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. hudson

    I think the "health care reform" the senate passed is a disgrace. Of course they excluded themselves from it which they are in violation of statute 14.
    Statute 14 means unjust enrichments or in laymans terms "double dipping. We still get to pay for their high price health benefits and pensions while they keep taking away from the American people which by the way are their employers. What's even worse is that illegal immigrants have better benefits than we do. Now the government is considering giving them funding for college. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH deport the illegals they are stealing from the benefits that we worked so hard for and return the money stole from us.

    As far as the health reform it's unacceptable I suggest our government get with the program !!!!! Stop representing yourselves and get back to representing the American people who again are your employers and write a health care reform that actually makes sense !!!

    November 20, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  2. Christian Values

    Most people of the cloth, of all religions, are good people. The rotten ones are the most vocal. Here we have the most rotten of the rotten, on a crusade to kill 45000 americans per year. And in their spare time, they are the same ones who spend "EXTRA" time with your son.

    November 20, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  3. Frank C

    How about the Church staying out of the governments business? I have never seen the lines of separation of church and state more violated.

    November 20, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  4. Gary

    Sorry but the catholic Church has no credibility at this point any more...

    November 20, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  5. katiec

    I am so sick of these religions trying to tell me how I have to think and live my life. You are entitled to your beliefs but do not try to push them on me.
    Every church that gets involved in politics should have their tax
    exemptions taken Away.
    People, we cannot let the radical religious right take control of our country. Fight back!!

    November 20, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  6. Jeremiah the Prophet

    I for one am sick tired fed up and completely disgusted with religious institutions thinking they can influence political agendas and operate in the bowels of politics in this country, while continuing to enjoy tax EXEMPTION status.

    These actions are clearly examples of lobbying the government, and as such, religious institutions that threaten to shut down missions they operate for a City's 68,000 homeless women and children population unless that City's legislative body passes rules that support their religious beliefs should be lose their tax EXEMPTION status.

    This so called Right Wing Christian Conservative movement in this country is so intolerable, I fail to see the difference between it and radical Islam.

    Question for you people who are supposed to be devout believers in God and His Omnipotence...

    ...Since when does or has God ever NEEDED you to fight or enforce His so called laws for mankind? It kind of takes away from the Almighty Omnipotent Divinity of God don't you think for you to act as is God needs you to fight His battles against what you perceive to be evil unjustice. Think about that people.

    November 20, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  7. annie against biased news

    I do NOT want my tax dollars paying for the murder of babies.

    November 20, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  8. DJ

    Too people also admit to insisting the Healthcare Bill include FREE coverage to ILLEGAL immigrants when America can't even cover our own citizens. That's just not going to fly whether you're D or R...nobody wants that.

    November 20, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  9. welches, oregon

    "The new Senate bill is an enormous disappointment, creating new and completely unacceptable federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience"

    'course they have no problem with your children being killed in failed and unlawful wars....

    Why do men care if woman have abortions anyway? They abandon their infant children and rape their own daughters – sometimes abortion is the best choice.

    November 20, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  10. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    These are the same people who for decades protected child molesting, pedophile priests and then stalled any investigations by the authorities. These hypocritial bastards should not even have a say in the health care process!!!!!

    November 20, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  11. Barb

    How do you say Separation of Church and State? Maybe it is time to lose the tax exempt status?

    November 20, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  12. David

    The bishops call it "unacceptable federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience." From that one might think this is entirely unique legislation that allows abortion, that "endangers human life" in an unprecedented way. What this new law would do is allow federal money to be spent for abortions. A bit of language twisting to me.

    November 20, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  13. Ana

    Talk about separation of church and state!!!!!!
    Why dont Catholics worry about feeding the needy and helping the poor? ISNT THAT WHAT JESUS DID?

    November 20, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  14. Alfred A. Griego

    The era of the Catholic Bishops influencing their followers is "over"!
    Most modern day Catholics make a distinction between what a traditional church says and what they practice in their bedrooms.

    I'm curious how many "Bishops" are willing to take one the 20+ years of raising a child of the desparately poor and troubled .

    November 20, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  15. Craig

    There are some of us who are NOT Catholic, and who do not wish to have the Catholics beliefs and ideals forced upon everyone.

    November 20, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  16. Jim Doyle

    Whatever happened to separation of Church and State?

    November 20, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  17. St. Louis Toodle ooo

    no more tax exempt status for them!!!!

    November 20, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  18. ef27713

    wow! glad i voted for the catholic bishops in the last election! go "democracy"!

    November 20, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |

    Well it looks like it is time to declare the catholic church a political party and end their tax free status. i as a 71 year old democrat do not believe in abortion either. but i believe in a womans rights to do what she wants to with her body. it is between her and god. we need health care reform. it seems that our elected senators think that they work for the for profit insurance companys instead of the people that elected them.

    November 20, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  20. Heinz

    Are they so concerned about some abortions, because it won't leave enough kids for their priesthood to bugger?
    I guess freedom is meaningless to these hypocrites. Talking about morals...

    November 20, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  21. Thomas Jefferson

    Dear Catholic Bishops,

    I wrote this little document, The Constitution, and it mentions something pretty important: Separation of Church and State. If you haven't read The Constitution, you may wanna go over it pretty quick and start acting like the majority of citizens who follow the laws of the land. If you don't understand what it means, then just shut up. No one wants to hear anything from people who don't understand what they're talking about.

    Now, if you want to deal with the language, I can always point you in the direction of the IRS . . .


    November 20, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  22. Joshua College Station Texas


    Separation of church and state.

    They're a set of constituents like any other. Nothing special.

    November 20, 2009 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  23. K.

    Don't Catholic bishops have better things to do with their covering up abuses within the church?

    November 20, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  24. Bobby

    If churches want to be lobbyists, they need to start paying taxes.

    November 20, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  25. valwayne

    Remember when Obama gave his Obamacare speech and promised us no money would go for abortions? He lied! Remember when Obama gave his Obamacare speech and promised us no money would go for Illegal Aliens? He lied! Remember when Obama gave his Obamacare speech and promised us he would only cut 500 billion in waste from Medicare that Medicare would actually be made stronger? He lied! Remember when Obama gave the state of the Union speech and no money would be spent any illegal aliens, and a Congressman shockinly shouted "YOU LIE". The Congressman was right! If the Senate and House pass anything like these bills they've created we will be buried in trillion upon trillions in spending and debt, and buried alive to our eyeballs with taxes trying to keep up with it. We have 10.2% UNEMPLOYMENT and a Mountain of Debt. Lets let people with pre-existing conditions get insurance, Lets prevent insurance companies from setting lifetime limits or cancelling a policy when somebody get sick, let's save money by banning silly wasteful lawsuits, and let let people choose insurance across state Let's do that and stop. That's what we want and all we can afford!

    November 20, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
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