In face of Planned Parenthood attack, USCCB official insists abortion is not health care

ppcecilerichard190809 Cecile Richards / Richard Doerflinger

Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has criticized the U.S. Catholic bishops’ work to exclude abortion coverage from health care legislation. In response, an official with the conference insisted that taking human life is not health care and warned that pro-abortion politics are endangering the entire proposal.

Writing in an August 18 opinion piece at the Huffington Post, Cecile Richards characterized the bishops’ desire to exclude abortion coverage from health care reform as one that denies “comprehensive reproductive care” which she claimed to be supported by the majority of Americans.

She also argued that the Catholic position was an ongoing effort to eliminate the “legally protected right to abortion” from American health care.

Citing the website of the USCCB, Richards criticized the Catholic bishops for holding that condoms can worsen the AIDS pandemic in Africa, that contraception is not basic health care and should not be covered under most health care plans, and that “emergency contraception” will not reduce the need for abortion or unintended pregnancy.

“Seems that, if the U.S. Conference had its way, the national health care system would make American women second-class citizens and deny them access to benefits they currently have,” she charged.


In Richards’ view, the bishops’ pro-life stand constituted “hard-line opposition to women’s rights” and has endangered women around the globe.

She said the root cause of “unsafe abortion” is unintended pregnancy which could be prevented by affordable contraception for women. She also claimed the correlation between higher contraceptive use and lower maternal mortality is “well established.”

Richards argued that increased access to contraception would lower the abortion rate and the “epidemic” rates of sexually transmitted infections. She then stated that she would welcome the bishops’ commitment to focus on such problems, insisting that to do so would stand on the side of women in health care reform.

Speaking to CNA on Wednesday morning, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USSCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, addressed Cecile Richard's claims.

Doerflinger said Richards erred in claiming most Americans favored “comprehensive reproductive health care.”

“This is not supported by majority of Americans. The majority of Americans describe themselves as pro-life.

“We don’t see the taking of human life, at any stage, as health care at all. Most Americans do not want to pay for abortions,” he remarked.

“We mean by universal coverage what everybody but Planned Parenthood means. That is, we need to cover all the people. We know that people need health care throughout life from conception to natural death. That is why fetology is a branch of human medicine, which Richards seem unaware of,” Doerflinger said.

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“Universal coverage doesn’t mean that Americans are forced to pay for absolutely everything a doctor might be willing to do,” he continued, adding that health care would presumably not pay for euthanasia or legitimate but elective procedures like cosmetic surgery.

Doerflinger explained to CNA that in his understanding of the current health care legislation, a U.S. House bill would cover abortion in the public health insurance plan. The legislation itself would provide coverage for abortions in a “very limited” way, but the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services will have the power to mandate coverage for all abortions in the public plan.

“We’re very much against that and hope it can be amended out,” he added. Under the House bill, the federal government will require anyone who purchases the plan to purchase abortion coverage,” he said.

The Senate presents a “more fluid situation” because there is no released draft.

“We hope it will be better than the House bill,” Doerflinger stated.

Asked to respond to Richards’ criticisms of U.S. bishops’ actions on condoms and the AIDS pandemic, he replied:

“The Catholic Church has done more to fight AIDS in Africa than Planned Parenthood has. Planned Parenthood doesn’t want people to know that hormonal contraception has actually been associated with an increased risk of contracting AIDS. It has nothing to do with preventing AIDS, something to do with making it worse.

“Our major arguments on this have not been about contraception,” he clarified. “She likes to change the subject.

“But it is the case that there is a great deal of evidence that contraceptive programs fail to reduce abortions. We cite the primary sources for that on our website so that people can read them for themselves.”

On emergency contraception, Doerflinger said there have been 23 major studies of the effects of emergency contraceptives.

“None of the 23 was able to find any effect in reducing abortions,” he reported, saying these facts had been reviewed by scientists unopposed to emergency contraception.

He said it was necessary to stop “running away from the facts” and “citing contraception as the cure for everything” when the evidence is otherwise.

Doerflinger said the bishops’ materials about health care reform have been centered on supporting universal coverage, but opposing mandated abortion coverage.


“She keeps talking about how we’re trying to diminish a right,” he said of Richards. “A mandate is not consistent with a personal choice. If what she’s talking about is people’s personal ability to choose whether or not to buy abortion coverage, we’re not going to oppose legislation that allows that.

“We’re talking about the government mandating that people purchase abortion coverage against their will. Why would she be against that if she favors ‘choice’?

“To get into the government-run health plan you must buy abortion coverage. That’s contrary to personal choice. Maybe she should be joining us in our effort.”

“We think the abortion issue is paramount, because we see it as really the taking of a life in existence.”

Doerflinger then summed up his objections to Planned Parenthood’s position:

“I think what Planned Parenthood is saying is that millions of people must continue to go without basic health care unless they can get their wish list of making everyone pay for abortions. I think that the charge of being ‘single issue’ falls squarely back on Planned Parenthood’s side, because this is not the kind of health care that most Americans want to purchase or have to pay for.

“This issue could bring down health care reform. We hope that that does not happen, but an insistence on this one issue on their part might do so.”

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