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. Bob

    I totally agree with the Bishops and I'm not Catholic.

    When a stranger/acuiantance/friend /partner/spouse gets a woman pregnant regardless (except for rape or incest) then the Federal government should not be in the business of paying the cost of an abortion and all the doctor visits before, after and all medications to be taken before, during and after.

    Let's look at the opposite extreme, Elective Surgery or some call Plastic surgery. It is an action related to ones self that requires medical professionals to perform health related activities that result in minor to significant costs. It is currently not covered by any insurance nor should it be. It is an elective choice by an individual.

    Well, having heterosexual sex that can lead to pregnancy is an Elective action by two persons be they strangers (parties, prostitution,etc), know each other casually, are close friends, are formal partner or are married. They both chose to engage in that elective activity knowing the potential consequences. Just because your passion, at that time or for several times, leaves you in a vulnerable position mentally, does not mean you do not bear personal responsiblity for that elective act.

    Because it was an elective act that led to the pregnancy, it should not be paid for by the government. There are plenty of "free" or low-cost hospitals, clinics, etc, that are protected by law to perform abortions. That is the law of the land.

    It is not the law of the land that an elective act leading to an unwanted pregnancy should be paid by the government (except in certain instances).

    This is bad politics and pandering to a group that is a small splinter of the democratic party. I am not advocating reversing Rowe vs Wade. Absolutely not. It is a woman's right to choose, but not with my tax dollar.

    November 20, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  2. Emmett

    What a bunch of dirtbags, putting their little agenda ahead of our healthcare. Screw the living so we can protect the un-conceived!

    November 20, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  3. Kathy

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    EXCUSE ME!!!!! The Chatholic Bishops have spoken. This is "Unacceptable....". Fine. Just keep it to yourselves. Do not impose your religious beliefs upon everyone outside your association. The majority of the people should determine how OUR money is spent, NOT a religious organization. Women have the RIGHT, FREEDOM and LIBERTY to CHOOSE!!

    November 20, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  4. chris

    Church and State? PATHETIC!

    "endangers human life and rights of conscience," uhh, and how many American's don't have health insurance? That's an endangerment, not this!

    November 20, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  5. John Cocostan

    Want to erase the budget deficit? Then revoke the Catholic church's tax-exempt status.

    November 20, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  6. gate

    This is from the group that protected child rapists. Now they want to deny millions access to health care. Christ would be so proud. I don't know how anyone can give money to that organization. They certainly shouldn't be tax exempt given the amount of lobbying they are doing.

    November 20, 2009 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  7. Mark

    We can't prevent the only thing that keeps the Catholic Church going...Unending, unwanted pregnancies. The "holy mother church" needs us to keep poverty high and women shooting out little Catholics.

    November 20, 2009 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  8. llinmpls

    Don't they have enough to do, collecting rent from poor people and harboring criminals?

    November 20, 2009 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  9. andrewstl

    bishops when you take the pedophile sex situation your clergy hass seriously u can comment on anything. until then go pay off the victims and keep your hypocritical holes shut

    November 20, 2009 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  10. Josie

    Abortions should be included in any public insurance plan, but they should be taxed at a 100% rate.

    November 20, 2009 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  11. Mark Johnson

    TAX THE RELIGIONS!!! They have over and over proven themselves to be political machines. They don't deserve the tax breaks currently afforded.

    November 20, 2009 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  12. Jerry in NC

    "Separation of Church and State"...If the Catholic Church wants to make laws, give up the tax-exempt status and run your candidate for the House or Senate. Otherwise, shut the heck up!

    November 20, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  13. Ryan

    "The bishops proved their power in the House..."

    Let's hear it for separation between church and state!

    November 20, 2009 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  14. Miriam

    This isn't a theocracy. Why do legislators let religious leaders influence policy?

    November 20, 2009 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  15. Dennis in AZ

    Thank You Catholic Bishops! I thought I was the only one paying attention. If we could bring the Catholic Bishops into the realm of understanding the concept of US sovreignty, we might be able to get something done about illegal immigration. It says in the Bible to "obey the laws of Man." But, priests have used priest-o-listic license in the past to determine the position of the Holy Church. This is one decision I think they got right on the money! Not one penny for ignoring God's great gift–Life.APTYLJC

    November 20, 2009 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  16. Doug in San Diego

    Being raised a Catholic I can't believe the Senators and Congressman paying any attention to what the Bishops have to say. 95% of Catholics don't pay any attention to them,
    They only got their jobs because they were good at raising money. All Catholics know this.
    They don't live in a real world.
    Good Catholics believe in God and Christ and living a good life.
    Of couse that isn't good enough for the Bishops....

    November 20, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  17. JP

    I seriously object to the Catholic Church trying to influence any legislation.

    November 20, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  18. Bill Sampson

    And the Catholic Church enjoys tax exempt status for what reason? It has morphed into a political pressure group. Why am I forced to financially underwrite this illegal activity?

    Religion and politics do not mix. We see that in so many parts of the world. Let's not copy those mistakes.

    November 20, 2009 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  19. Valarie in Ohio

    Tell the Bishops to clean up their own churches and stop casting stones. How dare they blast Obama when their priest molest children, rape little boys and nuns, lie and cover up the scandles with badly patched efforts and financial payouts. They can hardly be in a position to cast judgement.

    November 20, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  20. Teena

    Somehow it is upside down logic to worry about the unborn rather than those who are living with illness and can not get health care!
    Shame Shame

    November 20, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  21. JM

    Should read "Druids against humanity. Back to the Middle Ages".

    November 20, 2009 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  22. JJ

    When bishops have a vagina and have to deal with such a choice as abortion, they should then and only then have a voice!

    November 20, 2009 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  23. Rob

    While I believe in god I do not feel that I have the right to tell others how to live there lives. If the church wants to make public policy and lobby government, then they should give up there tax exempt status.

    November 20, 2009 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |

    I'm a Catholic, i respect human life, what i don't respect ,is the church sticking their noses in politics. The Catholic church has plenty to answer for, with their pedophile priest scandals, and the way they turned a blind eye to the problem. Clean up your church,.. before passing judgment on a fair piece of legislation. No wonder members are leaving the church in droves.

    November 20, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Excellent, trust the nations leaders see the wisdom of this respoms.

    November 20, 2009 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
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