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. Chuck

    The Catholic Bishops don't care about improving and reducing the cost of health care in the United States. They are only interested in protecting the dogma of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church lost my vote many years ago.

    November 20, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  2. jdl

    If those bishops want to play politics get rid of their tax exceptions and tax right off's of their contributors and you pay for your health care system. I love our system in canada we spend less per capita and are higher in healthcare than you people

    November 20, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  3. Kay

    This is a country founded on seperation of church and state. Have we reverted back to medival times, when we had to beg favor and do what the Catholic Church says we have to do. So if our goverment doesn't go along with what the Bishops want are they going to excomunicate us?

    November 20, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  4. LenSmith

    Just who do these Catholic Bishops think they are, God. They are willing to let thousands died because they don't understand human nature? If they don't want to have an abortion, then they shouldn't have one. No one, absolutely no one ever does something like an abortion lightly. I am against abortion, but I am a male and would not think that I have a right to tell someone to do something that is between them their doctor and God. The Catholic Bishops need to grow up.

    November 20, 2009 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  5. John W. Thomson

    The Bishops, in their infinite wisdom, do not grasp the point of abortion rights for women!! None of the Bishops has ever personally experienced a moral issue centered around an unplanned pregnancy, a pregnancy from rape or incestuous abuse, or any combination of the above circumstances. How can they decide what a woman feels who is trying to follow the Church's dictates and hear what the Bishops determine is appropriate behavior? Why is the Catholic Church so biased against women??
    This is not the Catholic Church I grew up in, served Mass in, felt accepted in.
    I am a disappointed and worried Catholic that my church has missed the whole point, and still lives in the period of the Counter-reformation!
    Someone tell the Bishops to look around !!

    November 20, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  6. Casey Nicholson

    So why does the CNN home page have the headline on this as saying that the Bishops are slamming the "Obama Bill". President Obama didn't author the Senate Bill. The executive branch of government signs legislation into law, it does not craft legislation. Civics 101....come on people.

    November 20, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  7. CareFree

    Maybe someone ought to remind the Catholic Bishops that America is not a Theocracy. They should stay out of attempts at government influence, stay out of political matters and certainly not publicize or try to influence legislation. Unless, of course, they chose to give up their "nonprofit status" and start paying U. S. taxes on all their property!

    November 20, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  8. Robert

    Given the incidence of proven carnal sin and history of discrimination against women in the Roman Catholic clergy, including its bishops, their collective task should be more properly addressed to removing the mote from their own eyes. Not my admonition, of course. Some
    character,I think it was, who kept upsetting yet another priesthood by distinguishing between true spirituality and hypocritical religiosity.

    November 20, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  9. malcolm75

    these people need to get a life and let people decide for themselves.

    November 20, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  10. Jim

    Hmmmm..... a letter from an organization that doesn't pay taxes. How about we get back a country that really separates church and state.

    November 20, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  11. Michael

    This, coming from the same idiot, morally vapid clowns who traded pedophile priests around different parishes like baseball cards?

    November 20, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  12. Freedom of religion includes the non-religious

    The constitution provides for separation of church and state. It is not enough that these nut-jobs run the lives of the billions stupid enough to believe what they say, they have to try to run the lives of everybody else in the country. If you don't want to have an abortion, don't have one, but don't take away the choice for those who don't believe like you do.

    November 20, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  13. Blue

    We have to get the church out of the government.

    November 20, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  14. Kelcy

    I wish the Bishops would shut up and sit down. They have never actively and aggressively come out against pedophilia or those that have condoned it. Rather they have actively and aggressively fought against the victims and in effect continued to victimize them. I have been disgusted beyond belief by them and pulled my family from "the church" because of that. The whole abortion and birth control rhetoric has just added insult to injury. Almost makes one think that their position is really to just generate more potential victims.

    November 20, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  15. jtt

    I am opposed to any government plan to pay for abortion.

    November 20, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  16. Emrys

    Even a spiritual and non-affiliated individual such as myself can grasp the sanctify of life. How come a simple concept which my four year old child was capable of understanding (babies are alive in the belly) and that my eleven year old was abhorred and shocked by (that women choose to murder those babies) is somehow above the heads of grown adults is beyond me. It's merely a testament to the selfish nature and survival mechanisms of individuals who would prefer to never accept responsiblity and guilt for the murders they condone and commit.

    November 20, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  17. Matt

    They have spent decades enabling the rape of children by priests.

    I do not take moral advice from people like that.

    November 20, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  18. Senior Lilarose in Oregon

    These bishops are hypocrites!

    How dare these MEN decide what is best for women concerning reproduction!

    These jerks keep women in third world nations pregnant and their resulting children starving!

    Bishops practice birth control themselves! Isn't "celibacy" a form of birth control?


    November 20, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  19. Jeff

    Who give a crap what the bishops think. They represent a small portion on the US

    November 20, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  20. Centrist

    More proof that abortion is a religious argument. If the senate caves in to the pressure, are they violating the separation of church and state? I think yes.

    November 20, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  21. Chicago11

    The Catholic Bishops do not speak for me. Ignore their tantrums. I can't respect their naked politicking on health care. They are doing absolutely NOTHING to help assure decent affordable, accessible health care to all Americans - including illegal immigrants. Shame on them! And the audacity to call themselves Christian!

    November 20, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  22. liz

    I hate to break it to the bishops, but this is not a Catholic theocracy. They don't dictate to our government what our laws should be. Besides, there are a great many Catholics in this country who dare to think for themselves and are pro-Choice! If they want to lobby the congress and be involved in politics, let them give up their tax-exempt status.

    November 20, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  23. JackieC

    Why don't the bishops stay out of politics? If they want to be a lobbying arm, then they should have to pay taxes. They should just concentrate on figuring out why people are leaving the church in droves. I don't remember them being this upset while the church was covering up priests molesting little boys.

    November 20, 2009 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  24. Mike in SA

    That other organization, you know the one the Obama administration claims is "not a real news organization" reported this story starting at 10 AM CST this morning. CNN of course held on to this until Friday...night. You know when plenty of people will see it.

    Wonder when they are going to finally report about the emails from Hadley CRU that were hacked and show obvious concerted, coordinated, and consistent manipulation of climate change data from the "scientists" at that institution. Emails also show this manipulation of data extended to universities here in the US that, of course, were taking government funds (which would make this fraud). There is a bevy of evidence in these emails and documents show that the CC "experts" knowingly kept dissenting voices out of the argument and used "tricks" to manipulate data to show that the globe was warming instead of what the data actually showed which was that the earth's temperatures were flat or declining. I'm sure it will be days before we see that if ever.

    November 20, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  25. Tony

    This is a free country and abortion is legal. I never voted for a bishop to create public policy. Do we have to get the O.K. from Islamic leaders on certain issues? Who do these guys think they are? Why don't they worry about the child molestations taking place daily inside their sacred houses? Give me a break. I think I can get moral advice from a better source. Why don't we allow women and God to sort things out? What happened to having faith in God? Is that just lip service?

    November 20, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
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