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. TonyH

    The Catholic bishops are being consistent with their beliefs, and deserve respect for that. However, the principle of compromise in law and ethics established by the earlier Hyde amendment is being bent severely out of shape by this attempt to advance the anti-abortion agenda, so (unfortunately) the bishops are sincere – and WRONG.

    November 20, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  2. Jeff, Huntington Beach, CA

    I am tired of these "churched" people getting involved in politics. Why don't they mind their own like the child molesting priests and various self righteous parasitic creeps who lurk in their ranks. I think it is time to pull all religious group's non profit status who choose to get involved in politics because they are blurring the line between Church and State and no good is coming of it.

    November 20, 2009 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  3. Kirk H

    The bishops rock!!!

    November 20, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  4. First Amendment Supporter

    So now that the Church is lobbying, how much in tax revenues would we receive if they had to pay tax, like every other lobbying firm does?

    It really irks me that my tax dollars go to support their ability to sway political opinion, because, if they don't pay taxes, my taxes go up as a result.

    Where is it written that my tax dollars should support any religious organization that has the right to lobby politicians?

    This needs to stop. Please fax your representative now.

    November 20, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  5. Alexander Lewin

    Bishops and other clergy have no right to attempt to impose their own beliefs on people who are not members of their belief systems. The Catholic Church's political actions are despicable and divisive. If the Catholic Church wants to help eliminate abortions, there are good methods, such as teaching birth control, "safe sex" and other health practices to children before they reach puberty. The US is a land to be governed by and for ALL the people, not just those who believe in any particular religion. Each of us has rights that stop when they interfere with those of other people. The Bishops appear to have failed to learn that simple basic truth.

    November 20, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  6. Ed B

    Dear Catholic Bishops,

    As a result of your decision to, once again, stick your noses into the secular affairs of the United States government, we find that, in order to properly enforce The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, your tax-exempt status is hereby revoked. We hereby thank you in advance for your upcoming contributions to the coffers of local, state, and federal governments.

    There you have it–two birds with one stone.

    Yours truly,

    The People of the United States of America

    November 20, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  7. Drew - Chicago, IL

    Hey bishops, spend less time on the abortion thing and more time on the whole "public option" thing because, you know, it's for the life of LIVING human beings. But that's not of importance for some reason, I guess.

    November 20, 2009 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  8. patriot

    Fundamentalist Catholic bishops trying to shape our health care policy according to their religious beliefs is exactly the same behavior as fundamentalist Islamic clerics trying to shape the political and social cultures where they live. Both have abandoned their spiritual calling. As a follower of Jesus Christ I celebrate life, but the true life of which he taught, is the spiritual kingdom. It is all well and good to assert one's personal beliefs, and to suggest a better way, but when religious leaders, acting as religious leaders rather than political individuals, enter the political debate, they have become liars and manipulators, and they know it. Jesus said "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God, that which is Gods."

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

    The constitution of the United States clearly draws a line between church and state. Although the Catholic BIshops have a right to their opinion they do not have the right to make policy for the United States or to try to make or change policy.. We saw this in Maine where they opposed Same Sex Marriage and raised money through collections at mass. The money was given to groups fighting against Article 1 which were not run by Maine citizen.

    Americans have religious freedom. No one group has the right to speak for the rest of us. It is very disconcerting to hear religious leaders deciding what policy in the USA will be. Those of us who are not part of that religion are not supposed to have beliefs or rights.

    Our tradition allows us to have freedom of religion and I would hope that religious groups would not only accept that but moderate their tone when pushing their agenda.

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

    No disrespect to the Bishops, Separation of Church and State protects the American public from you, your narrow minded viewpoints, discrimination towards anyone who is not Catholic and your suggested - or threatening - political influence. Reserve your options for the pulpit, not my President!

    November 20, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  11. Troy Seattle

    If churches want to continue pushing there politcal agendas then it is time to remove there tax exempt status. The country sure could use all the money they have.

    November 20, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  12. Mark L.

