As the Senate prepares for the discussion of its health care reform bill this weekend, several bishops have sent the Senators a letter on behalf of the USCCB, calling the current version of the health care bill both “a huge disappointment” and “morally unacceptable.”
The letter, signed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities; Bishop William F. Murphy Diocese of Rockville Centre, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Bishop John Wester, Chairman of the Committee on Migration strongly urges the Senate to incorporate “essential changes” to the Senate health care reform bill in order “to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all.”
The letter notes that “the Catholic Bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all.” This health care, however, “must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable.”
The bishops state simple moral criteria necessary for adequate health care reform. The bill must “keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on abortion; protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access; and include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards.”
The letter urges the Senate to “include the House-passed provision that keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions or plans that include elective abortions.”
Noting that there was much confusion regarding the Stupak amendment and what it does, the letter explains that the amendment “does not change the current situation in our country: Abortion is legal and available, but no federal dollars can be used to pay for elective abortions or plans that include elective abortions.”
“This provision simply keeps in place existing policy and allows Congress to honor the President’s commitment that ‘no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions’,” it continues.
Essentially, “the amendment does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions,” the bishops stress.
They also emphasize that “the pending Senate bill does not live up to President Obama’s commitment of barring the use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws. The bill provides federal funding for plans that cover abortion, and creates an unprecedented mandatory “abortion surcharge” in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly and explicitly for other people’s abortions.”
“The legislation requires each region of the insurance exchange to include at least one health plan with unlimited abortion, contrary to the policy of all other federal health programs,” the letter reads.
Additionally, the bishops stress that “critically important conscience protections on issues beyond abortion have yet to be included in the bill.” For one example, the bill doesn’t guarantee that religious institutions would still be able to give their own employees health insurance policies that are acceptable to the institutions morals and teachings.
The bishops also note that the bill would prevent undocumented immigrants from buying health insurance with their own money. “Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care.”
“These moral criteria and policy objectives are not marginal issues or special interest concerns. They are the questions at the heart of the health care debate,” the bishops charge.
“Whose lives and health are to be protected and whose are not? Will the federal government, for the first time in decades, require people to pay for other peoples’ abortions? Will immigrants be worse off as a result of health care reform? This legislation is about life and death, who can take their children to the doctor and who cannot, who can afford decent health care coverage and who are left to fend for themselves,” they conclude.
In a separate statement the USCCB explains that the Stupak amendment in no way breaks the "status quo" on abortion, as pro-abortion and feminists organizations have claimed.
The amendment, explains the document, "applies to this legislation the longstanding policy of the Hyde Amendment, which has governed other federal health programs for over three decades."
The document notes that "all other federal health programs are currently covered by provisions like the Stupak amendment" including Medicaid, Medicare "and other programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Services." The amendment does not forbid abortion coverage in health plans that use only private funds and women will not lose whatever private abortion coverage they have now.
It also highlights that "numerous polls show that most Americans oppose public funding of abortion. A September 2009 survey conducted by International Communications Research is of special interest: Strong majorities opposed 'measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their federal taxes” (67% against to 19% in favor), as well as measures requiring them to pay for such coverage with their 'health insurance premiums'."
"In short, the Stupak amendment is a modest and reasonable measure. It reflects the Hyde amendment and all other existing federal abortion funding policies in the context of health care reform. Under this policy, anyone who actually wants abortion coverage can buy it with their own money; the government does not use taxpayer funds for abortions; and no one who opposes abortion is forced through their health premiums to pay for other people’s abortions. Congress should retain this amendment in any final health care reform legislation," the document concludes.