Health Care Reform Reflects Christian Faith, Professor Says

Faith leaders participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference on March 21, 2010 in Washington, D.C. react as the health care bill is passed in the House of Representatives. (Photo: Greg Brekke/United Church News)

As the euphoria over the health care vote begins to fade and Republican opposition remains strong, one ethics professor has written to affirm health reform as a measure that "reflects the moral commitments of the Christian faith."

Writing in an op-ed piece on Monday, Dr. David P. Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, said that he believes "extending health care access to every American was always the right goal and reflects the moral commitments of the Christian faith."

"Any way one might come at this issue morally, the answer was always the same: health care as a human right; as an aspect of compassion for our neighbors; as doing to others as we would have them do to us; as a dimension of basic justice; or as an aspect of the kingdom of God, one of whose characteristics is healing of the sick," Gushee said. "Everything points in the same direction."

Gushee continued to say that the bill's passage "fills a hole in the American social safety net that has needed attention for decades."

"I think that the kinds of impulses that drove the recent health care movement are the same that drove the movements on behalf of worker's rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, civil rights for African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, and women's rights in the 1960s and 1970s," he wrote.

"Every human being is sacred in God's sight and must be treated as such. A just society seeks to address systemic problems that diminish human flourishing or end human life prematurely. Inadequate health care access was just such a systemic problem."

Surprisingly, in the face of massive pro-life protest against the bill, Gushee also noted that the bill "reflects, in a quite striking way, the commitments of the anti-abortion movement."

Gushee wrote that, "[u]nder the pressure of pro-life Democrats especially, the law bends over backwards to cordon off abortion as a morally dubious act that no American should have to pay for who does not purposely elect to do so."

"While Roe v. Wade established a trimester-based moral-legal evaluation of abortion, this law (and the president's executive order) reinforces a cause-based moral-legal evaluation of abortion," he said.

Pro-lifers, on the other hand, have continued their attack against the legislation.

A recent statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said that, "[a]lthough we wish it were otherwise, we must conclude that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [PPCA], poses serious problems in these two areas [abortion funding and conscience protection] and that the Executive Order does not correct those problems."

"In sum, the Executive Order cannot and does not fix the statutory problems of direct
funding of abortion at CHCs, and of funding insurance plans that cover abortions," the group writes. "It cannot and does not make up for the absence of conscience protections that are missing from the statute; and it does not strengthen the conscience protections that are there, though it could have in certain limited ways."

Meanwhile, final touches to the health care bill were sealed on Tuesday as President Obama signed the final piece of legislation.

Speaking before the signing, Obama called the bill "a major step forward toward giving Americans with insurance and those without a sense of security when it comes to their health care."

"It enshrines the principle that when you get sick you've got a society there, a community that is going to help you get back on your feet," he added.

Along with signing the health care bill, Obama also finalized a bill on student loans that would remove banks as the "middle men" in the lending process.

Republicans, meanwhile, have been immediate with their backlash against both measures, with House Minority Leader John Boehner calling the bills "two job-killing government takeovers that are already hurting our economy."

"Employers across the country are continuing to reveal the costly fallout from 'ObamaCare' – including new tax hikes and mandates that make it harder to hire new workers, and put health care benefits promised to workers and retirees in jeopardy," Boehner said in a statement.

"As the White House continues to 'sell' this new law, we are seeing the same pattern we've seen for the past year: the more the American people learn about it, the less they like it," he added.

Boehner's remarks reflect this week's Gallup Poll, which showed a turnaround in public opinion about Obama and the health care bill, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying they believe the bill will cost too much and give the government too much power.

Notably, President Obama's disapproval rating hit 50 percent for the first time.

In speaking about the bill's costs, Obama told NBC that, "[The bill] is a critical first step in making a health care system that works for all Americans. We are still going to have adjustments that have to be made to further reduce costs."

For Gushee, in order for health care reform to remain afloat, he recommends that the Obama administration act swiftly to push forward "serious entitlement reform" and reduce "our sacred cow of a military budget."

"That will involve reconsideration of our role in the world," Gushee said. "I hope he, and we, are ready for that."

Gushee's remarks were echoed by Politico op-ed contributor Eric Patashnik, who said that "[s]upporters of health reform need to put the cork back in the champagne bottle and get back to work."

"In the next few years, they must find ways to make the law more acceptable to a skeptical public, more workable and, most of all, more fiscally sustainable," Patashnik said. "If they don't, their hard-won political victory could remain at risk."

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