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A letter from a group with "Catholic" in its title that criticized a split Chicago City Council approval of a multimillion-dollar subsidy to Illinois' largest Catholic health care system should not be trusted, the president of a conservative, nonprofit advocacy group said.
"The group, 'Catholics for Choice,' is a phony, astroturf organization funded by liberal billionaires, and repeatedly discredited and ignored by the church," Catholic Vote President Brian Burch told Chicago City Wire. "The group in no way represents the views of the Catholic Church."
"Astroturfing," named for the AstroTurf brand of synthetic grass carpeting, is the antithesis of "grassroots" and is a means of masking an organization's sponsors by implying its messages come from a legitimate group. Catholics for Choice's letter accused city subsidy recipient Presence Health of treating women as "second-class citizens."
Catholic Vote President Brian Burch
Burch said the money was wisely spent, regardless of the Pro-life vs Pro-choice debate, and that the city should not be lured into discrimination.
"If the City of Chicago wants to partner with hospitals to help people in need, then Catholic hospitals should not be excluded because they refuse to abort children," Burch said. "No religious organization should be discriminated against because they refuse to violate their beliefs. The government regularly partners with faith-based agencies to provide food and shelter to the poor and vulnerable, aid to immigrants and refugees, and much more. Why would the City of Chicago want to abandon those in need of care over a divisive cultural war issue?"
In its two-page letter to Chicago City Aldermen, Catholics for Choice expressed "our deep concern, shared by our allies across the state," about the $5.6 million subsidy to Presence Health approved by the 31 to 18 City Council vote in January.
"While Catholic health care facilities provide quality care in a number of areas to Chicagoland residents, the experiences of those seeking reproductive health services in Catholic hospitals are deeply troubling," the letter said. "It is a critical element of due diligence for local policy makers to be aware of the shortcomings of Catholic hospitals and health care systems, especially in regards to reproductive health care."
The letter claimed Presence Health Care "adheres" to "a set of religious-based rules written and enforced by Catholic bishops.
"Those Directives allow women to be treated as second-class citizens in facilities supported by public dollars," the letter continued. "This is wrong. At a time when your colleagues in Springfield are working to expand access to reproductive health care across the state, it is especially objectionable that the City of Chicago would turn a blind eye when making funding decisions to leave so many vulnerable residents without access to critical care."
The letter acknowledges Chicago's 16 Catholic hospitals that serve 2.3 million patients a year but accused those hospitals of "blatant discrimination against those who do not follow the dictates of the bishops in these matters, Catholics and non-Catholics alike."
The letter, dated Feb. 21, five days before city-wide elections that included all alderman seats, was signed by Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien.
Burch also referred to the "rich history of Catholic service" in Chicago, service that extends back for more than a century, which he said points to the irony of Catholics for Choice accusing Presence Health of discrimination.
"Not everyone in Chicago is Catholic, but the Church and the city have always found a way to help each other," Burch said. "This attack on Catholic health care represents a form of bigotry once championed by the KKK and others. It has no place in a progressive city that prides itself on tolerance and diversity. Surely we don't want to return to the days of 'Catholics Need Not Apply'."
Presence Health and other Catholic health care systems do not treat women like second-class citizens, Burch said.
"Catholic health care is committed to the full health and well-being of women," he said. "No woman would be denied health care that could endanger her life. Even in the case of a difficult pregnancy, Catholic hospitals are committed to doing everything possible to protect the health and well-being of both the child and the mother."