November 20th, 2009
06:44 PM ET
10 years ago

Bishops slam 'unacceptable' health care bill

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Bishops slam 'unacceptable' health care bill ."]Washington (CNN)– The US Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a strongly worded letter to members of the US Senate Friday, terming the abortion language in the Senate Democrats' health care bill "completely unacceptable."

"The new Senate bill is an enormous disappointment, creating new and completely unacceptable federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience," reads the letter obtained by CNN Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh.

The bishops proved their power in the House, when, following direct negotiations with the House Speaker, they forced House Democratic leaders to allow a vote on the Stupak amendment, which introduced firmer restrictions on abortion funding.

The language in the Senate bill regarding abortion coverage is not as specific as the House bill passed earlier this month. In their letter to the Senate, the bishops ask for a similar measure to be added.

"Specifically, we urge you 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. "

Catholic members of Congress, like Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, have already faced rising pressure from church leaders as debate rages over the language in the Stupak amendment.

Full text:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 3211 FOURTH STREET NE • WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 • 202-541-3000 WEBSITE: WWW.USCCB.ORG/HEALTHCARE • FAX 202-541-3339November 20, 2009

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge the Senate to incorporate essential changes to the Senate’s health care reform bill to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all. We especially urge the Senate to act as the House has in the following respects:

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 Catholic Bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all. As pastors and teachers, we believe genuine health care reform must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable. We believe health care legislation must respect the consciences of providers, taxpayers, and others, not violate them. We believe universal coverage should be truly universal, not deny health care to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here. Providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority.

Sadly, the legislative proposal recently unveiled in the Senate does not meet these moral criteria. Specifically, it violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions – a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program – and now in the House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that violates this moral principle is not true health care reform and must be amended to reflect it. If that fails, the current legislation should be opposed.

Protecting Human Life and Conscience

Specifically, we urge you 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.

In the aftermath of the overwhelming and bipartisan House vote for the Stupak-Smith-Ellsworth- Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Pitts Amendment, there has been much misunderstanding of what it does and does not do. This 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.” The amendment does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It Health Care Letter to the Senate November 20, 2009 Page 2 simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions.

Thus far, 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. Its version of a public health plan (the “community health insurance plan”) allows the Secretary of HHS to mandate coverage of unlimited abortions nationwide, and also allows each state to mandate such abortion coverage for all state residents taking part in this federal program even if the Secretary does not do so. The bill seriously weakens the current nondiscrimination policy protecting providers who decline involvement in abortion, providing stronger protection for facilities that perform and promote abortion than for those which do not. 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. Finally, critically important conscience protections on issues beyond abortion have yet to be included in the bill. To take just one example, the bill fails to ensure that even religious institutions would retain the freedom to offer their own employees health insurance coverage that conforms to the institution’s teaching. On these various issues the new Senate bill is an enormous disappointment, creating new and completely unacceptable federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience.

Immigrants and Health Care Coverage

We support the inclusion of all immigrants, regardless of status, in the insurance exchange. The Senate legislation forbids undocumented immigrants from purchasing health-care coverage in the exchange. Undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance plan 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. This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.

We also support the removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare. Legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes, should have access to such programs if needed. Removing the ban would help ensure that legal immigrants, who were widely praised in past immigration debates for their many contributions and for playing by the rules, will still have access to health care.

Accessible and Affordable Health Care

The Catholic bishops have advocated for decades for affordable and accessible health care for all, especially the poor and marginalized. The Senate bill makes great progress in covering people in our nation. However, the Senate bill would still leave over 24 million people in our nation without health insurance. This is not acceptable.

The bishops support the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for people living at 133 percent or lower of the federal poverty level. The bill does not burden states with excessive Medicaid matching rates. The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange. However, the Senate bill would still leave low-income families earning between 133 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level financially vulnerable to health care costs. Overall, the average subsidy provided for in the Senate bill is $1,300 less than the average subsidy in the Health Care Letter to the Senate November 20, 2009 Page 3

House bill. Improvements to the bill should be made so that low-income families have reasonable out of pocket expense for health care.

Immediate reforms are included in the bill that should be helpful in providing relief to the uninsured and underinsured. Additionally, reforms that will strengthen families and protect low-income and vulnerable people such as eliminating denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions including pregnancy; eliminating life time caps; offering long-term disability services; and extending dependent coverage to uninsured young adults - are significant steps toward genuine health care reform. We urge the Senate to maintain these provisions.

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: 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? At their core, these health care choices are not just political, technical, or economic, but also moral decisions. 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.

