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. ICARE

    Good for these men of God...

    God does not approve of abortion. We need to focus on prevention and adoption adn less on abortion.

    Eighteen days after conception, that thing has a HEARTBEAT.

    When you are in the hospital, are you measured by limbs and legs and eyeballs, or heartbeat? Heartbeat is LIFE and that baby has the right to live.

    In South America, a nurse performed abortions illegally. One of her patients, died and she was jailed. Luckily, God spoke to her and told her how wrong it was.

    She became a Christian and never did another abortion again.


    November 20, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  2. Lewis Balentine

    The United States Of America was founded on the principles of equality for all men (women) and the separation of church and state. The position of the catholic bishops on abortion rights is purely an ethical one based on the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the whims of their current supreme leader. In this country they do not have (nor should they have) the right to force their interpretation of religious dogma on other who do not share their belief system. Let us not forget that the original founders of this country came here seeking freedom from the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church.

    November 20, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  3. Ali

    The Bishops need to stay out of it unless they want to give up their tax exempt status.

    November 20, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  4. R

    I'm a Catholic but I don't want Bishops deciding my health care issues. They should stay out of this and uphold the separation of church and state. It's none of their business.

    November 20, 2009 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  5. CNN afraid of a liberal post

    I need to just answer one question. Who writes and votes on bills for the public, that agree with them, congress.

    Who wants to tell the country what to do, because it inflates their ego..the preachers and the bishops and the priests. Haven't any of them read the constitution. which tell us we must separate church and state.

    I think they were correct to take the tax free status away from the HOUSE ON C STREET. If you are political you don't deserve tax free status. I think more people in this country should fill out the form that the IRS to complain about churches etc who claim tax free status and then raise money, preach to the congregation to vote for certain candidates, AND WANT TO WRITE THE BILLS THEY WAY THEY WANT. Take away the tax free status and then their church can electioneer all they want.

    November 20, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  6. Doug in SC

    I guess this is the bishops' prerogative, but it gets me thinking. Who can I write to in order to let the Catholic church know what I think is "completely unacceptable" about their policies and behavior? The church condemns birth control and abortion, urges (married) couples to procreate abundantly, and yet shows zero interest in ensuring that these babies are provided with adequate health care (or food for that matter) once they are born. Ah, but that's just the start of it. This would surely be a long letter. What's that address again?

    November 20, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  7. Chris in CA

    What part of Separation of Church and State does the US Congress not understand?

    I, for one, am incredibly sick of ANY religion dictating what my government decides.

    I am not religious and I resent anyone who is trying to shove this theocratic crap down my throat. If you're a believer, great, go with "God". But nothing can change the fact that religion, no matter what form, has NO place in our politics.

    November 20, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  8. hmmm...

    Thank goodness for people who dedicate their lives to spiritual growth. Odd how we applaud those who place all their focus on the flesh and very little on the spirit but look unapprovingly at those who seek to develop the spirit and control the flesh. Yet while we do this as a society, we still love and admire those who live the spritiual life far above those those who are imprisoned by the flesh. Shakespeare said it best when he spoke of those who protest ...thank goodness for the Bishops. I applaud your concern and love for us all.

    November 20, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  9. chris

    Why does the headline call this an "Obama Bill?" The language of the letter refers to the "Senate Bill". Gee, altering facts to conflate negative opinion with Obama, is this CNN or Fox? And you wonder why you're slipping into third place?

    November 20, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  10. Joe

    I cannot wait to see comments coming in from Anti Catholics and who say they are "practicing Catholics" about this letter to the Senate. The Catholic Church IS NOT AGAINST THE HEALTH CARE BILL IF IT DOES WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO DO. iT IS NOT INTERFERRING IN THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. It is simply putting forth issues that goes against the morals of the Church. Liberals do not bring up the priests abuse situation either. That is an inhouse problem that the Church recognizes that it di wrong. Leave it alone. For the "practising Catholics" if you support abortion, then you are not Catholic. You may think you are but you are going against the teachings of the Church and are outside the Church and are not part of it. You cannot defy the moral teachings of the Church. If you do, find another religion as you cannot acept somethings and reject others. For the anti Catholic Liberals out there take your shot. Your word mean absolutley nothing. Good Luck. Cannot wait to seethe comments on this one.....,

    November 20, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  11. imuststandup

    Why oh why dont ppl understand that no one is forcing others to have abortions just b/c it's an available option?? What about the rape victims? What about the ones who, along WITH their babies, will DIE if they are forced to give birth? What about the ones who aremarried, are both on birth control but STILL end up pregnant somehow (rare, but it happens)? Does no one understand that not providing for them isn't stopping ANYTHING? Women who want them WILL get them, even at the detriment of their own lives. It happened before the 1960's, and before AMA and others started losing money to competitors giving cheaper abortions and decided to pay off ppl to write books condemning abortions as an immoral act, it was even common worldwide until the early 20th century. No one EVER teaches that until you stumble upon it in college, but its so very true. Ppl walk around saying how horrible abortions are, but they dont realize the act of condemning them is only about 90 YRS. OLD. All that will be accomplished by putting a blockade up against it is to increase the deaths of women across the country. Stop making ppl adhere to YOUR version of what ppl should do behind closed doors.

