The U.S. Bishops' Pro-life Committee chairman, Cardinal Justin Rigali, is calling on the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to amend the health care reform legislation so that it will not cover abortion and will protect the consciences of medical personnel.
Cardinal Rigali made the bishops' concerns known to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter sent on July 29.
With two House committees already finished with their recommendations for the House version of health care reform legislation, the cardinal's letter represents a final attempt to have Catholics' concerns heard in the House. Following the submission of the three House committees, the Senate will also have to approve legislation, which will then have to be reconciled with the House's bills.
While the U.S. bishops support health care reform, Cardinal Rigali stressed that it must be “genuine,” which he said means it must uphold “longstanding and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates, and in favor of conscience protection.”
“Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an ‘abortion rights’ agenda or reversing longstanding current policies against federal abortion mandates and funding,” he insisted.
On the issue of abortion, the Philadelphia cardinal listed several problems.
Chief among the cardinal's concerns is that the legislation “delegates to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to make abortion a basic or essential benefit in all health plans, or in the 'public plan' created by the legislation.”
“This would be a radical change,” Rigali stated, pointing out that “Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits plans and places no requirement on private plans, most of which also decline to cover elective abortions.”
In addition, the bill would also authorize federal funds that do not pass through the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, which enables the funds to circumvent the Hyde amendment and other provisions that have “prevented direct federal funding of abortion for over three decades.”
The solution, the cardinal wrote, is to create a new provision against abortion funding for the current legislation. This would “ensure consistency with the policy in all other federal health programs.”
Finally, Cardinal Rigali said that the provisions that require timely access to all benefits covered by qualified health plans “could be used by courts to override and invalidate state laws regulating abortion, such as laws to ensure women’s safety and informed consent and those on promoting parental involvement.”
On the issue of protecting Americans' consciences, the cardinal reminded representatives that several federal laws “have long protected the conscience rights of health care providers.” Noting that President Obama recently stated that he accepts these current laws and will do nothing to weaken them, he called on Congress to “make the same pledge, by ensuring that this legislation will maintain protection for conscience rights.”
Cardinal Rigali closed his letter by urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to uphold existing federal policies on abortion and protect consciences by supporting amendments by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA)
The full letter from Cardinal Rigali can be read at: www.usccb.org/prolife/CardRigali-AbortionNeutralReform-7-29-09.pdf.