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US Bishops Cite Serious Concern in House's Health Care Bill

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Pro-Life Chair calls abortion provisions in H.R. 3200 unacceptable

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia is urging preservation of “longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights,” and called current House health care legislation “seriously deficient” on the issue of mandated   coverage and funding of abortion. He cited his concerns in an August 11 letter to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cardinal Rigali, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, reaffirmed the bishops’ position that genuine health care reform that respects life and dignity is urgently needed. He also welcomed provisions in America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200) that do not preempt state laws regulating abortion or current federal conscience laws on abortion. But he criticized the bill for delegating 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 called this a “radical change” since federal law excludes most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions.

Cardinal Rigali also criticized the bill for bypassing the Hyde Amendment and other longstanding provisions that prevent federal funding of abortion and health benefits packages that include abortion. He called the provisions to separate funding for abortion created by the House Energy and Commerce Committee a “legal fiction,” one that would force low-income Americans, who may only be able to afford the public plan, to subsidize abortions for others and abortion coverage for themselves “even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.”

“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,” Cardinal Rigali said. He added that “no federal program mandates coverage for elective abortions, or subsidizes health plans that include such abortions. Most Americans do not want abortion in their health coverage, and most consider themselves ‘pro-life,’ with a stronger majority among low-income Americans.”

“By what right, then, and by what precedent, would Congress make abortion coverage into a nationwide norm, or force Americans to subsidize it as a condition for participating in a public health program?” he asked.

Cardinal Rigali reiterated the USCCB’s long-time support of genuine health care reform that respects human life and dignity from conception till natural death, provides access to quality care for all with special concern for the poor and immigrants, respects pluralism and conscience rights, and shares costs equitably. He urged members of the House to support amendments to correct the “unacceptable features” currently in H.R. 3200 and to oppose any rule for considering the bill that would block such amendments.

The full text of the letter can be found online at: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/CardRigaliHealthCareReformLetter-08-11-09.pdf.