Our appeal for health care legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all reflects the unique perspectives and experience of the Catholic community. Our hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities provide quality health care to millions. Our dioceses, institutions, and ministries purchase health care for many thousands of employees and their families. Our emergency rooms, shelters, clinics, and charities pick up the pieces of a failing health care system. Our Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity.

For many months, our Bishops’ conference has been working with members of Congress, the Administration and others to fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all. Our message has been clear and consistent throughout. We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.


Bishop William F. Murphy Diocese of Rockville Centre


Committee on Domestic Justice

and Human Development

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston


Committee on Pro-life Activities

Bishop John Wester

Diocese of Salt Lake City


Committee on Migration

Filed under: Health care • Senate
soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. Vincent Petrosino

    This is a perfect example of the need to keep the divide between church and state intact. Organized religion such as the Catholic Church do not seem to accept that you cannot force people into a moral code they do not choose. We have free will and as such we have freedom of choice. There is no one route to salvation and there is no need to force people to abide by the rulings of one established denomination. The Catholic Church is not a credible guidepost into human sexuality, marriage and human relationships. It is operated by men with little or no input from women. Its clergy are celibate which has led to many scandals and aberrations of human law. It opposes birth control which totally ignores human sexuality and the need for human contact. Let the Council of Bishops all unmarried, celibate and older men understand that to continue in this manner leads to the need to tax these institutions. Hypocrisy is not a solution to real human problems.

    November 20, 2009 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  2. jfl

    Does the catholic church pay taxes? Can the bishops get pregnant?

    November 20, 2009 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  3. Steve in Kentucky

    Because, despite of the outright suffering of their congregants, the bishops are more worried about how "strong" the anti-abortion language is. This is why I'm glad I'm not a Catholic.

    November 20, 2009 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  4. Bunksplace

    Who cares what the Catholic Bishops want. Talk about endangering the human conscience these so-called men of the cloth should clean their own house of priest pedophiles trolling for young boys before preaching conscience to the rest of us. They can take their sacrilegious beliefs and stick them where the sun don't shine!

    November 20, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  5. Reggie from LA

    It is humbling to comment while pious MEN (mostly) have invested much thought and prayer to this portion of the health care bill. However, founding fathers, Constitution blah, blah, blah, cause me to speak out. Where the he@# have you been Bishops? While we have endured patri/matricide, systematic rape and other atrocities for years. Be honest with yourselves lest ye be judged. YOU HAVE BEEN ALMOST SILENT!! A few among you have been worth your salt, but the majority of you should have been screaming from street corners for years. Or maybe you wait for the Vatican (or lesser special interests) to tell you when to speak as political entities. Silence yourselves again, lest ye be taxed. This church and state nonsense is like some bane to you, but this makes for great political foothold, does it not?

    November 20, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  6. W. K. George

    It really is time to remove the tax exemptions of the Catholic Church. The leaders of this organization have far overstepped the bounds of separation of church and state, both by their direct intervention in the political process and by their direct lobbying from the pulpit.

    November 20, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  7. George

    I'm no Constitutional scholar, but I was under the impression that a church had no business telling legislators what they can and can't include in their laws.

    November 20, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  8. James P

    This is absolutely absurd. If this was really an issue, the bishops would be taking up arms with every insurance company that offers abortion.

    They should realize this ultimately has nothing to do with our government making these moral decisions. Its the people who make these decisions, not the government. All of this double speak is overwhelming.

    November 20, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  9. Bertina

    What happened to separatiion of church and state? Since when can the catholic church control our healthcare? There are other religions in this country...are they all going to get their way on the healthcare bill? I know the catholics would like to convert everyone to the catholic religion, but, that's what the muslims would like...convert to Islam. I'm Lutheran and I think woman have rights. I'm tired of men trying to run the show!!!!!

    November 20, 2009 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  10. Insurance companies also fund abortions

    The church has failed to notice that private insurance companies also fund abortions. When we all pay our fees to insurance companies, we are funding coverage for others. Remember that an insurance company is basically a legalized ponzi scheme. So the catholic church should not be fighting the government health care plan as being the only insurance option to fund abortions. I don' think it is right, but it is the reality of what is happening with the overall health care system.

    November 20, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  11. Mike McDermott

    It's commendable for the Catholic Bishops to espouse these principles. But what is reality? I've called for an investigation of what happened to me in two Catholic Hospitals for almost 8 years now, to no avail. I've never seen anyone from the Catholic Church. I'm a guy who was raised Catholic with 12 years of Catholic education. Who's running the Catholic Hospitals? The local Bishop? Does he know the difference between a "medical error" and "criminal disregard?" Or is it convenient to hide behind the cloak of silence, again? How does the Catholic Church justify spending $165 million on 2 hospitals "out of pocket" and yet go after the uninsured for unpaid bills? What's happening under the guise of Catholicism?

