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. nanbar

    This is the Catholic Church that is supposed to care about the poor and sick. What a joke! They should be ashamed of their hyprocrisy!

    November 20, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  2. Jenny, KS

    Catholic Bishops should mind their own business. I agree that any abortion language should not be in the bill...however, the Catholics are the last people we need to hear on morality. Hello–clean up your own closet, get the pediphiles out before you start telling other people what to do.

    November 20, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  3. Reaganomics Leads To Feudalism

    Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church still thinks it has the right to rule the world and to tell secular leaders what to do.

    Did Jesus ever teach His disciples that they were supposed to intimidate, control, and manipulate the leaders of secular, civil governments?

    Whatever happened to "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's"?

    November 20, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  4. David, WA

    How ironic – Catholics preaching about protecting conscience and morals. Whose morals are they trying to protect? The morals of the priests who sexually abuse young children? The morals of a church that, for the most part, denied knowledge of abuse or even that a problem existed by shipping priests from parish to parish? Whose conscience are they trying to protect? Their own, maybe? Is this a means to alleviate their guilt?

    Religion and "christian" values have no place in public policy. If religions keep putting pressure on our lawmakers to affect public policy, then those religious organizations should lose all tax exemption status, as they've become nothing more than a political action committee.

    November 20, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  5. Rhian

    Good work to the bishops! I'm all for some kind of fix to the health care system, given that the current system is basically a colossal mess and is being brought down under the weight of the unconscionable greed and predatory practices of the insurance companies.

    Nevertheless, there are many people who do not wish to see their tax dollars used to fund elective infanticide. I have no objection to helping pay for the treatment of fellow humans, but I have a conscientious objection to paying for infant euthanasia, whatever cloak of fine words it may hide beneath.

    So, again, three cheers for the bishops!

    November 20, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  6. Eric

    I am sorry but who cares what the Catholic Bishops think? Last time I checked this was America. Here we take pride in the fact that church and state don't mix. As the way it should be . But apparently some people seem to forget that.

    November 20, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  7. tee

    We need to keep Church and state separate

    November 20, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  8. Mercedes

    As a member of the Catholic Church I am demanding the church to butt out of this issue! Separation of state and church is what this country was founded on and we MUST respect that. OKAY!!!!!

    November 20, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  9. Jim

    If the Church should lose its tax free status for its political propagandering .

    November 20, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  10. ED FL

    These Bishops should not get involvrd in politics and try to stay in their own arena. Lets read/hear them explain the Millions and millions of dollars paid to cover the misdeeds of wayward Priests for their invovlement in mostly sexual deviation with young men. Take care of their own flock and stay out of politics. Then they would not have to ask thie Parishoners for more and more money for the needy and less for white elephant religious buildings with fewer attendees. Practice what you Preach

    November 20, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  11. Flex

    I hate religious catholic zealots! They don't want us getting married, adopt kids, and now they're telling us we can't have health insurance?

    We must put the bible thumping lunatics in their place. Time to complain to the IRS!

    November 20, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  12. ran

    Until they start to pay taxes and we change our constitution ending separation of church and state then they have no right to involve themselves in the political process concerning abortions or any other issues concerning the government.

    November 20, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  13. m smith

    speration of church and state. Religion should stay out of politics. If you have religious belifes fine, follow them but don't impose them on everyone else. I don't tell you how to worship dont' tell me what i should do about my health care plan.

    November 20, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  14. Ann

    This totally amazes me. The catholics are so pro-life, yet they let their priest molest little boys for years and years and they knew about it and covered it up and moved them to different parrishes where it happen again. Where is all the life, dignity, health and conscience for all the sexual abuse victims from the Catholic Bishops???? What hypocrites they are to now stick their nose into the Healthcare legislation and push their agenda. Clean up your own house first!!!

    November 20, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |

    I think, in exchange for their tax-exempt status, all religious groups should keep their nose out of politics and tax policy.

    This is just another example of a class that is taking advantage of extraordinary entitlements.

    I actually don't want my money used to offset the tax liability of churches, but doesn't look like I have anything to say about it, does it?

    November 20, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  16. david c.

    Perhaps the Bishops should give up their tax exemptions prior to entering the political process?

    November 20, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  17. GOPBslapper

    What's unacceptable is the Catholic Church getting tax exempt status while acting as just another Right Wing Lobbying group. Their tax exempt status is long over due to be stripped. It's bad enough they were / are a nest of pedophiles. JFYI, I'm a former catholic....alter boy no less.

    November 20, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  18. Barbara Independent in NY

    Unless these bishops pay taxes, they need to shut up. I'm sick to death of all the religious groups that think they have the right to interfer in our government. Pay taxes or shut up!

    November 20, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  19. Schlocktight

    Catholic Priest have a lot of nerve. Are the against abortion because it reduces the number of babies they can eventually sodomize?

    November 20, 2009 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  20. rsterling

    As a non catholic I am glad that the we don't really have seperation of church and state so that the bishops can force there beliefs on everyone else. I do not believe in abortion as in my wife will never have one. But I am pro choice as in I believe people should have personal freedom to make their own choices.

    November 20, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  21. Annie, Atlanta

    Honestly, why do we give a rat's arse what Bishops think regarding anything? Aren't they the guys that will refuse to give care to the needy in DC if they ok same sex marriage? And when did they get a say in our government? And why are they still tax exempt, if they do get a say? And aren't these the same guys that hid their pedophiles behind their skirts for years, knowing full well they were sexually molesting children? I was raised a Catholic and I don't recognize this hateful organization anymore. I was taught love thy neighbor as thyself, and do unto others, etc. We need to get them out of our government, or there's going to be hell to pay.

    November 20, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  22. Steven Richards

    Health care and insurance reform that is designed to help people, especially the poorest people, should be a high priority of any church including the Catholic Church. In an effort to turn good public policy into "church" policy is not what government is all about. If the Bishops want to live in a theocracy where they can make public policy to fit their religion, let them from their own government... and leave the rest of us who do not want to be subjugated to religious doctrine alone.

    This infusion of Bishops and other religious devotees who want to control government policy do not respresent the best interests of a pluralistic and multi cultural society. America is not solely a Christian country. The government leaders need to stand up these zealots and pass laws that are in the best interests of all its citizens.. not just the religious ones.

    November 20, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  23. rsterling

    As a non catholic I am glad that we don't really have seperation of church and state so that the bishops can force there beliefs on everyone else. I do not believe in abortion as in my wife will never have one. But I am pro choice as in I believe people should have personal freedom to make their own choices.

    November 20, 2009 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  24. Patriot

    Say goodbye to the separation of church and state.

    November 20, 2009 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  25. dan

    This bunch of terrorists (those who would destroy the constitution of the United States) ought to have their tax exempt status removed as they have no business lobbying for legislation in a secular government that IS PROHIBITED by tax code. The constitution prohibits legislators from respecting a particular religion. JUST SAY NO!!!!!

    November 20, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
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