Bishops Offer Web Page to Clarify Health Reform

Warn Against Pushing Abortions in Package

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- As the U.S. president and Congress continue to consider health care reform, the nation's bishops are offering a Web page to support a package that protects human dignity.

The site includes letters from bishops to Congress, videos, facts and statistics, frequently asked questions, and links for contacting legislators.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, describes how abortion relates to the health care reform debate. Kathy Saile, director of Domestic Social Development, outlines the bishops' general position and concerns.

The page also contains facts and statistics about Catholic health care in the United States, which includes 624 hospitals, 164 home health agencies, and 41 hospice organizations.

Neutral

One of the statements included on the site is Cardinal Justin Rigali's Aug. 11 letter to Congress. Cardinal Rigali is the chairman of the bishops' pro-life committee.

In that note, the cardinal affirmed that the "bishops' conference views health care as a basic right belonging to all human beings."

However, he went on to state that "much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an 'abortion rights' agenda or reversing longstanding policies against federal funding and mandated coverage of abortion. In this sense we urge you to make this legislation 'abortion neutral' by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights."

Cardinal Rigali noted the good and the bad with the proposed health care reform package.

He explained: "As amended by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 31, H.R. 3200 addresses two aspects of the abortion issue: The act will not preempt certain state laws regulating abortion, and will have no effect on existing federal conscience rights on abortion.

"These changes are helpful improvements. Especially welcome is the committee’s approval of the Stupak/Pitts amendment, prohibiting governmental bodies that receive federal funds under this act from discriminating against providers and insurers who decline involvement in abortion."

Deficiencies

On two other issues, the cardinal lamented, "the act remains seriously deficient."

"The legislation delegates to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit in the 'public health insurance plan' the government will manage nationwide," he noted, saying this would be a "radical change."

"Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits packages, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions," the cardinal recalled.

Secondly, "because some federal funds are authorized and appropriated by this legislation without passing through the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, they are not covered by the Hyde amendment and other federal provisions that have long prevented federal funding of abortion
and of health benefits packages that include abortion," he explained.

Cardinal Rigali affirmed that the House committee "created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion: Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand; but anyone who purchases these plans is required to pay a premium out of his or her own pocket -- specified in the Act to be at least $1.00 a month -- to cover all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde amendment. Thus some will claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion under the Act.

"But this is an illusion. Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions.

"Furthermore, those constrained by economic necessity or other factors to purchase the 'public plan' will be forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage. This is the opposite of the policy in every other federal health program. Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others -- and abortion coverage for themselves -- even if they find abortion morally abhorrent."

Recalling that most Americans do not want abortion in their coverage and that most consider themselves pro-life, the cardinal urged "that any legislation that comes up for a vote in the full House does not include these unacceptable features."

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On the Net:

Bishops' health care reform site: www.usccb.org/healthcare

Cardinal Rigali's Aug. 11 letter: www.usccb.org/prolife/CardRigaliHealthCareReformLetter-08-11-09.pdf