Bishops urge Catholics to act now on health care concerns
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Despite pleas and warnings, congressional leaders unveiled an $894 billion national health care bill that fails to protect conscience rights and creates federal abortion-funding mandates.
On Oct. 29, the leaders of the U.S. House announced the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which combines three bills that passed in committees this summer.
Debate over this health care bill, and another in the Senate, will begin soon.
“I think a huge problem with the proposed [House] bill is that, for the first time, it tries to mandate that pro-life Americans pay for other people’s abortions,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
“And it does that in two ways,” he continued, “by allowing abortions to be included in the public option, as well as mandating Americans have health insurance and not necessarily providing an option for pro-life Americans to not contribute to plans that subsidize abortion.”
This is disappointing, because Congress had every opportunity to correct these problems and is willing to risk the defeat of health care reform to coerce all Americans into paying for abortions, said the archbishop.
The U.S. bishops have long supported health care reform but they became alarmed after amendments that would have protected conscience rights and upheld the status quo regarding federal funding of abortion were defeated this summer.
President Barack Obama said on Sept. 9 that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions as a part of these health care measures, but that is simply not the case, said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
“The House bill creates a government-run health plan, known as the ‘public option,’” he said. “Under the bill, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — currently Kathleen Sebelius — would be allowed to mandate that the plan cover unlimited abortions.”
“This would be a radical departure from all existing federal programs,” he continued. “Another departure from the current situation is that the bill would subsidize private health care plans that cover abortion. Finally, the bill also requires everyone choosing the public option pay a surcharge that would be used to pay for abortions. The surcharge is not optional.”
The lack of conscience protection in this latest bill and lack of an explicit ban on federal funding of abortion make it impossible for the bishops to support this health care legislation.
This warning was sent again in an Oct. 8 letter on behalf of the U.S. bishops by Bishop William F. Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center, N.Y., Cardinal Justin Rigali of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Bishop John Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
“We remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes,” wrote the bishops. “If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously.”
The U.S. bishops responded to the new health care proposal, in fact, by immediately launching a national effort to mobilize Catholics to contact their legislators.
In a bulletin insert distributed to almost 19,000 parishes across the nation, the bishops asked that Catholics contact their legislators and urge them to fix the legislation by adding pro-life amendments.
Time is very short. Health care legislation will be voted on in both the House and Senate within weeks, if not days.
“I support, and the U.S. bishops support, authentic health care reform. And by that, I mean expanding access to health care for those Americans that are currently excluded — oftentimes because of pre-existing conditions or because they are the working poor,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“And I believe,” he continued, “that there are ways we can solve that problem without funding abortion and without necessarily doing such major government involvement in the health care delivery system.”
It is imperative that Catholics contact their legislators very soon.
“These provisions are unacceptable, and members of Congress should be allowed to vote on them,” said Schuttloffel. “It is expected that the House will consider its bill this week. It is urgent that people call their representatives now and make their views heard. These programs, if passed, will be extraordinarily difficult to overturn.”
“Asking Catholics — and all Americans — to subsidize other people’s abortions with their tax dollars is radical, immoral, and unacceptable,” he continued. “That this would be done in the name of health care reform is particularly outrageous. Authentic reform should be in the service of life, not its destruction.”