Could St. Louis lose its Catholic hospitals under new federal abortion legislation?

By Tim Townsend



The proposed legislation would force all doctors nurses and hospitals to perform abortions and other things that are clearly evil in the word of God. It will only be a matter of time until Euthanasia and other evil things will be added to the list of things that Liberal, atheist, and secular humanist senators and congressmen will force doctors and nurses to do. Doctors and Nurses are also salt in this nation.

A proposed bill promising major changes in the U.S. abortion landscape has Roman Catholic bishops threatening to close Catholic hospitals if the Democratic Congress and White House make it law.


The Freedom of Choice Act failed to get out of subcommittee in 2004, but its sponsor is poised to refile it now that former Senate co-sponsor Barack Obama occupies the Oval Office.

A spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the legislation "is among the congressman's priorities. We expect to reintroduce it sooner rather than later."

FOCA, as the bill is known, would make federal law out of the abortion protections established in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade ruling.ccc


The legislation has some Roman Catholic bishops threatening to shutter the country's 624 Catholic hospitals including 11 in the Archdiocese of St. Louis rather than comply.

Speaking in Baltimore in November at the bishops' fall meeting, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, took up the issue of what to do with Catholic hospitals if FOCA became law. "It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions," he said. "That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil."

But even within the Catholic community, there is disagreement about the effects FOCA might have on hospitals, with some health care professionals and bishops saying a strategy of ignoring the law, if it passes, would be more effective than closing hospitals.

Ilan Kayatsky, Nadler's spokesman, said he anticipates that the bill's other original sponsor, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will introduce FOCA in the U.S. Senate. "We expect it to be more or less the same bill with some minor tweaks," Kayatsky said.

Boxer's office declined to comment.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Roman Catholic, and Rep. Russ Carnahan both St. Louis Democrats were co-sponsors of the legislation. Neither responded to requests for an interview. Bishop Robert Hermann, acting head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was unavailable for comment.

In its last incarnation, FOCA defined abortion as a "fundamental right" that no government can "deny" or "interfere with." That language, FOCA's opponents warn, would help overturn abortion restrictions such as parental notification, laws banning certain procedures and constraints on federal funding.

Some abortion rights groups say a friendlier Congress and White House makes FOCA less of a priority for them, and they say religious conservatives who oppose abortion rights are using FOCA as a scare tactic.

"Anti-choice groups know that there are not enough votes to move the Freedom of Choice Act, yet they continue to engage in a divisive campaign demonizing FOCA to distract the public from their opposition to birth control and accurate sex education," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The nation's Catholic bishops have been among the most vocal opponents of FOCA and Obama's abortion-rights positions. In the days before the November elections, one called Obama "the most committed" abortion-rights supporter to head a presidential ticket since Roe. Obama had promised during his campaign he would sign FOCA if he were elected.

Along with the 11 Catholic hospitals within the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Health Association of the United States says there are another seven in the St. Louis area within the borders of the Belleville and Springfield, Ill., dioceses.

According to the CHA, Catholic hospitals make up 13 percent of the country's nearly 5,000 hospitals, and employ more than 600,000 people. CHA says one of every six Americans hospitalized in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital.

Not all bishops or Catholic health care professionals see closing down hospitals as a realistic option. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., a member of CHA's board of trustees, wrote on his blog last month that "even in the worst-case scenario, Catholic hospitals will not close. We will not comply, but we will not close." Instead, he advocated a strategy of "civil disobedience."

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of CHA, said in an interview that she did not believe the language in the most recent version of FOCA despite its definition of abortion as a fundamental right would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. But she also said that if it did, the church would look to the historical example of racial segregation as a model for civil disobedience.

"From the other side we hear consistent talk about being pro-choice," Keehan said. "If FOCA passes, the concept of being pro-choice will not be incompatible with our position our choice would be not to participate."

Seven of the 11 hospitals in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are run by SSM Healthcare. In a statement, the company said it opposes FOCA "because it attempts to increase access to abortion and remove restrictions to abortion."

If FOCA were to become law, it continued, "We do not believe our Catholic hospitals would be forced to participate and we would advocate strongly for our right of conscience to refuse to provide abortion services."

While the Catholic Church has been most vocal on the FOCA issue, it's not alone. As Obama prepared to take the oath of office in January, the National Right to Life Committee warned its members that congressional Democrats were poised to work with the new president "to push an expansive pro-abortion agenda."

"The pro-life movement," the organization declared in its monthly newspaper, "is bracing for battle."

Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life, called FOCA "a top priority" for her group, which is working to pass a resolution in both houses of the Missouri Legislature that urges Congress to reject FOCA. The resolution has passed the Missouri House and is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate, and Missouri Right to Life is holding its Pro-Life Action Day in Jefferson City on Tuesday .

FOCA opponents have been discouraged by two moves made by Obama's administration in recent weeks. In January, the administration repealed a Bush policy that restricted federal dollars for international groups that perform or promote abortion overseas.

And this week, Obama nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is a Roman Catholic who has been chastised by Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann for her positions supporting abortion rights. Naumann called Sebelius' nomination this week "troubling."

After Sebelius' nomination, HHS hinted that it would soon repeal another Bush administration rule enacted in December that allowed health care professionals to opt out of providing abortion or birth control procedures on moral grounds.

In order to combat what its sees as inevitable, the Catholic Church launched a "Fight FOCA" postcard campaign aimed at Congress in January. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., who participated in an anti-FOCA rally last month at St. Anthony's Catholic School in Sullivan, said he has received "thousands" of postcards over the last month including "a stack 2 feet high" Wednesday.

"People have worked 30-some years to protect the rights of the unborn and FOCA would undo many of their efforts," Luetkemeyer said.

Keehan said shutting down Catholic hospitals would tear the fabric of the American health care system.

"Catholic health care plays such an important role in communities across this nation," she said, that Americans are "not going to sacrifice their health care facility, which employs so many, cares for so many, and has been part of their community for many years by forcing them to do abortions."