Health Law Is Debated At WJU

WHEELING – President Barack Obama’s controversial health care law features some provisions many voters find objectionable, but Catholics attending a Tuesday forum at Wheeling Jesuit University said the plan is not all bad.

“The legislation would benefit millions of people, especially those who are poor,” Jessica Wrobleski, a professor of theology at WJU, told about 30 audience members in the National Technology Transfer Center auditorium.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, some have focused on a provision that may require Catholic employers to cover the cost of contraceptives and abortions in health care plans for their staff. Though he understands this concern, the Rev. Brian O’Donnell, executive secretary of the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, told attendees to consider the full impact of the law.

O’Donnell said Catholic bishops and scholars generally support three main concepts in the area of health care reform: that there must be a fairer system for everyone; that federal funding should not be used to cover abortions; and that everyone, including undocumented immigrants, should receive heath care coverage.

“From ‘womb to tomb’ we should be supporting our brothers and sisters,” said O’Donnell.

He said about one out of five West Virginians between the ages of 19 and 64 did not have health care, according to a 2004 study. Many of these include those who are considered “the working poor.”

O’Donnell said it is frustrating to see how some Catholics and others believe in a certain set of ideals and reject others. He said many people agree with Catholic teaching about caring for the poor, yet disagree with church ideals on abortion. Others, O’Donnell said, agree with the church in opposing abortion, yet seem to have no regard for the poor. He urged attendees to refrain from judging others.

Noting many Catholic bishops and officials opposed the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003, Wrobleski asked O’Donnell why the bishops were not as vocal in opposing the war as they seem to now be in opposing the Obamacare provision for abortion and contraceptive coverage. O’Donnell told her the argument had merit, but said Catholic opposition to the U.S. invasion was probably tempered by the promise of finding “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

Beverly Whelton, associate professor of philosophy, said many people who previously could not get health care coverage have been able to do so because of the health care law. However, she listed the negative impact of the law as an “emphasis on contraception as preventive health care.”

“Contraceptives change status of the unborn from a gift to a mistake,” Whelton wrote on one of her presentation slides. “In this way, contraceptives can be seen to increase the need for abortion.”

Whelton added that more access to contraceptives leads to a “disregard for physical and psychological well-being – men and women treat each other as objects of sexual pleasure rather than cherished lovers.” This also leads, she said, to “increased promiscuity.”

Wrobleski, however, challenged Whelton’s statements. She wondered how these comments were any different from radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh questioning the morals of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, after Fluke spoke in favor of the law and access to contraceptives during a Congressional hearing.

Whelton assured Wrobleski she was not calling any particular person’s sense of morality into question.