Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bishops criticize Senate version of healthcare bill on abortion, conscience rights and coverage of immigrants

"Required to pay for other people's abortions"

When Congress reconvenes early next year to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of pending federal healthcare legislation, U.S. bishops say they want the final measure to be more like the House bill than the one adopted by the Senate on Christmas Eve. 

The day after the Senate voted 60-40 along party lines to end debate on the Reid Amendment, which incorporated a so-called compromise on federal abortion funding into the Senate bill, three bishops signed a letter to legislators calling the Senate bill "deficient" and in need of "essential changes." 

In a Dec. 22 news release by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the Committee on Migration, cited specific defects in the Senate bill. 

According to the bishops, the Senate measure "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 as well as in the Children's Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed 'Affordable Health Care for America Act.'" 

"They said that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives 'keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions' and 'ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people's abortions,'" said the USCCB news release. "The Senate bill does not maintain this commitment." 

Under provisions of the Senate version, "federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions," the bishops said. "All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people's abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people's abortions." 

The Senate bill "also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion," the bishops said, and "includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures." 

The bishops also faulted the legislation for its failure to include immigrants, calling on Congress to pass a bill that covers "all immigrants, regardless of status" and allowing them "to be able purchase a health insurance plan with their own money," said the USCCB release.