federal funding of abortions.
If there is any doubt left as to whether Medicare for All creates a federal abortion mandate throughout the health care system, Senator Sanders’ own tweet demonstrates that the legislation would entrench publicly funded abortion throughout the American health care system.
Abortion is health care.
When we pass Medicare for All, we will be guaranteeing a woman’s right to control her own body by covering comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 15, 2019
Attacks on Religious Freedom
In addition to its threats to life, Medicare for All threatens religious freedom and the right of conscience through a provision that coerces medical professionals to perform procedures against their moral or religious convictions.
Section 104 of both the Senate and House Medicare for All bills is misleadingly referred to as a “nondiscrimination provision.” Troublingly, this section would require doctors and hospitals to either perform gender transition therapy, sex reassignment surgery, and other related procedures, or face the prospect of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Section 104 of the Medicare for All legislation was likely adapted from the Obama-era HHS regulation issued to enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Just last month, a federal district court judge struck down the Section 1557 regulation on the basis that it violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. Though the House version of the legislation prohibits discrimination based on religion, neither the House nor Senate bill provides meaningful protection for religious liberty or the individual right of conscience.
It is impossible to see how authentic Catholic health care could survive in a Medicare for All world in which elective abortions are mandated within a single-payer, federally controlled health care system; in which doctors, medical professionals, and hospitals are required to provide sex-reassignment surgery and other procedures that violate their religious beliefs, or face a federal civil rights lawsuit; and in which the Department of Health and Human Services issues regulations under the wrongful presumption that abortion and sex-reassignment surgery are health care.
These same concerns about patient freedom, the right to life, religious freedom, and human and civil rights still exist under the “public option” that former Vice President Joe Biden has discussed, or under the “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan that Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently announced. Even an optional national health care plan would still inevitably result in a government-controlled, national health care system, because such a sweeping federal government program would crush private health care options in the marketplace. Private health care cannot compete with the resources of the federal government. Furthermore, it is almost certain that any national health care option would include a federal abortion mandate and reject any meaningful protection for religious freedom.
What Can Be Done
What can you do about this?
First, be informed. Be aware that this battle to reform the nation’s health care system has massive implications for the pro-life movement to protect the unborn, mothers, and the poor and vulnerable.
Second, seek to understand Christian principles on the culture of life and health care, and share that understanding with others. Read relevant Church encyclicals concerning respect for human life. Stay engaged in the health care debate by sharing this story, other pro-life perspectives, and your own experience with your family, friends, church, associates, and community.
Third, join the movement for religious freedom in health care by signing up for the Christus Medicus Foundation’s Catholic Journal on Religious Freedom and Health Care, news alerts, and breaking news in Congress about relevant legislative and policy developments. If you are a doctor, medical professional, or otherwise involved in the health care industry, discern joining your local guild of the Catholic Medical Association.
Fourth, consider supporting and spreading the word about Health Care Choices 2020, a new patient-centered health care plan that respects the right to life, protects the poor and vulnerable, and would significantly reduce health care costs.
Legally, it is essential to ensure that our country have federal judges and US Supreme Court justices who respect the Constitution and the foundational principles of America. Politically, however, the greatest pro-life battle of our time is the struggle to define health care and the kind of health care system we should have in the United States. It has never been more urgent to join this great struggle to build a culture of love and justice.