.- The U.S. Catholic bishops sent an open letter to Congress today, stating that they will âvigorously opposeâ the health care bills unless they prevent taxpayer funds from paying for abortion, make care affordable for everyone and ensure that immigrants have access to the health system.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop William Murphy and Bishop John Wester penned the letter on behalf of all the U.S. bishops to "express our disappointment that progress has not been made on the three priority criteria for health care reform that we have conveyed previously to Congress."
"In fact," they noted, "the Senate Finance Committee rejected a conscience rights amendment accepted earlier by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.â
The bishops warned Congress that if the final legislation âdoes not meet our principles, we will have no choice but to oppose the bill.â
At the same time, the Catholic bishops said that they âremain committed to working with the Administration, Congressional leadership and our allies to produce final health reform legislation that will reflect our principles.â
Listing the flaws that they see in the current health care bills, the Catholic bishops urged lawmakers to prohibit âmandated coverage for abortion, and incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.â
âNo one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion,â they insisted.
Despite insistence by some legislators that the reform bills do exclude abortion and protect consciences, the high-ranking bishops said that, âNo current bill meets this test.â
The prelates also stated that any reform proposal should âmake quality health care affordable and accessible to everyone, particularly those who are vulnerable and those who live at or near the poverty level.â
The final measure the bishops pushed for was that legislation should include âeffective measures to safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society.â They also asserted that the bill should âensure legal immigrants and their family members have comprehensive, affordable, and timely access to health care coverage.â
Saying that they âsincerely hope that the legislation will not fall short of our criteria,â the U.S. bishops said that they âremain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes.â
âIf acceptable language in these areas cannot be found,â the warned, âwe will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously.â
The bishops concluded their letter by writing, âMuch-needed reform of our health care system must be pursued in ways that serve the life and dignity of all, never in ways that undermine or violate these fundamental values.â