.- Addressing a coalition of religious progressives this afternoon in a teleconference call, President Barack Obama denied that his health care plan will include abortion and asked members of different religious denominations to "knock on doors, talk to neighbors, spread the facts and speak the truth," about his health care reform.
The conference held at 5 p.m. Eastern time, was sponsored by “40 Days for Health Reform,” a group of some 30 left-leaning religious organizations including the Catholic Social Justice Lobby ("Network”), Catholics United Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the George Soros-funded Faith in Public Life.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas were listed as sponsors of the “40 Minutes for Health Reform” audio webcast.
Florida Pastor John Hunter introduced the “40 Minutes” with a passionate call to “take action to make health care reform happen,” claiming that “this is not about ideology or partisan politics; this is about people’s lives.”
Several religious leaders where then introduced to tell horror stories involving parishioners, friends and relatives who died or are suffering from the lack of private health insurance or the shortcomings of Medicare or Medicaid.
After a “moment of silence,” Jim Wallis from Sojourners, one of the leading Christian progressives who has supported Obama's policies, said that "we are in danger of losing the moral core of the discussion" and promised a "steady moral drumbeat from the faith community" in the coming days. Their oft repeated message will be "a clear call for truth telling," Wallis said.
Wallis then introduced Melody Barnes, the White House Director of Domestic Policy, who responded to questions that were either asked live or sent in through the web.
Responding to a Catholic caller, Barnes insisted that "federal funds will not be used for abortion coverage" and promised "well crafted conscience protection clauses," citing President Obama's commitment made in this regard both during his conference at Notre Dame and in his meeting with the Catholic press that preceded his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
After the brief Q & A, some "people of faith around the country” gave ideas on how to promote the government's health care reform by "pulling the attention away from fear."
Then 15-year-old Carla Carranza, who attends the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, introduced the President.
President Barack Obama began by calling health coverage for Americans "a core ethical and moral obligation."
This “debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people." "I believe that nobody in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks health insurance," the president said.
"I know that there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate and there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness," Obama quipped, seeming to invoke the language of the Commandment.
The president reassured his listeners that government “would not meddle” with those who are satisfied with their health insurance or doctor.
He also addressed issues of concern to elderly people, calling the notion that his proposed changes to the health care system would lead to so-called death panels "just an extraordinary lie." The president added that, the idea that they would require federal funding for abortions or provide insurance for illegal aliens was not true and told callers the plan would not amount to a government takeover of health care or to cutting Medicare benefits for the elderly.
"These are fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation and that is that we look out for one another," he said. "That I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper and in the wealthiest nation on Earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call."
Obama said the opposition to his bill was no surprise. "Throughout history, whenever we have sought to change this country for the better, there have always been those who wanted to preserve the status quo.” "These always boil down to a contest between hope and fear."
"I need you to knock on doors, talk to neighbors, spread the facts and speak the truth," he told religious leaders.
“I hope you will all help us move this process forward in the months to come, bye bye," concluded the President, taking no questions.
“40 Days for Health Reform” said the goal of the conference was to “focus on health care reform as a moral imperative, and how health reform will improve the lives of everyone.”
The President's decision to address the health care debate “directly and specifically with the faith community,” “demonstrates how important the faith community is to seizing this historic moment of opportunity to improve the lives of so many people in our country,” the organizers also said.
According to independent poll tracking conducted by the Rasmussen Report, 35% of American voters say passage of the health care bill currently working its way through Congress would be better than not passing any health care reform legislation this year, while 54% say no health care reform passed by Congress this year would be the better option.