From the Bishops Keep health-care reform 'abortion-neutral'

During the past several months, the U.S. bishops have not only followed the health-care debate; but, we — like other citizens interested in the common good — have also tried to shape it.

For years, the body of U.S. Catholic bishops has supported health-care reform. Like many other Americans, regardless of party affiliation, we hold that the status quo is ultimately unsustainable. Access to health care is a human right. Our position has been, and continues to be, that any reform should aim at health care that is accessible, affordable and respects the life and dignity of every human being from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

Because health-care reform is too important and legitimate a goal to allow it to be hijacked by destructive agendas, such as government-mandated abortion coverage, we lobbied strongly that any health-care legislation be "abortion neutral."

While our opposition to abortion is well-known, we recognize the sad reality that abortion is legal, available and offered by insurers as optional coverage. However, we insist that health-care-reform legislation under consideration does not become a vehicle for government-required payments for abortion or abortion mandates.

We were heartened when President Obama declared to the nation that "under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions." But, alas, the legislation that emerged from congressional committees did not meet our essential criteria; neither did it reflect the president's pledge. Thankfully, on Nov. 7, the House of Representatives approved the Stupak Amendment and thus reaffirmed the essential, widely supported policy against using federal funds for elective abortion coverage. This amendment assures that Americans are not forced to pay for the destruction of unborn children as part of needed health-care reform.

Lest long-standing protections be swept away and be replaced by unprecedented government involvement in the destruction of innocent human life, it is critical that the Senate adopt the House-approved Stupak-Amendment language so that no one is required to pay for or participate in abortion.

Any health-care legislation should keep in place what have been in other federal health programs since 1973: i.e. the Church Amendment that protects health-care providers from being forced to provide abortions and sterilizations against their moral and religious convictions and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which exempts religiously affiliated plans from a federal mandate for providing contraception coverage.

The Senate must address other essential moral priorities: protecting conscience rights; making health coverage more affordable and accessible to those in need; and ensuring that immigrants do not lose or will not be denied health-care coverage needed for the good of their families and the health of society. Without such action by the Senate, legal immigrants would still face barriers to participation that would leave them worse off. Even American families of modest means under current provisions in the Senate version would be required to spend more money than they could afford for health-care coverage.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Policies adopted in health-care reform will have an impact for good or ill for years to come. No one should be required to pay for or participate in an abortion. A recent survey showed that 67 percent of U.S. adults oppose requiring people to pay for abortion coverage; 56 percent oppose making them do so through insurance premiums.

If President Obama and the Democrats in Congress want to advance health coverage — and not just to advance an agenda on abortion — then they should take care that their legislation is, in fact, "abortion neutral."

Despite our long-standing support for health-care reform, no new legislation would be better than bad legislation. Any final bill that does not maintain the well-established policy against federal funding of abortion would demand our vigorous opposition. We still advocate for genuine health-care reform — a bill that protects the life and dignity, the consciences and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Such a genuine reform remains a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.


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