Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's decision to require Caritas Christi Health Care to end its short-lived joint venture with Centene Corp. is generating mixed reaction among his fellow antiabortion activists, many of whom had pushed quite strongly for him to intervene. As the decision, which Kay Lazar and I reported in Saturday's Globe, rippled through the blogosphere, the activists were generally pleased with the development, but differed about whether it went far enough.
O'Malley himself posted the news on his blog Friday night, and made it clear he was upbeat about his decision. "I am happy to share with you the following statement issued this evening by Caritas Christi concerning its decision to withdraw its membership in the CeltiCare Health Plan while continuing its commitment to serve the needs of the poor among us,'' he wrote, before posting a copy of the news release.
The American Life League, which had been quite critical, offered unqualified praise for the decision:
"We profoundly thank Cardinal OíMalley for his courage, leadership and pastoral concern for the health and well-being of those youngest members of his archdiocese. He has set a beautiful example of dedication and charity for those poorest of the poor Ė the preborn.
Cardinal OíMalley has answered our call and beat the clock as the minutes ticked away until the July 1 launch of the new CeltiCare Health Plan and the Catholic Churchís participation in the intrinsic evil of abortion."
"We at Mass. Citizens for Life maintained our conviction that Cardinal Sean would do the right thing concerning the Caritas Christi arrangements. He has just announced that Caritas has pulled out of the arrangement with CeltiCare...Deo gratias!"
Others were less sanguine, noting that Caritas will remain a provider for Commonwealth Care, the new state insurance program for low-income people, which is required to cover abortion services. (Caritas explained its handling of the issue on June 11, saying in a news release, "when a patient seeks such a procedure, Caritas healthcare professionals will be clear that (a) the hospital does not perform them and (b) the patient must turn to his or her insurer for further guidance. This, in fact, is the practice currently in place in the Caritas system as we work with other insurance companies under state laws that mandate access to procedures not provided within the Caritas system. It is the path that Caritas has always followed and will follow in its engagement with CeltiCare.'')
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts called Caritas's withdrawal from the joint venture a "partial victory,'' saying that "any continued participation by Caritas Christi in Commonwealth Care would obligate Caritas, directly or indirectly, to make abortion referrals." The statement continued:
"Caritas Christi has indicated that a woman seeking an abortion at a Caritas hospital will be sent back to her insurer. For Commonwealth Care members that insurer will be CeltiCare, which will not only procure the abortion but will provide transportation to the abortion facility. Instead of offering compassionate alternatives to abortion, Caritas Christi will still be engaged in a two-step abortion referral. Troubling questions also remain about whether Caritas has already benefited financially from this contract, and whether it continues to have an ongoing relationship with the Centene Corporation."
And Carol McKinley, a cyberactivist who has been quite critical of the archdiocese, blogged:
"Because the Cardinal and Caritas deliberately misrepresented what was happening in the arrangement until they actually got caught on the CeltiCare website with links to the abortionists they hired and their spokesperson admitted to NARAL being the Advisory Board for CeltiCare and that they had hired phone operators to answer the calls when they referred the women back to themselves to carry out and pay for the abortions, the overall consensus is disgust and a complete lack of trust that they are being forthright now about a situation they have been lying about all along."
What would these activists have Caritas do? The Lady in the Pew (Kelly Thatcher) blogs that if a woman named Judy calls and asks for an abortion:
"What I'm supposed to do is (a) help Judy find an alternative to abortion or (b) refer her to one of the many people and/or organizations who are very good at doing just that. Duh! One good thing, though. Until this whole issue came up, I never realized that so-called Catholic hospitals in the Archdiocese of Boston did the old Pontius Pilate number with abortion/contraception seekers. Now I do."
Harsh language, but Thatcher is not alone. Here is Diogenes, blogging for Catholic World News:
"So it appears that Caritas Christi, the healthcare agency of the Boston archdiocese, won't be involved in the abortion business after all. Thank God for that. The announcement was obviously timed (after business hours on a Friday afternoon) for minimal media exposure, and offered no details about the new arrangement. A few questions linger. Among those questions: How did a Catholic agency get involved with this proposal in the first place? Do the people at the helm of Caritas Christi understand the purpose of healthcare system with a Catholic identity? A spokeswoman for Caritas Christi told the Boston Globe: 'This is the right way to move the distraction of the debate of ownership and allow us to be a provider.' The distraction. A debate over involvement in killing unborn babies is a 'distraction' from the business of saving lives. A debate over mutilating people to make them infertile is a 'distraction' from the distinctive mission of Catholic health care."
Meanwhile, a postscript from Caritas, which is arguing that it could benefit from the withdrawal because it will make reimbursements for patient treatment easier, especially since the state decided to slow enrollment in the program. An e-mail from Caritas spokeswoman Teresa Prego:
"The dramatic reduction of new potential enrollees in the Connector plan due to the sudden elimination of auto-enrollments presented a substantial financial risk due to our involvement in the insurance partnership. We faced additional risk based on the fact we had made investments in physicians and support staff to handle the additional patients from the Connector. Our decision to withdraw from the insurance partnership allows us to mitigate our risk."