.- In a teleconference Monday afternoon, representatives of the USCCB reiterated that the current Senate health care bill needs "substantial improvement" before it can be considered anything but morally unacceptable for Catholics.
Present at the teleconference were John Carr, Executive Director of the USCCB's Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development; Kevin Applby, Director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs; Kathy Saile, Director of the Office of Domestic Policy; and Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
The spokesmen for the USCCB noted that the Senate's version of the health care bill falls short in three regards: abortion funding and conscience protection, immigrants rights in regards to health care, and accessibility and affordability.
The current version of the Senate bill does not allow undocumented immigrants to purchase federal health insurance with their own money and maintains the five year ban on legal immigrants having access to Medicaid.
For 24 million Americans who are well below the poverty line, the bill does not affect their access or ability to afford health insurance.
"To lose the precedent of no federal funding for abortion for the first time since Roe v Wade, to say that people, by law, have to pay for other peoples' abortions would be a fundamental failure," said John Carr. "Keeping in place the existing protections against federal funding for abortion seems frankly like a modest goal" as is "making sure that affordable and accessible health care is really affordable and accessible," he added.
The representatives made it clear that they were not changing any existing laws in their calls for change to the Senate bill. "For better or for worse, the status quo in this country is that abortion is legal and available and no one is required to pay for somebody else's abortion with their tax payer dollars or their premiums required by law," Carr said.
"Part of what's going on here," Carr remarked, "is the people on the other side have felt the need to dramatically exaggerate what the Stupak amendment does. What we're trying to do here is simply apply the Hyde amendment, which has been the law of the land for decades."
Not all of the Senators who voted to open discussion on the bill agree with what it currently says. "I, along with others, expect to have legitimate opportunities to influence the healthcare reform legislation that is voted on by the Senate later this year or early next year,'' said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)
Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he voted to move the bill to discussion because he wants the chance to amend it.
Political analysts are predicting the need for some delicate maneuvering on Reid's part to get this bill through the Senate.
In the mean time, John Carr noted, "when it comes to the abortion funding question, we clearly have precedent with us and we clearly have public opinion with us, you've all seen the CNN poll."
"Our hope is that having come this far, the Senate, and ultimately the Congress, and ultimately the country, will achieve the goal the bishops have set: which is genuine health care reform which will respect and protect the life, dignity, health, and consciences of all of us," Carr concluded.