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US bishops reiterate health-care priorities, criticize Senate Finance Committee plan

October 01, 2009

In a joint letter to United States senators, three bishops who chair committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have outlined three priorities for health-care legislation and criticized Sen. Max Baucus’s finance committee proposal for failing to meet these standards.

The three priorities outlined by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop William Murphy, and Bishop John Wester are universal coverage, exclusion of abortion funding and support for conscience protection, and “equity for legal immigrants in access to health care.”

“Our Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity,” the bishops write. “The Bishops’ Conference believes health care reform should be truly universal and genuinely affordable … The affordability provisions in the proposed Senate Finance Committee plan would impose financial burdens on low-income and moderate-income families and those families with significant and chronic illnesses. Some families living just above the federal poverty line could face out-of-pocket expenses that approach 25 percent of their income. We urge Congress to limit premiums or to exempt families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level from monthly premiums.”

The bishops also call for legislation that “excludes mandated coverage for abortion, and upholds longstanding laws that restrict abortion funding and protect conscience rights. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. It is essential to clearly include longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding/mandates and protections for rights of conscience.”

Shrewdly appealing to President Obama’s statements in opposition to abortion funding and in support of conscience protection, the bishops add that

No health care reform plan should use federal dollars for abortion, or compel people to pay for or be involved in other people’s abortions. Longstanding federal laws governing other major health programs, including the health insurance program for federal employees, prevent federal funds from being used for abortions or to help purchase benefits packages that include abortions. For decades, too, Congress has respected the right of health care providers not to be involved in any abortions or abortion referrals, and has respected moral and religious objections in other areas as well. The Weldon amendment to the Labor/HHS appropriations act, approved by Congress each year since 2004, forbids any federal agency or program, and any state or local government receiving federal funds under the Act, to discriminate against individual or institutional health care providers or insurers because they decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.

Health care reform legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates, and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy, and political reality. So far, the health reform bills considered in committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met President Obama’s challenge of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws. These deficiencies must be corrected.

 


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