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. Rich Zimmerman

    Honestly, can you guys stop headlining polite disagreements as a "slam"???

    It's a little embarrassing.

    If you'd like to work for the New York Post or be sportswriters, by all means, do so. But if you'd like to at least try to be "the most trusted name in news" you really need to actually read the articles you're headlining.

    Sorry for "slamming" you.

    November 20, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  2. ralph esposito

    Kudos to the American Catholic bishops and those like them. The first amendment gives them the right to speak as it also gives that right to individuals. Like it or not, abortions for the most part are not performed because there is a medical problem and yet people insist that it is a right, but the same people do not fight for health care for everyone and the banning of insurance policies that really hurt Americans and make CEO's of "health care providers very rich.

    November 20, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  3. Dickinson

    I commend the Bishops for doing what they can to protect and care for all human beings. Health care reform cannot come at the price of more innocent lives. The Bishops are advocating a health care policy, and want health care for all Americans, but will not support a bill that aims at making abortion even more widespread.

    November 20, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  4. Mhnmm

    Anyone heard of seperating church from state? I'm talking to those living below the Mason-Dixon line. Mhnmmm

    November 20, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  5. Joe the carpenter Lex. Ky.

    Separation of church and state, or we'll be soon, burning people at the stake again.

    November 20, 2009 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  6. Marge

    Gee, since I'm not Catholic (or evangelical for that matter) and don't believe in the same version of God they do, I shouldn't have to be forced to bare children against my will. My God says I can do what I want with my body and I don't have to have to listen to a bunch of old men that don't have sex unless it's with little boys (or in the case of conservatives and republicans, take off for, was it Argentina? -solicit in restrooms, and what was it now that David Vitter did?) The states would make a lot of money off the churches if they lost their tax exemption. Tsk, tsk. Shouldn't expect not to pay to play if they want to write legislation.

    November 20, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  7. Rick

    The Catholic Church believes its ok to have sex with kids but they don't want healthcare. The Catholic Church has no right to get into politics and if they do they should be stripped of being tax exempt.

    November 20, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  8. tcaudilllg

    Nothing less than foreign agents of an extreme state, who are threats to American security. All of America's woes today boil down to one force: the Catholic Church and its corrupt legacy. No better than the Al Qaeda; historically, just as destructive and just as insanely obsessed with otherworldly purity. And just as guilty of unremittent hypocrisy; for if Jesus is the judge of souls, a rational reading of his teachings suggest the church leaders of today will all certainly burn in hell for their sins of intolerance, belligerence, and hate; traits which no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. The White Horseman of the apocalypse, indeed.

    November 20, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  9. Sarah, Northern Colorado

    When will both the Catholic church and our governing leaders realize that the term "separation of church and state" should mean what it looks like it means? I am so tired of this. This is a country that was founded on personal freedom from the constraints of the parliamentary ideals of what religion needed to be. If we aren't going to live by the ideals that this country was founded on, we need to acknowledge that we've gone back to the way England was in centuries past, and just give up on the idea of America as a free country.

    November 20, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  10. Gabriel, Toronto

    The only thing the Catholic Church cares about is having more members. This is why they want poor women to have as many babies as possible because where will they have to run when they are helpless? This is also why they want more and more mexicans to pour across the boarder in order to bolster the dwindling church membership. The catholic church wants more catholics and more power they don't care about fetus', womens rights or poor people. This is also why they tell people in Africa where the aids rates are 10% + that condom use is dangerous and can increase the chances of getting aids. Not to mention the fact the institution protected thousands and thousands of pedofiles allowing them to rape children. Why do we care about this institutions opinion on anything???

    November 20, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  11. File under "Sarcasm"

    Can the Senate bill be amended to eliminate the charitable deduction for contributions to the Catholic Church and to add a 10% tax on that church's income to help pay for the additional billions of dollars required for their requests to cover all imigrants and expand Medicare.

    While I can understand their desire to prevent the funding of abortions as a moral imperative, they should understand that, for the rest of their wishes, charity begins at home not in the Federal Government.

    November 20, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  12. RePub-No More

    Church and State.... remember?

    November 20, 2009 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  13. David

    The 2 biggest threats to peace and harmony in the world... Islam and Catholicism... and not necessarilly in that order.

    November 20, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  14. Amanda

    Dear Church,

    If you enjoy your tax-exempt status, then STAY OUT OF THE GOVERNMENT. If you want a voice, you can pay like the rest of us.

    The American Public

    November 20, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  15. greg greenman

    Ummm seperation of church maybe?

    November 20, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  16. Arthur

    Church – just another lobby group (but who feels they HAVE to be listened to).....

    This is what I don't get – if the US Supreme Court via Roe V Wade, upholds a women's right to choose then how did laws come into effect to stop federal funding on abortion , isn't that a way around the court's decision by people who opposed this decision ?

    So the Church believes they got a victory by having more firmer language in the Congress version health care bill reagrding abortion funding ?

    How about this, if the Catholic church really wants to help people then maybe they can finally stop covering up their pedaphile priests, and lobby the Government instead for gays to marry – at least they would be making more money (sorry " donations") out of this.

    And maybe they can let women into the clergy too because it seems very out of place to take abortion policy advice from a men's group.......

    Just sayiing......

    November 20, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  17. Peoples Voice

    Sorry, Bishops. We should have included something about you people having your way with little boys.

    Would that make you happy?

    November 20, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  18. Skidkid64

    How about the Catholic church and the other good religious groups start up their own health insurance company, then they can tell their customers what type of insurance they can get from them.

    November 20, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  19. md2020

    Its high time that the church stays out of places its not welcome. Bishops need to tend to their own people, perhaps focusing more attention on not sexually abusing children, and less attention on trying to turn the US into a theocracy.

    November 20, 2009 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  20. K Schneider

    I agree completely with them. We are all over the idea of having better and fairer health care coverage for many more people but why push for something that could create loopholes for abortions when it is completely unnecessary? I am confused that such wise men and women would consider sinking the whole ship for minor coverage!

    November 20, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  21. taxpayer

    Pay taxes then whine about it kthx

    November 20, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  22. Moms Hugs


    My mother, a devout Catholic, made clear to me that the Pope, cardinals, bishops & priests have NO idea what it takes to be pregnant, give birth, then feed, clothe & educate children... nor do they even know what it takes to earn the money to support a family. She said these are extremely pampered men, taken care of by women in the parishes, and if men could have babies, the Pope would make birth control pills a sacrament to be distributed at Mass. Mother was far more powerful than any bishop & even the Pope!

    November 20, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  23. Jesse

    Who cares what these idiots think? Until they do something about all the bishops that molested children, they should keep their mouth shut.

    November 20, 2009 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  24. Richie

    Why do they care? Isn't it up to God?

    November 20, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  25. Brad

    I can't wait for the day when Catholics, Evangelicals and the religious right understand SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE....

    November 20, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
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