At Slate, Melinda Henneberger worries that Barack Obama and national Democrats will lose the support of Catholics if they move quickly to pass the Freedom of Choice Act. Catholic hospitals, many of which are located in underserved areas, shouldn't be forced to perform abortions, Henneberger writes, because most of them would rather go out of business. That's a fair enough position to take, and yet there is no evidence that FOCA, as currently written, would do that. The law would simply enshrine Roe v. Wade legislatively, and could coexist with "conscience clauses." Check out Emily Douglas' reporting at RH Reality Check:
Would FOCA do as Hennenberger says - force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions?
Unequivocally no, says Jill Morrison, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center. Federal conscience clause law, such as the Church Amendment, states that simply receiving public funding does not turn a hospital into a "state actor," Morrison explains. "FOCA must be read consistently with existing federal law, unless the new law explicitly provides that it is intended to repeal existing law."
What's more, there is no evidence that lay Catholics are as incensed about Obama's pro-choice stance as the all-male priesthood and church leadership is. Polls show that, like most Americans, a majority of Catholics believe abortion should remain generally legal. Only about a quarter of Catholics agree with the bishops that all abortions should be outlawed. And 52 percent of Catholic women -- the voters who swung from George W. Bush to Obama -- say they prefer a hospital that provides abortion to one that doesn't.
I think Henneberger has overstated the potential political fall-out of Obama signing FOCA into law. Undoubtedly, religious conservatives and hardened abortion opponents will be outraged. But those aren't the folks who brought Obama to power, and they aren't the folks who'll keep him there if he wins reelection in four years. The only other thing I'd add is that controversy over Catholic hospitals isn't limited to their refusal to perform abortions, which I actually believe is legitimate. Many also do not provide emergency contraception, even to rape victims. Imagine being raped, arriving at the local hospital, and then being told you'll have to go elsewhere if you want pregnancy prevention to be part of your treatment.
cross-posted at TAPPED