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US bishops: Oppose Senate health care legislation until moral deficiencies are addressed

Catholic World News - December 23, 2009

Denouncing current Senate health care legislation as deficient because it provides federal funding for abortions and leaves Catholic hospitals and physicians bereft of conscience protection, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized in a December 22 letter that “until these fundamental flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.”

The three coauthors of the letter-- Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City-- noted that the legislation

violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that fails to comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is remedied.

Despite claims to the contrary, the House-passed provision on abortion keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions. It does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions. The public consensus on this point is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new Quinnipiac University survey of December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of abortion in health care reform legislation.

The abortion provisions in the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill do not maintain this commitment to the legal status quo on abortion funding. Federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions. States may opt out of this system only by passing legislation to prohibit abortion coverage. In this way the longstanding and current federal policy universally reflected in all federal health programs, including the program for providing health coverage to Senators and other federal employees, will be reversed. That policy will only prevail in states that take the initiative of passing their own legislation to maintain it.

This bill also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion (Sec. 259 of H.R. 3962), and includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures.

The bishops also criticized the measure for failing to cover some immigrants, for leaving 23 million Americans uninsured, and for leaving some low-income families “financially vulnerable to health care costs.”

“Undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance plan with their own money,” the bishops added. “Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care. This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.”

“For many months, our bishops’ conference has worked with members of Congress, the Administration and others to fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all,” the bishops concluded. “Our message has been clear and consistent throughout. We regret to say that in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is deficient. On the issue of respect for unborn human life, the bill not only falls short of the House’s standard but violates longstanding precedent in all other federal health programs. Therefore we believe the Senate should not move this bill forward at this time but continue to discuss and approve changes that could make it morally acceptable. Until these fundamental flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.”

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Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: unum - Dec. 23, 2009 10:23 PM ET USA

    The bishops' objection to abortion funding and a conscience clause are expected. However, their continued de facto endorsement of a program of socialized medicine administered by a throughly corrupt government is difficult to understand. Church teaching has categorically denounced Socialism, as reiterated by Pope John XXIII in MATER ET MAGISTRA, "...no Catholic [can] subscribe even to moderate Socialism." The bishops' teaching leaves a lot to be desired with respect to moral clarity.

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