    November 20, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  12. SL

    sorry CNN, re: your "headline" for this article...remind me why this is "Obama's Bill" and not the people's bill, as crafted by our democratically elected representatives in the House and Senate?

    Freaking sensational garbage – and you fancy yourselves an independent news source: you should all be embarrassed to work there.

    November 20, 2009 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  13. Joe

    Please make them pay taxes. There words should fall on deaf ears! They have no power, now be off, before someone drops a house on you,my dark age fellows...

    November 20, 2009 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  14. lila

    until the fetus can survive independent of the mother... it's only a human life potential. A potential can not take away the liberty of an independent individual in America. The Catholic Bishops need to look out for the children that are already fully realized individuals. The Catholic Bishops have a pretty pathetic track record when it comes to protecting children who's basic potential has already been reached. However, the next step is their potential to become functional productive happy adults... but all too often those very same Catholic Bishops thought nothing of greatly damaging if not destroying that potential. It's time the Bishops clean up their own back yard before they go knocking on their neighbors door. Check yourselves before you check another,

    November 20, 2009 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  15. A. Smith, Oregon

    This is yet another reason the Federal Government should re-think, Tax Exemption for various Religious Organizations.

    Time and again, the Catholic Churches which have billions of dollars worth of property in America alone and pay ZERO property taxes, are breaking the State and Federal Laws in actively engaging in Politics.

    None of those Old Men in robes will ever bear a child, nor be called upon against their will to have a fetus on life support from their very body for 9 full months.

    Those old men are utterly offensive in their attempts to remove womens rights. Previously they removed women's right to education, women's right to teach, women's right to vote. Women have since recovered those rights and told those self-titled religious carpet baggers, Hell No!

    November 20, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  16. normajean

    What ever happened to the" separation of church and state."? The bishops can say what they please but they should stay out of this health care plan because there are many different views both religious and political that come into play here...They may guide their Catholic parishioners any way they like but we of other faiths have a right to live our lives in what ever way we please according to our own religious beliefs..The Catholic Church is not a part of this health plan.

    November 20, 2009 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  17. 2Lt. Rosa Lee Wells, U.S. Army, RT. disabled Veteran

    Gentlemen: Where exactly were you when the Bush Administration was dropping bombs on The Already Born? Why the silence when the lives of Arab men, women, children, and pregnant women were ended in the fires of bombing campaigns and Shock and Awe? When American soldiers died in a war of choice? You had over six years to band together and try and stop the carnage of The Already Born, but you put more emphasis on a cluster of unnucleated cells that you do on those who are living and breathing now. At least it seems that way, since your silence on the recent wars is deafening. Do you hear us, Bishops? Does God hear your silence? I will NEVER go back to the church. And I will raise my children and grandchildren as Quakers or any other religion that follows the true dictates of the peace of Christ, even if it ostracizes me from my family.

    November 20, 2009 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  18. Ken Williams

    This aspect of the health care debate is so heart wrenching. I'm sure the liberal haters will blast the Bishops, but they are acting as a voice for half the country that believes abortion is murder. Elective abortion is the key phrase. Protect those who've been raped and who's life is in danger, but those of us who are pro-life don't want to support murder. If the angry and so called enlightened left is serious about compromise put this in bill and make sure illegals don't receive care their not paying for.

    November 21, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  19. Keith in Austin

    I am quite confident that Reid and his band of Liberal Democrat pirates consider their ideology far above Catholicsm. Their true colors will shine today! America will uprise against Obama and those leading our Country to Socialism by the masses! The clock is ticking! Tick tock tick tock!

    November 21, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  20. jules sand-perkins

    The Roman Catholic Bishops themselves are unacceptible to me.
    Under the proposed health-care reform, not a single bishop would be required to undergo an abortion, no matter how much some bishops strive to become candidates.

    November 21, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  21. jules sand-perkins

    Always be sure to consult a Witch Doctor AND a Creation Scientist before seeking the advice of a medical doctor.

    November 22, 2009 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  22. Rob Green

    Catholic teaching is sanctity of life. All life. Yes that makes us struggle. The Bishops have been pushing for healthcare reform for many years. Keep in mind the Bishops do make any laws, you know, the separation of church and state thing. And who knows maybe it is time to tax churches.

    November 23, 2009 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
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