Does FOCA mean an end to Catholic health care?

Melinda Henneberger looks at the threat the Freedom of Choice Act poses to Catholic health-care centers that want no part of abortion, and concludes that the legislation would probably strip them of their opt-out for conscience.  Henneberger believes that the bishops mean exactly what they say when warning that they will close the doors on every facility rather than be forced to perform abortions — and wonders how the Obama administration plans to replace a third of all hospitals in the nation? (via The Corner):

And the most ludicrous line out of them, surely, was about how, under Obama, Catholic hospitals that provide obstetric and gynecological services might soon be forced to perform abortions or close their doors. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago warned of “devastating consequences” to the health care system, insisting Obama could force the closure of all Catholic hospitals in the country. That’s a third of all hospitals, providing care in many neighborhoods that are not exactly otherwise overprovided for. It couldn’t happen, could it?

You wouldn’t think so. Only, I am increasingly convinced that it could. If the Freedom of Choice Act passes Congress, and that’s a big if, Obama has promised to sign it the second it hits his desk. (Here he is at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event in 2007, vowing, “The first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”) Though it’s often referred to as a mere codification of Roe, FOCA, as currently drafted, actually goes well beyond that: According to the Senate sponsor of the bill, Barbara Boxer, in a statement on her Web site, FOCA would nullify all existing laws and regulations that limit abortion in any way, up to the time of fetal viability. Laws requiring parental notification and informed consent would be tossed out. While there is strenuous debate among legal experts on the matter, many believe the act would invalidate the freedom-of-conscience laws on the books in 46 states. These are the laws that allow Catholic hospitals and health providers that receive public funds through Medicaid and Medicare to opt out of performing abortions. Without public funds, these health centers couldn’t stay open; if forced to do abortions, they would sooner close their doors. Even the prospect of selling the institutions to other providers wouldn’t be an option, the bishops have said, because that would constitute “material cooperation with an intrinsic evil.”

The bishops are not bluffing when they say they’d turn out the lights rather than comply. Nor is Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis exaggerating, I don’t think, in vowing that “any one of us would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow—to die tomorrow—to bring about the end of abortion.”

Whatever your view on the legality and morality of abortion, there is another important question to be considered here: Could we even begin to reform our already overburdened health care system without these Catholic institutions? I don’t see how.

As Henneberger notes, these facilities aren’t in overserved areas, either.  Catholic facilities tend to be in places other for-profit clinics and hospitals avoid.  The sudden disappearance of these clinics and hospitals would leave millions of people with much fewer choices in medical attention, or none at all.

Would Congress pass FOCA?  If the Republicans hold onto their seats in Minnesota and Georgia, they’ll have enough Senators to filibuster it, but Henneberger wonders if Obama would have enough votes to pass the bill on straight majorities.  Once the bill’s sweeping nature becomes known, she believes that only the hard-Left Representatives and Senators would back the bill, leaving FOCA to die quietly as it has in every session of Congress for the last 15 years it’s been proposed.

Obama pledged to make FOCA his highest priority, though, and his appointment of Emily’s List spokesperson Ellen Moran as his communications director sent a message that he intends to pursue it.  Henneberger believes that any attempt to force FOCA through Congress will “reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign,” as well as make fools out of pro-Obama Catholics like Douglas Kmiec.  I don’t see Obama backing away from his pledge to make Planned Parenthood’s dreams come true, and I hope that Henneberger’s correct about Congress stopping those plans.