Moments after President Obama signed the Senate version of the health care reform legislation into law this afternoon, Cardinal Francis George spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as he expressed their continued concern over the lack of conscience protections in the law and the limited ability of the president’s executive order to prevent federal funding of abortion.
The statement was approved by the 32-member Administrative Committee of the USCCB, which was holding its March meeting.
The USCCB statement began by applauding the health care legislation for helping to “fulfill the duty that we have to each other for the common good” by addressing the shortcomings of the current health care system which left many of the poor and marginalized without basic and necessary care.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Catholic bishops, who emphasized that they “speak in the name of the Church and for the Catholic faith itself,” said that the law is “profoundly flawed.”
The bishops noted that “there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.”
Additionally, they said, “The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context). As well, many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money.”
The bishops also mentioned the disagreement over abortion funding that occurred within the political sphere as well as the public dissent of the Catholic Health Association and others.
“Many in Congress and the Administration, as well as individuals and groups in the Catholic community, have repeatedly insisted that there is no federal funding for abortion in this statute and that strong conscience protection has been assured. Analyses that are being published separately show this not to be the case, which is why we oppose it in its current form,” they said.
In response to these findings, the bishops stated that “We and many others will follow the government’s implementation of health care reform and will work to ensure that Congress and the Administration live up to the claims that have contributed to its passage. We believe, finally, that new legislation to address its deficiencies will almost certainly be required.”
While the Executive Order is laudable in its statement of the necessity to “establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services,” the bishops pointed out that “the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself.”
“We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions,” the statement said.
The American bishops also recognized and affirmed the pro-life members of Congress from both political parties “who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the principles outlined above.” These men and women have “often been vilified and have worked against great odds,” they said.
The bishops closed their statement by saying, “The Catholic faith is not a partisan agenda, and we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to working for health care which truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.”