I received several inquiries since yesterday’s City Council meeting in regard to the Presence Health vote which approved $5.55 million of tax-increment-financing (TIF) dollars to be expended in behalf of a faith based hospital. This hospital is a Catholic hospital and, as such, does not perform abortions and does not engage in certain reproductive health services such as providing birth control. As a result, eighteen of my colleagues voted “no” on the appropriation because the full area of services relating to women’s reproductive rights would not be available. I voted in favor of the appropriation for the hospital. Let me explain briefly why I did so.
Many of you may know that I am a Roman Catholic. I am not, however, a Roman Catholic who agrees with the Church when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, and I do not agree with the Church being involved in a decision with regard to her reproductive rights. I also do not agree with the Church when it comes to same sex marriage. How, you might ask, could I vote then to allow public money to be spent for this hospital? The answer is relatively simple. For decades the City Council has utilized public monies to raise the availability of healthcare in our communities regardless of whether the hospital was faith based or not. Our community has been the beneficiary of unanimous votes in the City Council for the purpose of giving TIF dollars for the expansion of health care services at Swedish Covenant Hospital. And, while Swedish Covenant is not a Roman Catholic hospital, it is still a faith based organization that does not perform elective abortions.
The vote in the City Council yesterday was a split vote (31 – 18). Many of the African American and Hispanic Aldermen and Alderwomen asked for a positive vote because the expansion of health care clinics in their communities are contingent upon these dollars. These clinics will treat people of color who otherwise do not have access to quality health care for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. I do not see how, in good conscience, I could be the beneficiary of their unanimous votes several years ago for Swedish Covenant Hospital and turn them down now when they are asking me to expand health care in their underserved communities.
It is difficult for me to address votes that are oftentimes used as litmus tests by special interest groups. Very few votes in the City Council are all or nothing. In this instance, we could give $5.55 million in TIF money to a faith based hospital and expand four health care clinics in low-income, underserved communities, or we could stand on the principle that because this faith based hospital does not provide a full area of women’s treatments we are not going to expand those health care opportunities. I felt that it was best to expand the health care opportunities for my colleagues of color who asked me to do so versus being the beneficiary of their votes and denying them what they thought was important for their Avondale, Belmont-Cragin, Calumet Heights and West Town neighborhoods. The neighborhood projects that will be possible through this TIF assistance will serve more than 22,500 residents while creating 39 permanent jobs and 62 construction jobs.
When the National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes any form of gun control, even common sense legislation like the banning of bump stocks, the sole purpose of which is to fire faster and longer out of automatic weapons, their justification is that any break in the dam would create a flood of gun control legislation that they would be unable to stop. I saw yesterday, and I see today, a parallel in the reasoning of the NRA and some of the folks who have questioned my vote in this matter, that anything short of full reproductive rights for women is insupportable. Alderwoman Michelle Harris said yesterday on the Council floor that women in her community are dying from cancer and diabetes in larger percentages than women in non-minority communities. These women deserve access to quality health care, notwithstanding that it might not be the full area of services that we all hope to provide. I found her reasoning compelling.
Again, I am supportive of a woman’s right to choose, I am supportive of same sex marriage, both of which conflict with my faith. But, my vote was not a vote based upon my faith. It was a vote based upon the fact that my colleagues allowed me to help expand health care in our community when we sought that help and I could not deny them my vote when they asked me to do the same for them and their communities.
Ald. Pat O’Connor