This has also led to media coverage that disparages and misrepresents the bishops' position, for instance this August 18 piece from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, which appeared in the Huffington Post. While the bishops never dignified this piece with an official response, Richard Doerflinger, longtime pro-life expert for the USCCB answered many of her points in a later article.
I asked Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson for the USCCB's Pro-Life Secretariat, for some observations on the Planned Parenthood accusations.
Richards attacks the bishops for opposing federal abortion coverage, funding, etc., finding it "ironic," as if that opposition undermines the call for universal coverage. But McQuade noted, "First of all, Richards really doesn't get what universal health care means. 'Universal' health care means coverage for all people. In the bishops' definition of all people, this includes the poor, immigrants and the unborn."
McQuade added, "'Universal coverage' means that all human beings in need should have access to health care, not that all health plans should cover whatever elective procedures Richards favors. Our Catholic vision -- far from being exclusive or limiting -- supports the most inclusive definition of universal coverage."
McQuade then explained why the exclusion of abortion is completely fitting for the bishops' vision of health care.
"It's simple," she said. "Abortion is not medical care. Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition. Pregnant women are not carriers of illness but human beings with dignity who deserve optimum care along with their children, born and unborn."
Richards also casts the bishops as being out of step with the mainstream and using health care reform to advance their agenda. But McQuade pointed out that the bishops are actually standing up for longstanding and widely supported laws (i.e., the Hyde Amendment) when they oppose federal funding for abortion. Apparently, not only have federal funds long been kept from abortion, but even federal employee health benefits packages (the packages enjoyed by members of Congress) do not cover the vast majority of abortions.
"Since Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the United States, it is perhaps not surprising that Richards wants to consider abortion on demand an essential part of health care," McQuade said. "But most American disagree, and most doctors, nurses and hospitals do not provide abortions. It's really not that difficult to understand that killing is not a form of healing."
In light of these details, Richards' Huffington Post piece takes on something of "when you point a finger, three point back" in terms of her accusations that the bishops are trying to hijack health care for their own agenda. Richards, according to McQuade, "is the one pushing for unprecedented changes in our health care system that have little to do with health care itself and much more to do with promoting abortion -- her very limited agenda. She is the one trying to shift the status quo and who is out of sync with public opinion. Even self-described 'pro-choice' Americans often oppose subsidizing abortion with their own tax dollars."
The bishops, on the other hand, are the ones doing as they've always done, advocating for accessible, affordable health care for everyone, especially the poor and the vulnerable, including the unborn.