In admitting privileges fight, Wisconsin churches discover the flip side of federal funding

moneyFirst a federal judge blocked Wisconsin’s recently signed law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and now the Badger State’s pro-lifers have hit another hurdle…and this time, a top state Republican is the bearer of bad news:

Plans by three Catholic hospital systems in Wisconsin to deny admitting privileges to doctors who perform abortions would “be in active violation of federal law,” Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen’s Department of Justice said in a court filing last week.

Federal law “provides that hospitals accepting federal funds may not discriminate against a physician because that physician has participated in or refused to participate in abortions,” the state Justice Department said in its filing in federal court.

According to experts on federal law, if doctors can prove they were not granted privileges specifically because they perform the procedure, the hospital systems — Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Columbia St. Mary’s Health System and Hospital Sisters Health System — could lose federal dollars in the form of research and public health grants.

Let me preface this by saying that as a conservative Wisconsinite, I’ve found Van Hollen to be a colossal disappointment. But in this case, it seems like harping on him would only be shooting the messenger.

The Church Amendments [PDF link] state that no hospital receiving federal money for biomedical or behavioral research, or under the Public Health Service Act, the Community Mental Health Centers Act, or the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Act is permitted to “discriminate in the extension of staff or other privileges to any physician or health care personnel, because he performed or assisted in the performance of a lawful sterilization procedure or abortion.” (They also protect doctors who refuse to perform abortions from the same.)

In a similar vein to the way many churches have let the government buy their silence with tax-exempt status, federal statute makes hospitals’ compliance the price of receiving cash from Uncle Sam. That’s why the hospitals will have an uphill battle challenging this provision in court—while they have the right to choose not to associate with abortionists under the Constitution, they don’t have a right to federal funding, either. It’s more akin to the parties of a contract disputing the terms they agreed to than it is a private entity merely trying to be left alone to exercise its rights.

This is one of the more insidious, but insufficiently confronted, problems that results from our modern assumptions of a massive, federal government given an open-ended charge to “do good” in whatever ways happen to occur to us. When we’re used to taking it for granted that helping fund hospitals is a national responsibility simply because it’s been that way for so long and funding hospitals sounds like a noble thing to do, of course we won’t be inclined to stop and think about the strings the government attaches to that money. We feel entitled to the worm on the end of the hook, but fail to see the line until it’s too late.

This also illustrates some critical reminders for pro-lifers: no matter how much power pro-lifers win at the state level, we’ll never be completely free to protect the unborn until pro-abortion meddling is rooted out at the federal level, and for all the lives we’ve saved at the margins, the incrementalist strategy will always be a messy, imperfect fit as long as the core right to abortion remains legal.

The only reason we have to keep experimenting with this regulation of a fetal death camp or that requirement for a prenatal butcher is that the courts won’t let us just make it illegal to slaughter innocent, living, human babies. If that insanity wasn’t tying our hands, no hospital would have to think twice about whether to associate with executioners who call themselves doctors.

But the world we find ourselves in isn’t sane, so until we can eliminate baby-killing’s federal firewalls, religious hospitals will have to make a choice: take the money and admit the abortionists, or stand on principle and let the chips fall where they may. After all, Christianity only survived to the modern day because of people who chose to trust that God would steer them through far greater sacrifices than losing some federal grants.

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