    I have to say, I do not mean any disrespect with what I am about to write here, but in all due respect, the Catholic Church takes their so-called stand being adamantly opposed to a woman's right to choose; yet, they seem to forget they too (i.e. – the Catholic Church) have somewhat of a tarnished reputation with all these reports that have come out in the open re: Catholic priests molesting innocent children. What a bunch of malarkey !! The Catholic priesthood, bishops, popes, saints, etc. should keep their nose out of "We the People's" business. Healthcare Reform Legislation is NECESSARY, and yes WITH A PUBLIC OPTION !! As for the abortion issue – that should not be up to the Church and that should not be up to anybody but the woman !! It's the woman's body, it's the woman's decision, it's the woman's right to choose !! Either she is for it or against it !! NO MAN should have a say in this matter !! NO MAN has the right to mandate what a woman can and cannot do with her body !!

    November 20, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  13. Link

    Once again, and I don't know how many times this has to be mentioned before it sinks in, there is a SEPARATION between CHURCH and STATE. Thus, church theology should have no bearing whatsoever on state or federal legislation. If you can't handle that division, you shouldn't run for political office.

    November 20, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  14. brian in mesa

    Does the health care bill force people to have an abortion? The answer is no – so why are these bozzos in pointy hats (have you ever looked at their life syle – high) forcing their theories down our thoats. Get back to your rectory and pray for all the priest sinners in your church. From a former catholic.

    November 20, 2009 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  15. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Hollier than thou? Practice what you teach and the World can be a better place for all. The Churches have failed all the people because they pick and choose their battles to be politically correct. But you don't here them when they see the ugly hatred in America, they turn their backs and say nothing because it is "politically incorrect". They voice their opinions about an unborn life but fail to open their mouths as they watch the hate. Protect the unborn but also reach out to those born in hatred. Amen.

    November 20, 2009 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  16. RJD

    While the Bishops have a right to their opinion, the fact is...their opinion doesn't matter. The Catholic Church is a relic of a bygone era.

    November 20, 2009 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  17. garer

    Don't you get it?....women should have a right to their own bodies, BUT a baby with a separate heart beat, different DNA, a separate nervous system is not just an organ in the body.....if the baby is capable of surviving in a NICU then that is what should happen rather than abortion. You shouldn't ask tax payers with a strong religious aversion to abortion to have their tax dollars spend on this atrocity. Just take abortion off the table completely and then we can debate healthcare. It is a fair compromise.

    November 20, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  18. and we should care what catholic bishops think because...?

    oh thats right, there is a separation between church and state so clam it up bishops

    November 20, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  19. irish

    I say the hell with these Catholic bishops. As an ex-Catholic, product of Catholic schooling, i urge the Senate to pass the health care bill and not put any restrictions on reproductive rights. How dare these male bishops think they can tell 51% of the American public......women.......that they are mere second class citizens. Women and their families need health care reform. These bishops need to mind their own 'affairs'. They have enough to deal with, considering the millions of dollars in pedophiia cases they are faced with at the moment.

    November 20, 2009 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  20. jerry

    Let the bishops serve their own congregations, and stay OUT of the rest of our lives! They are nothing to most of us, and I am sick and tired of their attempts to control the lives of people who are not members of their faith. They have been wrong for centuries, and haven't learned history's lessons. It's time for them to SHUT UP!

    November 20, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  21. Joe

    Im sorry why are we listening to Bishops?????

    November 20, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  22. Tristan

    This is why we have separation of church and State. I could care less what they say or are told to think.

    November 20, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  23. kimberly

    who cares what the religious right think, they have no business saying a thing! This country is founded on the belief of church and state! Keep your kookoo beliefs out of my womb! I am sick to death of these fruit cakes and their imaginary crap!

    November 20, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  24. John Wesley Hardin

    If the Catholic Church insists on acting like a political body, they should lose their tax-exempt status. I would like to see the House initiate hearings into the Church's meddling in legislation.

    November 20, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  25. the Film Professor

    Once and for all, let us end the tax exemption for the good Bishops.

    They cannot have it both ways. Either pay your taxes, or stay out of politics from the pulpit.

    Their stand is totally IMMORAL. To let 45 million people go without health care in this country is IMMORAL. The concerns about abortion pale in comparison to their lack of concern for those already alive who lack basic health care. A POX on them.

    November 20, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
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