Melinda Henneberger worries that 1) Obama will sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), which pre-empts state abortion restrictions; 2) that these restrictions will also pre-empt “freedom of conscience” laws that exempt (among others) Catholic hospitals from requirements that they provide abortions; and 3) this would be a very bad thing, because expanding health care requires Catholic hospital participation and Obama’s cultural campaign to reduce abortions should not take this route. (h/t Sullivan).
At the very moment when Obama and his party have won the trust of so many Catholics who favor at least some limits on abortion, I hope he does not prove them wrong. I hope he does not make a fool out of that nice Doug Kmiec, who led the pro-life charge on his behalf. I hope he does not spit on the rest of us—though I don’t take him for the spitting sort—on his way in the door. I hope that his appointment of Ellen Moran, formerly of EMILY’s List, as his communications director is followed by the appointment of some equally good Democrats who hold pro-life views. By supporting and signing the current version of FOCA, Obama would reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign. This is a fight he just doesn’t need at a moment when there is no shortage of other crises to manage.
I have some sympathy with this argument, but it overlooks what might be called the equal and opposite problem: in many states, the Catholic Church is acquiring other hospitals through mergers, and then restricting abortions in hospitals that used to provide them. This is not a one-time occurrence; it is becoming a highly significant problem. Catholic hospitals are also restricting access to contraception and other related services.
In other words, the economics of America’s dysfunctional health care system might prevent what one might call (even without irony) Henneberg’s “live-and-let-live” proposal. There seems to be no neutral baseline upon which to ground a modus vivendi (again, so to speak). I don’t have an answer to this offhand, but we shouldn’t pretend that this is a matter of simply refusing to “reignite a culture war.” The ground is shifting beneath our feet.