Bishops Unite in Opposition to Current Health Care Reform

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops have sent a letter to each member of the U.S. Senate urging them to support a “fair and just health care reform bill” that excludes mandated coverage for abortion, and upholds longstanding laws that protect conscience rights.

The letter, which was sent on Sept. 30, was signed by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William F. Murphy, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester, Chairman of the Committee on Migration.

In their latest missive, the bishops inform legislators that they are not satisfied with the health care reform bills currently under consideration in both the House and the Senate.
“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,” the letter states. “These deficiencies must be corrected.”
The letter goes on to say that “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.”
This is the fourth letter sent by the bishops to members of Congress since July 17 urging them to craft a reform that respects the right to life and conscience.

“We don’t have any bill in Congress right now that’s acceptable on the abortion issue,” said Richard Doeflinger, associate director for policy development at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, to

“We are concerned about covering people who can’t afford health insurance now, but we are also insisting that it must be health care reform that protects life at every stage and, so far, we don’t have that.”
Contrary to rumors that not all bishops are opposed to the health care reform bills, Mr. Doeflinger said “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“I’ve seen many misleading news reports saying, ‘Oh, Cardinal Rigali is out there being concerned about abortion – but he’s alone in this and the other bishops are more concerned about passing health care reform or something. He [Rigali] was speaking for the USCCB on those issues when he wrote his letter,” Mr. Doerflinger said,  “and I think the fact that all three committee chairman [Bps. Murphy and Wester] who are interested in the bill are signing this common letter now [Sept. 30] that raises the same concerns, among others, is an indication of that. The bishops are basically together on this.”

Individual bishops have also spoken out against the current legislation, urging that it be amended to exclude taxpayer-funded abortion.
For instance, Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless criticized the House reform bill for circumventing the Hyde amendment which prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, by “drawing funding from new sources not covered by the Hyde amendment, and by creatively manipulating how federal funds by the Hyde amendment are accounted,” he pointed out.
Two Kansas bishops Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, issued a statement on Sept. 1 saying that health care reform must “keep intact our current public policies protecting taxpayers from being coerced to fund abortions. … It is inadequate to propose legislation that is silent on this morally crucial matter.”
“Given the penchant of our courts over the past 35 years to claim unarticulated rights in our Constitution, the explicit exclusion of so-called ‘abortion services’ from coverage is essential,” they said.
Also in September, Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany, said that any health care that is so desperately needed “will be doomed if the plan compels Americans to pay for the destruction of human life whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.”

On August 28, Bishop Samuel Aquila of the diocese of Fargo wrote that “any attempt to provide greater access to health care without safeguarding human life from the moment of conception is inherently inconsistent. The destruction of human life by abortion and other evils can never be a neutral question or one that is promoted by any faithful Catholic.”
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