From the pulpit, our pastor read our bishop’s statement calling for an all-out effort to keep the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) from becoming law. I am in solidarity with this opposition to FOCA: what I don’t understand is exaggerating the threat of this legislation to our religion. The impression that the bill was waiting for President Obama’s signature had to be officially recanted by the Pro-life Secretariat of the bishops, undercutting the urgency suggested from the pulpit. FOCA, it is now admitted, is not likely to become law any time soon.
The first version of FOCA was proposed in 1989; the most recent in 2007, and none of the versions have met with legislative success. It is true that way back in 2007 candidate Obama said he would sign such legislation into law when elected president. It is also true that support for FOCA was dropped from the Democratic Party platform and from the list of issues on Obama’s website. Despite the endless loop from YouTube that has been put up by many pro-life websites, FOCA should not scare anyone in Catholic America. Pro-life Pennsylvania Senator, Bob Casey, told Catholic Democrats that FOCA was DOA. While his alphabet-soup speech may be inelegant, Casey’s verdict seems unimpeachable.
The legal opinion delivered to the bishops is of scant help. While I do not pretend to be a lawyer, some things don’t make sense in the review the bishops paid for. Consider just two: “fundamental right” and “freedom of conscience.” Much is made about the wording of FOCA that makes a decision to abort into a “fundamental right.” The USCCB lawyer argues that by using “fundamental,” the state surrenders all potential limitation of abortion, because the right becomes permanent to each individual. However, the wording of FOCA places the right to have a child BEFORE any right to terminate a pregnancy. In other words, FOCA would prevent any government from ordering sterilizations or abortions: a mother has a “fundamental right” to bear children. This concept in the wording of FOCA strikes a blow against big government and favors of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.
Would FOCA force the closure of all Catholic hospitals, put Catholic doctors and nurses into jail and violate the consciences of all health providers opposed to abortion? The USCCB lawyer on the bishops’ payroll thinks so. However, Jill Morrison, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center – not a pro-life organization – indicated that the federal conscience clause law, known as “the Church Amendment,” states that simply receiving public funding does not turn a hospital into a “state actor.” In other words, Catholic hospitals and attendant staff would not lose their rights to conscientious non-participation because of FOCA.
I respect the propagandistic value of fear tactics, but are they necessary in this case?
If FOCA is no threat as immediate legislation, why are the bishops marshalling so many Catholic resources throughout the nation? As I wrote before, the mobilization of such Pro-life forces may be a demonstration of unity among the bishops, most of whom supported the Democratic ticket. I think it is a “bone” thrown to the minority who still adhere to abortion as the single determinative issue for all Catholic voters. Moreover, such unity may breathe life into a Pro-life movement that has suffered serious body-blows in its credibility. I’m all in favor of Catholic unity and will participate in the letter-writing despite reservations.
However, the very week that the anti-FOCA campaign was announced, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples released a document highly critical of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996. Now, if the bishops are willing to use much effort and many funds taken from weekly collections to fight FOCA — a bill that is far from being brought to a vote — how much more effort and money ought to go to opposing the existing immigration law that violates Catholic teaching? In securing a just immigration law, the faithful in Catholic America will be looking to see that the bishops use the same vigorous tactics: if not, we will be writing letters of complaint to Rome.