Health reform bill disappoints U.S. bishops

By  Nancy Frazier O’brien, Catholic News Service
  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}WASHINGTON - The health reform legislation now before the U.S. Senate is “an enormous disappointment, creating new and completely unacceptable federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience,” the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Nov. 20.

A letter from the three chairmen outlining the USCCB’s problems with the Senate bill’s provisions on abortion and conscience protections, coverage of immigrants and affordability for low-income Americans went out about 24 hours before the Senate voted, 60-39, to begin debate on the legislation. The debate was expected to begin Nov. 30 after senators returned from the Thanksgiving break.

The Senate’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “does not meet ... moral criteria” outlined by the bishops, especially on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, the letter said.

“We believe legislation that violates this moral principle is not true health care reform and must be amended to reflect it,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Bishops William Murphy and John Wester, heads of the USCCB committees on Pro-Life Activities, on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and on Migration, respectively. “If that fails, the current legislation should be opposed.”

In addition to their three-page letter, the three leaders sent each senator a copy of a four-page fact sheet designed to refute “a number of misunderstandings and false claims” about the House-passed Stupak amendment, which they called “a modest and reasonable measure.”

The amendment reflects “existing federal abortion funding policies in the context of health care reform,” the fact sheet says. “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.”

In their letter, the committee chairmen said the Senate bill as currently written “does not live up to President (Barack) Obama’s commitment of barring the use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws.”

In addition, “the bill seriously weakens the current nondiscrimination policy protecting providers who decline involvement in abortions, providing stronger protection for facilities that perform and promote abortion than for those which do not,” the USCCB letter said.

The bishops also urged changes in other parts of the Senate legislation.

“We support the inclusion of all immigrants, regardless of status, in the insurance exchange ... (and) the removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs,” they said.

The USCCB representatives said choices made in the health reform debate “are not just political, technical or economic, but also moral decisions” and that the questions they raise “are not marginal issues or special-interest concerns.”

“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.”

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