November 20th, 2009
06:44 PM ET
9 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. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    AH SHUT UP.... how many people has the catholic church killed over the last 2,000 years???

    November 20, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  2. W l Jones

    Twillion of life been destroyed each and every day ,only a few hundred every week if people know what I mean.Enough said.

    November 20, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  3. adods

    Since the church has failed to teach morality it thinks the government should legislate it. The legislature has no business doing the church's job.

    November 20, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  4. MARK

    Looks like almost everyone is unhappy with Obama's Health Reform Bill. Get a clube, Mr. President.

    November 20, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  5. Bill

    I'm so tired of the religious freaks. I thought we were done with this from the Bush/Cheney disaster! When will people realize that the bible is a made up book.

    November 20, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  6. Michele

    Since when did a religious section of the country get to make policy? I thought they were all about the separation of church and state? While I would never get an abortion, don;t know anyone who has had one, and find them sad, it is the law of the land, and when the legislative body caves to this special interest group (I can hardly wait for an SP tweet on this) they are not serving all their constituents.

    November 20, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. Rob from MO

    These guys need to start paying taxes. They are getting way too political. The Senate bill clearly prohibits tax money from funding abortion. What the bishops want is to prohibit any insurance coverage of abortion. That is interferring with contractual arrangements and should be vigorously opposed by all conservatives.

    November 20, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  8. dlr

    One thing to say: Separation of Church and State.

    November 20, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  9. dabble

    Obviously, if they want to involve themselves into politics (hey, we all know that churches are really political entities anyway), then they should lose all their tax free status fringes...I don't want my taxes in any way going to help support, directly or indirectly, any religious group I don't believe in.

    November 20, 2009 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  10. paul

    Ha. This is great. It is important to adhere to the old Catholic Bishop Rule here: Listen to what a Catholic Bishop says, and then do the opposite.

    November 20, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  11. RobertnTexas

    It's a good thing that in the United States of America we have the Separation of Church and State... The Catholic church has promoted unprotected sex worldwide which is one of the main causes for the overpopulation, mass starvation and misery. Organized religion is the root of all evil in this world.

    November 20, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. Mark

    Religion in Govt,- Iran, the Taliban and the USA GOP. Same disasterous results in each and every case. Lets use our minds and not superstition. Let us base legislation on what is in the best intrest of Americans. Not someone's religous dogma.

    November 20, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  13. Jon Stephens

    The Roman Catholic Church is an offense to God and the United States of America. So are all fundamentalists of all stripes.

    November 20, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  14. David (Florida)

    The church can start making suggestions to any legislation they want when they start paying taxes.

    November 20, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  15. Susan in NC

    Separation of church and state?????

    November 20, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  16. Marvin

    Where was their outrage when fellow bishops circumvented the law and are now free to continue to hurt unsuspecting children? Where were these God fearing men/women when the conservative base was spreading lies about health care or when the conservative were and still are supporting and promoting hate between the races? Honestly, who wants to listen to hypocrites attempting to perpetuate righteousness? Does God support hypocrisy? Does God support those who preach hate? Does God support those who push their own agenda in His name? I think they are setting themselves up for a public ridicule. It always happens when people make claims to be righteous and are not. God does care about laws; He cares about the hearts of mankind. Stick to preaching and teaching the Word of God. Did He not say, "When I have been lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people toward me." Abortion will not be conquered in the courts nor in legislation. It comes with a changed mindset through a changed heart. Why pick and choose a sin, just speak out against all sins. Especially hypocrisy.

    November 20, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  17. victor E. Gutierrez

    Why are we allowing the Catholics Bishops to complain about anything related to goverment or more specific abortion. If they want to get involve as a group, they should pay taxes to the state. In addition why they were not that strong when all the child abuses were going on in the church. Is it double standards? Is it okay to get involved and support child abuse, but it is not okay to allow a rape victim (as an example) to have an abortion. Somebody should let the bishops understand that to complain about about legal issues, they should firsat clean their own house.

    November 20, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  18. Citizen

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops is a dangerous group of old white men and young conservative brainwashed men, who attack women on every front, including nuns. They are power hungry, greedy and licivous, doing whatever it takes to build their empire.

    November 20, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  19. ade

    If decision about abortion is a private decision why should it be financed by public fund?

    November 20, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  20. Chris

    It would seem to me that the Catholic Curch would rather teach the word through politics and law, rather than through the church.

    November 20, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  21. Allan

    Since when is the United States a Catholic country, and since when do Cardinals and Bishops, whole ultimate loyalty is to their boss who is the head of a foreign state, have the right to comment on US government policy. Spain, a heavily Catholic country, has free abortion paid for by the Spanish government.

    November 20, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  22. Hank

    Who the heck cares what a bunch of old pedophiles has to say about it?

    November 20, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  23. Barbara

    Funny.... I'm a 71 year old woman who has been around long enough to have actually watched the John Kennedy elections. It was SO FEARED that Kennedy's Catholicism would somehow find its way into the White House if he were elected. John Kennedy had almost to take an oath that his religious beliefs would not affect his leadership.What has happened since?....

    The Catholic Church now wields its power and threatens to destroy a bill which would actually save lives of Americans. The threat is that of guilt being cast against any Catholic Senator or House Rep daring to vote for legislation that does not incorporate language APPROVED BY THE CHURCH????????

    The bill has safeguards to avoid tax money from funding abortions, which, by the way are legally sanctioned. Birth control pills are also condemned by Church doctrine, so how much power does the Church really want in intrusion into personal choice and state issues. – too much!

    Whatever happend to separation of Church and State???? Shameful. And... BTW, I am a Catholic and answer to my own conscience!

    November 20, 2009 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  24. Nate K


    Do the Bishops really feel that their opinion is relevant any more? I really hope that the senate does nothing to appease them, there should be no amendment to the bill based on religious views, that would clearly violate the separation of church and state. Not all Americans share their pro-life view, and not all Americans should be forced to abide by it. Heck, not all Catholics even feel this way, so I don't see why these Bishops feel they speak for their churches or for America as a whole. I am hoping the senate sends a clear message and doesn't cave in to their demands.


    November 20, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  25. Jackson

    I wish such smart, caring religious leaders would learn that no matter what they believe, it's not appropriate to force those beliefs onto others through the use of law. It's not their job to convert govern or legislate.

    November 20, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
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