It has been a rather stunning start to the new year.
In one corner, we have our bishops trying to rouse the sleeping mass of ordinary Catholics to perceive the threat posed by proposed new federal health care regulations.
These regulations would force Catholic and other institutions to provide sterilization, abortifacient drugs and birth control — even though to do so would violate their beliefs. Catholics still seem only dimly aware of the danger posed — even after several months of increasingly vocal warnings by 168 bishops and counting — by this attack on religious liberty and the conscience of the Church.
At the same time, the renowned anti-breast cancer powerhouse called the Susan G. Komen Foundation attempted to disentangle itself from funding Planned Parenthood clinics for the rather obvious reason that the clinics do not do mammograms and for the somewhat less obvious reason that Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Congress for alleged financial improprieties.
In the case of the HHS regulations, while the bishops have all but pledged themselves to a campaign of civil disobedience, it is unclear just how much heat the administration is feeling. There has been a rather heartening degree of pundit support for the bishops — even from certain pro-choice commentators — but grass-roots fervor is less obvious to date. Over at Planned Parenthood there was a brilliant campaign of retaliation against Komen that reduced the billion dollar charity to abject reversal within days. Utilizing social media, political connections and an overwhelmingly friendly press, Planned Parenthood virtually discredited Komen by whipping up an emotional firestorm. It will be fascinating to see if pink ribbons will ever again have the cachet they had.
Planned Parenthood may profess its support for women, but clearly its heart is with its coffers. While Komen’s donation was only about 1 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget, the nation’s largest abortion provider was more than willing to take down the biggest fundraiser for breast cancer research in the country without so much as a tear of regret. Only underscoring the irony of the situation is the link between abortions, miscarriages and breast cancer, which one would have thought would have been cause enough for Komen to stay far away from Planned Parenthood.
I don’t know if Catholics will ever respond with such energy to the threat that the HHS regulations pose to the Church. For one, Catholics get very nervous when it comes to anything smacking of politics from the pulpit.
It is also true that Catholics feel very ambiguous about their own Church’s opposition to contraception. Since the 1960s, most Catholic couples of child-bearing age have used contraception. They may be guilty about this. They may not be. They most likely don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does, and they are not altogether offended by the idea that such contraception is now considered standard preventative care under the HHS regulations. This exposes a major catechetical failure that is coming home to roost.
Which leads us to one final point: Too many Catholic institutions — hospitals, universities and others — already voluntarily provide the same coverage being mandated by the health care reform. While this does not undercut the validity of the bishops’ argument, it does raise a huge question in many people’s minds.
Whatever one says about Planned Parenthood, it is undeniable that they are consistent, committed and on message. If only that could be said about Catholics.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.