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CHA President Says Assoc. in Full Agreement with US Bishops on Health Care

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Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Hospital Association (CHA), is disputing a report in the Dec. 26 edition of the New York Times which claimed that the Catholic health agency has broken with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) over abortion funding in health care reform.

In an interview with Catholic News Service (CNS), Sister Carol, A Daughter of Charity, said her organization remains totally committed to health care that protects “from conception to natural death,” as outlined in the CHA document, “Our Vision for U.S. Health Care.”

Sister Carol says CHA and the USCCB continue to work closely together to achieve health reform that does not expand federal funding of abortion.

"There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops," Sister Carol told CNS. "We believe there is a great possibility and probability that in conference committee we can work toward a solution that will prevent federal funding of abortion."

She said the CHA, which represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., "brings a lot of expertise with funding structures in the marketplace" to the debate and hopes to "bring that to bear" during the conference committee's work.

Shortly before the Senate approved its version of health reform legislation early Dec. 24, the chairmen of three USCCB committees said the bill should not be approved "without incorporating essential changes to ensure" that it "truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all."

In a letter sent late Dec. 22, about 36 hours before the Senate's 60-39 vote along party lines, the USCCB leaders pledged continued efforts to incorporate needed changes during the work of the House-Senate conference committee.

"For many months, our bishops' conference has worked 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," said the letter signed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishops William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and John C. Wester of Salt Lake City.

The three chair the USCCB committees on Pro-Life Activities, on Domestic Justice and Human Development and on Migration, respectively.

"We regret to say that in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is deficient," the three chairmen added.

The Senate bill also fails to include provisions to prevent "discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion" and would not protect the rights of Catholic and other institutions "to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures," the chairmen said.

In an earlier statement, Cardinal DiNardo said the USCCB would continue to oppose the Senate legislation "unless and until" it is amended to "comply with long-standing Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them."

The Hyde amendment prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the woman's life.