    November 20, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  12. Roselind D. Blanch

    Please remember the separation of church and state.
    Women should not be made to suffer by the actions of religious leaders
    who seemingly overlook that separation.
    That's why laws exist to protect us as citizens.
    Let us remember this every day.
    Thank you for this opportunity to give my opinion.

    November 20, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  13. LC in CA

    Separation of church and state? Bah, humbug. Rights to privacy in health care decisions? No way. Last time I looked, the right to birth control decisions, including terminating a pregnancy, were still legal rights women had some control over. Why should a bunch of celibate men have a say in anything pertaining to women and their reproductive needs and choices?

    November 20, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  14. Squigman

    Amazing. Why should child molesters have a say about health care? Also, what happened to the separation of church and state? Somewhere, I remember reading that the founding fathers made this a part of our constitution. Or is this one of those convenient oversights by the right wing nut jobs?

    November 20, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  15. GeorgeVT

    With this amount of political clout, isn't the US Conference of Bishops effectively functioning as a political PAC and therefore eligible to be taxed?

    November 20, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  16. MikeH

    Religion is the root of most evil.

    The Catholic Church wants kids born, no contraception, but then turns their back on childrens welfare, and lets the children die in misery, 25,000 children die every day.

    The Catholic Church wants the poor to give tithe, then hoards the church's trillions of dollars in real estate investing, doing little to aid the poor.

    The Catholic church turns a blind eye as hundreds of their priests molest children.

    These Catholic Bishops are fecal boli.

    November 20, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  17. Lys

    The question one must ask is how much money are the Bishops getting from the insurance industry?

    November 20, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  18. jeff

    What the !@#%#@! Who do these guys think they are? what about the separation of church and state? If they want to propose policy, they can give up their tax exempt status!

    November 20, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  19. Cindy Merrill

    My disabled brother had to have all his teeth pulled when he was 49 ( he's on welfare): The Government paid for it, but refused to pay for dentures-
    so Miles suffered from gastric upset and bleeding ulcers, until, 6 months later, he was hospitalized for an unrelated condition, a leaking heart valve. During this time, the heart doctor assigned to Miles developed a spine and informed the Dept. of "human" services ( DHS) that he had consulted with other doctors and they would go to the media: Only THEN was my brother fitted for a set of dentures, less than a week after he was discharged. Cost? $400. Less than a third of what it cost to treat the gastric disorder my brother had suffered due to not having dentures.
    That's what a public option looks like: Its based on the same minimal care Medicaid and Medicare provides: As you may have gathered from this true story, healthcare costs will skyrocket because of inadequate coverage and flawed judgement.

    November 20, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  20. Pat Przebieglec

    Being born and raised a Catholic this is the final straw, main reason I will be looking for another religion to support. These folks are all for supporting a President who sends men/women to wars (2), my question then how can you be pro-life and be pro-war, aren't you killing people? Just remember two days of these wars would pay for health care. Iraqis in their constitution get health care – yet we don't have health care in our wonderful country. So ahead Catholic Bishops be against health care, you are so distant from hard working men/women already but this should really seal the deal.

    November 20, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  21. byronb

    Why don't we strip all churches of their Tax exempt status that venture into politics of any sort. Especially those that tell their flock how to vote. What ever happened to separation of Church and State. The Catholic church could ill afford to be taxed for all the land they own in the US. All Churches need to stop trying to influence our government.

    November 20, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  22. Never Again

    I was born a Catholic & as soon as I reached the age of reason, I left the church.

    The Patriarchy feels it has control over everything in a person's life. Well sirs, until you agree to raise all the unwanted, hungry, distressed children in this country & in the world,

    November 20, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  23. SNAPPA

    Ya know what, the hell with the health care reform. Compromise, give in, give up, that should be the motto of the Democratic party. In the last election I thought we voted in a "strong" congress that would finally undo all that the republicans had done for the past 14 years but no. I for one have had enough, I for one do not support the Pelosi and Ried agenda which is what? I don't know? They seem to be like little kids who's parents have gone away for the first time and they haven't a clue as to what to do. What a shame, I had such high hopes for this nation and now can only hope that when the right wingers, tea baggers and the catholic bigots take over they don't finally complete the process of destroying the only nation on Earth that "claims" to be free.

    November 20, 2009 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  24. brian

    guess what pro-lifers... abortion is legal and it always will be. sleep well. ; )

    November 20, 2009 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  25. Rennee' Hernandez

    Dear Catholic Church: Keep your nose out of politics or we may have to revoke your tax exempt status. Oh, and remember separation of church and state?

    November 20, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
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