While expressing support for some kind of health care reform, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat on Pro-Life Activities, says the present reform proposal is “seriously deficient” because it bypasses restrictions on the federal funding of abortion and allows federal officials to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit.
Writing in an August 11 letter to each member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Cardinal Rigali noted that the U.S. Catholic bishops view health care as a basic human right. They have long supported health care reform that “respects human life and dignity from conception to natural death” and provides access to quality health care for all, especially immigrants and the poor.
Cardinal Rigali said his present letter concerned the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200) and related legislation, emphasizing that respect for human life and the rights of conscience is a “fundamental requirement.”
“Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an ‘abortion rights’ agenda or reversing longstanding policies against federal funding and mandated coverage of abortion,” the cardinal wrote, echoing his July 29 letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“In this sense we urge you to make this legislation ‘abortion neutral,’ by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights.”
He described the proposed health care act as “seriously deficient” in that it delegates to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the power to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit in the health insurance plan the government will manage.
“This would be a radical change: Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits packages, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions,” he pointed out.
Further, federal funds authorized by the proposed legislation do not pass through the Department of Labor or the HHS appropriations bill, and so are not covered by the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding for abortions and health benefits package that include abortion.
According to Cardinal Rigali, the Capps Amendment, which was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, created a “legal fiction” and a “paper separation” between federal funding and abortion. The proposal uses federal funds to subsidize the public health plan and private plans that include abortion on demand. It requires a premium to cover “all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde Amendment.”
The claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion in the health care proposal is an “illusion,” Cardinal Rigali said.
“Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions,” he continued, warning that those who must purchase the public health plan will be “forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage.”
“Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others (and abortion coverage for themselves) even if they find abortion morally abhorrent,” the cardinal alerted the representatives, saying this is the opposite of current policy.
“Most Americans do not want abortion in their health coverage, and most consider themselves ‘pro-life,’ with a stronger majority among low-income Americans,” he said.
In addition to his criticisms, the cardinal described the “helpful improvements” of amendments that ensure the Act will not pre-empt state laws regulating abortion and existing federal conscience rights on abortion. He also praised the Stupak/Pitts Amendment which prohibited federally-funded governmental bodies from discriminating against providers and insurers who decline involvement in abortion.
Cardinal Rigali said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to ensure that “needed health reform” is not undermined by abandoning policies against abortion funding and conscience protections. He urged Congressmen to help ensure that “unacceptable features” are absent from any legislation that receives a full House vote.
“By your actions on these issues, you can advance urgently needed health care reform that will truly serve the poor and needy and uphold the dignity of all,” his letter concluded.