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. AJ

    Well in case these revolting, disgusting, child molesting, sick old men don't know it, the American government is not run from the Vatican.

    November 20, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  2. IVOTE

    I have one question. Where were these catholic bishops when the catholic priests were molesting young boys?
    I have been told the catholic church was responsible for the many unwed mother homes where the residents went to hide, then give up the newborn for adoption. Those not adopted were placed in foster care or group homes.

    November 20, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  3. dustin

    Can we stop listening to a group of people that allowed child molestors to bounce from one church to another, the catholic church has no moral ground, and hasnt for a few hundred years.

    November 20, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  4. Baris

    Screw the bishops. Wake up America, when will you learn that church and state are separate? The catholic bishops will turn us into another saudi arabia!

    November 20, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  5. mapmomma

    The bishops need to keep their opinions out of the healthcare debate. If and when they have cleaned up their affairs, their rapes of young children, their lack of compensation for the lives that they have destroyed and still destroy....then and only then they may have a right to try to give an opinion. Only an opinion. Catholics need not apply for political office if they are going to try to dictate their beliefs on the entire population of the United States. What happened to the separation of church and state....Lets start making them pay taxes....take away their non tax status.....then we would have more funds to pay for health care for the needy.

    November 20, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  6. Kita

    Oh for the love of...

    Separation of Church and State was clearly outlined at this nation's founding, and the words inscribed on the interior walls of the Jefferson Memorial reiterate the fact. The church needs to stay out of politics.

    Of course the right wing is perfectly glad of the influence (unless of course, a Catholic actually runs for President).

    November 20, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  7. Dean

    Lets make this simple...If you don't like abortion Don't get one

    November 20, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  8. gypsydaveywithablowtorch

    Yeah, lets listen to these idiots. If they had their way, possession of a condom would be cause for life imprisonment (at least they are against the death penalty)

    November 20, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  9. Runofthemill

    They don't want the abortion provisions, but they want amnesty for child molestation and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

    Of course the bishops don't have to worry about abortion since thier usual partners are underaged boys.

    November 20, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  10. s cannon

    The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is lobbying to imprint their beliefs on the pending health care legislation?
    Where exactly is that line that separates church and state?
    Is it that ephemeral? It conveniently shifts depending on the particular issue or interests it supports or threatens?
    Was not one of the founding principles of our country religious freedom?
    Remind me why it is that churches are tax exempt?
    If religious organizations chose to become politically active, should they not lose their protected tax exempt status?

    November 20, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  11. Matt

    I think the catholic church should stay the heck out of politics. Medieval Europe and Taliban controlled Afghanistan were proof enough for the rest of human history that religion is the worst possible source of civic governance. This is nothing less than an assault on the secular principles this country was founded on.

    November 20, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  12. Tammy

    Unmarried, celibate men should not be dictating policy on something that is physically impossible for them. Let them fix their own problems first. Plus – separation of church and state - remember that?

    November 20, 2009 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  13. demsrulz

    I'm sold... Pass this bill! Please!

    November 20, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  14. Barry Morrison

    It seems that all of a sudden these enablers have a right to dictate public policy. For years they allowed their priests to molest children with impunity. Now they have the gall to claim that their concern is for the unborn. Could it be that their real concern is that abortion eliminates future targets for their sexually deviant behavior. The hypocrisy is certainly consistent with most religious zealots.

    November 20, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  15. Martha

    Excuse me, but is everyone in the United States Catholic? Why are Catholic bishops and the pope trying to make health care decisions for ME?

    November 20, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  16. Al Bennett

    The Catholic church can not control their own people. They have been trying for years to tell people what to do and how to do it.
    This is another reason I left the catholic church.

    November 20, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  17. Doris

    Whatever happened to the separation of church and state. I am alarmed beyond measure that religious leaders can have such direct influence and access into our political system. And I have no doubt that Congress will sacrifice women's rights over their own bodies if that's what it takes to get healthcare reform passed.

    November 20, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  18. And I

    The Catholic Church's tax exempt status should be revoked immediately!

    November 20, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  19. Helene

    Hypocrite Bishops: fight the death penalty instead of abortion.

    November 20, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  20. Debbie

    And I slam and condem the bishops for paying off, looking the other way, making people sign forms to remain silent for priests who have raped children, raped women, those who have married...

    November 20, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  21. Bill

    The Catholic Church needs to stay out of politics. This is why there was a reformation in Europe hundreds of years ago – because people were tired of the Catholic Church trying to control everything. The Catholic Church needs has enough to do making sure their priests keep their hands off of little boys.

    November 20, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  22. John Hurley

    Does anyone understand the concept of the seperation of church and state anymore.

    My humble opinion is simply this, Churches the government does not tax you and lets you preach whatever you choose to preach that is within the boundries of the common law and good of the people.

    Churches need to stay out of politics as a standard not when it is something that they will benefit them.

    I dispise abortion, but I have no right to force my beliefs onto others. In fact that is what judgement day is all about. The only reason the church is getting involved in this discussion is to increase their powerbase and nothing more.

    If you want to stop abortion how about changing some of the rules on unwed mothers like not making them feel that they have no other choice but abortion in the face of the church's low opinion of them.

    This coming from an organization that allowed the abuse of children to go on and hid the abusers for years.

    I am a Roman Catholic and I have seen and felt the physical abuse at the hands of tyrant nuns in my childhood. Lucky for me I never was put in a position of sexual abuse but I know friends that were.

    Bishops, you have a right as a US citizen to state your opinion as do I. Do not use that right to state Church doctrine as fact for us all!!!

    November 20, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  23. And I'm Catholic

    The Catholic Church's tax exempt status should be revoked immediately if they want to drive government policy. They should pay their fair share if they insist on pushing their political weight.

    November 20, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  24. Mathew

    As individuals and citizens of the US, bishops are entitled to their personal opinions on any matter.

    But as a church or an organization representing a church, they should keep out of politics...the last time we mixed church and state, people got burned at the stake.

    November 20, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  25. Gwen K.Smith

    Please remember the separation of church and the government . Catholic Bishops, select organized religious groups, Ideological action groups do not represent all American. Just because they have their beliefs and think they are right and therefore elected offical must have bills written according to their wishes.

    The Catholic church seems to want to be control of all aspects of the govermment in this country. This is not the Vatican and you are men who in your beliefs make your judgement and threaten withholding communion and who get the be a member of the Church. I think that is God call not your.

    The elected representative in the Congress have a responsibility for he greater good on the nation and all the citizens in it.

    November 20, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13