As the legislative liaison representing a nonpartisan institution (Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne), I have helped advocate for expanding Medicaid, repealing the death penalty, achieving legal protection for the unborn and extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant mothers, as well as many other issues.
I find it challenging to highlight the people impacted by laws in an environment in which they are regularly dehumanized or disparaged. For instance, some claim that the poor are lazy, others that those on death row are monsters, and others that the unborn are clumps of cells.
Highlighting the humanity of a population currently being treated inhumanely can cause people to feel shame. That’s the consequence of having a conscience, but some will try to exploit shame for short-term political gain. Shame and regret paralyze us and prevent us from seeing the opportunities we have in front of us now.
Also, long-term changes require changing hearts and minds. That takes time, and it doesn’t happen when people sense they are being manipulated.
This is why I plead with fellow Catholics to never use “Catholic guilt” when advocating for any policy change. At the same time, we have a responsibility to highlight the human dignity of all people and articulate how current laws are failing them, even if doing so stirs consciences.
The Diocese of Cheyenne has supported expanding the population who qualify for Medicaid for years, even thoughMedicaid currently allows for public funds to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the life or health of the mother are in danger (I will explain why below).
Expansion is meant to help those who cannot afford private health insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid now.
The Diocese of Cheyenne supports expansion because it believes it is inconsistent to say that until the unborn are protected by the state that the working poor, who do not have access to life-saving health care, must be left suffer or die from treatable illnesses.
Simultaneously, we continue to work for the passage of laws that will protect unborn children. This has been difficult work because many Wyomingites believe abortion-ban exceptions for rape, incest, life or health are rare. There is reason to believe that they are not.
For example, Wyoming law does not require a rape conviction for a woman to procure an abortion. Trials and investigations take time.
As the law stands, however, there is not even a requirement to report a rape to law enforcement prior to procuring an abortion. Legislation passed last year did have a requirement to report to law enforcement, but that law is currently enjoined by a Teton County court.
It follows then, that all that is necessary to circumvent abortion restrictions in Wyoming (i.e., a Medicaid recipient receiving public funds for an elective abortion or any woman seeking to procure an abortion after 20 weeks is to tell the abortion provider that the pregnancy is a result of rape).
The provider is not required to report to the state that an exception has been utilized. Wyoming Taxpayers can reasonably conclude that for five decades, we have paid for elective abortions. The plea for “choice” by abortion rights activists rings hollow when it becomes clear that taxpayers have not been given one.
Consistency Is A State Interest
Under certain circumstances, an assailant can be charged with murder in Wyoming if his actions result in the death of an unborn child. This law was allowed to take effect in 2021 without a constitutional challenge. Simultaneously, Wyoming law allows for the same child to die legally through abortion.
The difference seems to be that in the first scenario, the state assumes the child was wanted. Being “wanted” is a dangerous premise to give the state for when and when not to enforce laws. Nothing undermines the integrity of a government like the inconsistent application of its laws.
Defining Health Care
Now a Teton County judge is considering whether or not abortion is a necessary part of health care. Her decision will set an interesting premise. If she finds that abortion is health care, does that mean the majority of Wyoming OBGYNs who do not provide abortions have been negligent? Also, how will this impact Medicaid in the future?
Wyoming is blessed with health care professionals who are too busy doing the lifesaving work they do to consider the implications of what could happen. But as the definition of “health care” increasingly ignores the call to “do no harm,” clearly the time for standing on the sidelines is over.
Shame and regret prevent us from seeing the opportunities we have before us now. It’s time we stop pitting these two vulnerable populations against each other.
Deacon Mike Leman