By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The Catholic bishops fired off another letter to the U.S. Senate last night urging opposition to the Democratic healthcare bill poised to pass tomorrow. Despite abortion funding restrictions that have provoked the ire of the leading abortion-rights groups, the bishops say the Senate bill still allows federal funding of abortion coverage and make clear they'll accept nothing less than the House healthcare bill's sweeping ban on federal abortion funding.
Here's the top of the letter, which also cites concerns about coverage for immigrants and about affordability:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge the Senate not to move its current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential changes to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all.
The Catholic bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all, and insisted that providing health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority. In our letter of November 20 we urged the Senate to act as the House has in the following respects:
- keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on abortion;
- protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access; and
- include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards.
Disappointingly, the legislative proposal now advancing to final approval in the Senate does not meet these moral criteria. Specifically, it 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.
Protecting Human Life and Conscience.
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.
Read the full letter here.