Acceptable health care language must be found or bishops will oppose the bill

By Bishop Michael O. Jackels
National debate and decisions on health care reform are reaching a decisive moment.
For many years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported adequate health care for all. This support is based on Church teaching that health care is essential for human life and dignity, and on the Church’s experience in providing health care and assisting those without coverage. We have always insisted that health care reform must protect life, not threaten it, and that it cannot be used as a vehicle to advance abortion.
Specifically, we have clearly required that longstanding federal protections that restrict abortion funding and mandates and that protect conscience rights must be incorporated in health reform legislation. We have also focused on efforts to insure that coverage is affordable, and that immigrants have better health care as a result of reform. The USCCB principles and priorities are outlined in a series of our letters to Congress, fact sheets and other materials on the USCCB health care reform website at

Current legislative situation
Five different Congressional committees have completed their work on separate health care reform bills and now Congressional leaders and the Administration are negotiating the combined bills that will come to the House and Senate floors. None of the original bills meet our essential criteria that existing federal law restricting abortion funding and mandates and protecting conscience be included. This is not surprising given the makeup of the committees, but barring some accommodation by the Congressional leadership, it is essential that we persuade a majority of Representatives and Senators to amend the legislation to clearly reflect the longstanding and widely supported federal policies on abortion funding and conscience protection. We will also need to make clear our support for efforts to make health coverage genuinely affordable and to include measures to safeguard the health of immigrants and their children.
In some ways, we have succeeded in shaping the debate on these issues. President Obama declared to the nation that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.” However, the legislation that has emerged from Congressional committees does not meet our essential criteria nor does it reflect the President’s pledge despite what many have heard or read. Our task is complicated by proposals that are advertised as “fixing” this problem, but that fail to do so in fundamental ways, requiring people to pay for abortion with their own funds and government funds.
Additionally, it will be important to defend against amendments offered in the House or Senate that are anti-immigrant. Some of these types of amendments were offered in committee and defeated. They may be offered again on the floor. For example, one amendment prohibited undocumented immigrants from obtaining health care coverage, even with their own money.
Our message is clear: Genuine health care reform is much needed and should protect the life and dignity of all people from the moment of conception until natural death. Mandated coverage for abortion should be excluded and longstanding policies against abortion funding and supporting conscience rights should be included. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. No current bill meets this test.

An appeal for action
This message can only be put into law with your active and personal involvement in the democratic process. Please contact the Senators and Representative who serve you in Washington, D.C. I encourage you to communicate the following points:

• To your senators: Keep abortion funding and mandates out of needed health care reform. During floor debate on the health care reform bill, please support an amendment to incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights. If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.

• To your House representative: Keep abortion funding and mandates out of needed health care reform. Please support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns on abortion funding and conscience rights in the health care reform bill. Help ensure that the Rule for the bill (House procedure) allows a vote on this amendment. If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.

The bishops of the United States, in a recent letter to every member of Congress, said that “If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously. Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity. Much-needed reform of our health care system must be pursued in ways that serve the life and dignity of all, never in ways that undermine or violate these fundamental values. We will work tirelessly to remedy these central problems and help pass real reform that clearly protects the life, dignity and health of all.” May it be so.