Faithful Citizenship: Health care is important, so are life and religious liberty

By Barbara Budde
Columnist

The bishops of the U.S. have serious moral concerns about provisions of the Affordable Care Act. After being among the most vocal proponents of health care reform for decades, the bishops were forced to oppose the law passed in 2010 because pro-abortion advocates were able to insert provisions in the bill that made it impossible for the bishops to support. Following that, the Health and Human Services Department mandate is a serious infringement on our religious liberty. So what are we to do?
First, if any individual or family is in need of insurance, it is absolutely acceptable to sign up to receive it. At every level of coverage, there is at least one plan that does not include abortion and Catholics are encouraged to ask for that plan. Opposition to provisions of the Affordable Care Act should not prevent anyone from signing up for the insurance they need. In fact, as Father Tad Pacholczyk’s column in last month’s Catholic Spirit indicated, we have a moral responsibility to take care of our health and even with our objections to the law, signing up to be covered is acceptable as long as we work to undo this mandate. Let me repeat, if you need insurance, use the exchanges and get covered!
Another thing we can do is to let people know about the insurance exchanges. Our ministries to the poor can make information available to others about the insurance exchanges. We can point people to get information and assistance on ways they can receive health care coverage for themselves and their families.
However, there are limitations to the ways we can help. While it is possible for Catholics in need of insurance to sign up for coverage and to pass out information about the Affordable Care Act; it is problematic for Catholics to act as navigators or official assistants. While we normally want to help people to get the help they need, these positions would require Catholics to help others sign up for insurance products that include abortion services. It is true that we can ask for the plan that does not include abortions, however, serving as assistants to others would not allow us to make that choice for them. It is also inappropriate for Catholic parishes or properties to be used as venues to enroll people to receive coverage. 
Our Catholic leaders have worked for decades on health care reform because we know that health care is a right that belongs to every person, not every person who can afford it. While it pains us that the present legislation has so many flaws, we do want people to get health insurance and to have greater access to health care. So I ask that we continue to encourage people to sign up, pass out information on where people can get information and continue advocating for just laws that provide for others while respecting human life and religious liberty.

Barbara Budde is the diocesan director of social concerns. She can be reached at (512) 949-2471 or barbara-budde@austindiocese.org.