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. Joe

    Catholic Bishops needs to worry more about their Parish, and mostly about some of their Priest's behavior rather than the health care bill. If I ever need hospital care, I would be in better hands with the hospital staff than a Priest and his prayers where till now I don't know to whom they send them to.

    November 20, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  2. kay

    This group do not have a vote or pay taxes,therefore they should not be lobbying and pedeling their influence.They should not have a voice.
    We need to ban all lobbying.

    November 20, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  3. jane

    It would be nice to hear the Bishops clammor so loudly about the millions of people (including children and babies) who are deprived of adequate health care in this country. Strange, they didn't seem to care about that all these years.

    November 20, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  4. James, Ho. TX

    Catholic Bishops take "Orders" from the POPE. Also. the Catholic Church doesn't pay City, State nor Federal Taxes. They live on Charity, Donations, etc. And there is a definition "0f Seperation between Church and State" ! Plus the Bishops never have doned a Military Uniform ! Where's the Bief?

    November 20, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  5. Peter s

    The topic of this article is misleading here is a part of what the bishops said and I quote "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" so, the topic "Bishops slam 'unacceptable' health care bill" is not only misleading but also an outright lie! is the author of the article a GOP sympathizer?

    November 20, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    I thought the Bishops gave their blessing to the bill a week ago.

    November 20, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  7. Pat-San Jose CA

    Like all RC priests, bishops are forbidden to marry and promise to not have sex. They are only concerned about making sure women have babies. They are not concerned about how to care for the children after they are born. In fact they are more likely to rape a child than to take care of one. Think about that.

    November 20, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  8. Brian

    Why should we humor religious fruitcakes who can't tell the difference between human life and a human being? Keep their religion out of our health care.

    November 20, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  9. Emma

    What part of separation of church and state do they not understand? A legislator should not have control over my body!

    November 20, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  10. John Starnes Tampa Florida

    So where were these "Christian" folks when Bush launched an illegal, immoral war based on deceit that has now killed 4,700 US troops and over 1 MILLION Iraqis? More and more it seems that "human life is sacred" to them only when embryonic...once out of the womb you are SOL and fair game.

    November 20, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  11. joec

    The Catholic Church, of which I was once an ardent member, has no business involving itself in U.S. politics, especially at the federal level. Historically, the Catholic Church has interfered in and trampled on the rights of Jews and Muslims alike. And while I was a kid in Catholic school, the nuns still badmouthed Protestants, fundamentalist Christians, Jews and Muslims.
    The Catholic Church has no busines threatening Congressman Kennedy. It's kind of hypocritical, considering how "lenient" they are with their own pedophile priests. They have tried to cover up those assaults on innocent children and now they are spending millions, most of which is collected from parishioners, to settle suits against those priests, bishops and even higher hierarchy.
    In Ireland, where priests were once considered infallible, they preyed upon the children, knowing full that those Catholic families would never speak ill of priests even though they knew what was going on. Imagine what those missionaries serving Third World countries can get away with.
    I will not vote, and will ask friends to act similarly, against any member of Congress who supports the Catholic stance in this matter. And to the Catholic church, I say, "Butt out." Preach to me about birth control when you grow a uterus.

    November 20, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  12. doight

    A religion where its' priests molested countless children wants use morality as an argument for public policy?!

    November 20, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  13. terry,va

    What part of no don't the liberal baby killers understand? What part of illegal aliens having our rights don't you understand? What part of congress being stupid don't you understand? We need to revolt against these idiots!!!!!!

    November 20, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  14. Ron L

    Instead of the Bishops focusing on the abortion language of the bill. They should focus on educating their member on contraception and avoiding getting pregnant in the first case. This is one area where the Catholic religion is always trying to have its cake and eat it to. They don't want women to have abortions and they don't want young people taught sex education to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It is unrealistic and frankly extremely annoying.

    November 20, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  15. steve

    This Bishops should go to hell, where was this religious zealots when bush/cheney lied us into an illegal war in Iraq.
    Pres. Obama would succeed in getting Health care reform pass for the millions of America to save lives.

    November 20, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  16. Alexa

    Where is the separation of church and state!!
    These bishops (small b) should have no say to the
    decisions our congressman make no more that the
    right winged believers. Lets get moving and provide
    a health care bill, not concentrate on specific issues

    November 20, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  17. hypocrites

    These wackos would rather see people not get proper health care and possibly die rather than accept language that does not fit their strict dogma. Who do they think they are? This religious right wing Christian Taliban wants to tell everyone what they should do with their bodies. Maybe they should spend more time and effort looking within their own church and deal with the well-documented problems that exist there. It's like the middle ages with these nuts.

    November 20, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  18. Ellen Wolfe

    The bishops should stop being so hypocritical in view of the sex abuse scandals in the church. The worst of that isn`t the fact that some priests did abuse, but the church covered it up, and just moved the offending priests from one parish to another, allowing the abuse to continue. The cover-up was all the way from the pope through all the church leaders.

    November 20, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  19. D.

    There are things that should be kept away from the "federal level" and the federal government cannot get into that level. We are the united states, not the people's republic of America!

    November 20, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  20. Kathy

    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 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  21. Eric

    If you're opposed to abortion don't have one, and abortion is cheaper on the healthcare system and tax dollars then health care and foster care of unwanted babies. We have enough people on the planet as it is, kids born today are going to have a horrible future of over population and an all out world war over food and water.

    November 20, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  22. midwest liberal

    this article quotes bishops as saying, "...federal policy that endangers human life and rights of conscience,"
    where oh where was the outrage of these bishops as george bush's war on terror was slaughtering innocent lives in afghanistan and iraq?

    November 20, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  23. Mona

    The Catholic church should mind their business/or lose their
    tax exempt status! They can agree to disagree, but to bring
    pressure on people responsible for the health care bill is not

    November 20, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  24. Gary

    Bishops shouldn't be writting any bill. They want this to be an an abortion bill.

    November 20, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  25. Tony in Maine

    The bishops have a right as citizens to voice opinions, when they voice those same opinions as church officials perhaps it's time to reconsider the tax status of the RC Church – maybe toss in the Southern Baptists and a few thousand independent Baptis and Penetecostal churches. The resukting revenue might pay for the health bill in its entirety.

    November 20, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13