As Senate health care bill moves, U.S. bishops' officials see flaws going unfixed

Kathy Saile / Richard Doerflinger
Kathy Saile / Richard Doerflinger


Responding to the Senate Finance Committee’s passage of a proposed health care reform bill, officials with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say the bishops will have no choice but to oppose the bill. They cite the legislation’s shortfalls in health coverage and its lack of prohibitions on abortion funding.

By a 14-9 vote on Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of a health care reform bill. All the committee’s Democrats voted in its favor, as did Sen. Olympia Snow (R-Maine).

A Wednesday press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reiterated the bishops’ position that policies against abortion funding and protective of conscience rights must be in the bill.

The bishops also said health care should be affordable and available to the poor and vulnerable, while the needs of legal immigrants and their families should also be met.

Kathy Saile, Director of the USCCB Office of Domestic Social Development, said the USCCB remains hopeful that “problematic provisions” can be worked out.

“But time is running short and if the provisions are not fixed, the bishops have been clear that they will have no choice but to oppose a final bill,” Saile continued. “The stated purpose of pursuing health care reform was to provide those without health care coverage access to quality and affordable health care. There is real doubt that this bill will achieve that goal.”

Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said that no current health care bill approved by committee is consistent with “longstanding and widely supported” policies on abortion and conscience rights.

Reporting that some have made “misleading comments” about abortion funding in proposed health care legislation, Doerflinger said that the Senate Finance Committee’s bill and other bills appropriate their own funds and are outside the scope of the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for almost all abortions, applies to the annual funding appropriations for the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kevin Appleby, USCCB Director of Migration and Refugee Policy, charged that the bill falls “well short” of the goal of significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

“As passed out of the Finance Committee, millions of legal immigrants and their families would be left outside the system, dependent on emergency rooms for their primary care,” he said.

In an October 8 letter, the USCCB pledged to work “tirelessly” to remedy what it saw as the “central problems” of the bill.

To become law, the bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee must now pass the full U.S. Senate and then be reconciled with any version passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

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