U.S. bishops oppose Senate health care bill, doubt promised fixes


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Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2010 / 06:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a statement Monday, Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the U.S. bishops are now opposing the current Senate health care bill because the cost "is too high" and "the loss too great" for it to be supported. Cardinal George also expressed concern with the Catholic Health Association's support the bill.

Spelling out his main objections to the Senate health care legislation, the cardinal said, "What do the bishops find so deeply disturbing about the Senate bill? The points at issue can be summarized briefly."

"The status quo in federal abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies," he explained. "In the Senate bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state plans will not cover elective abortions - all other plans (including other multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds abortions in order to meet their particular health needs."

"Further," added the prelate, "the Senate bill authorizes and appropriates billions of dollars in new funding outside the scope of the appropriations bills covered by the Hyde amendment and similar provisions. As the bill is written, the new funds it appropriates over the next five years, for Community Health Centers for example (Sec. 10503), will be available by statute for elective abortions, even though the present regulations do conform to the Hyde amendment. Regulations, however, can be changed at will, unless they are governed by statute."

"Additionally," he noted, "no provision in the Senate bill incorporates the longstanding and widely supported protection for conscience regarding abortion as found in the Hyde/Weldon amendment. Moreover, neither the House nor Senate bill contains meaningful conscience protection outside the abortion context. Any final bill, to be fair to all, must retain the accommodation of the full range of religious and moral objections in the provision of health insurance and services that are contained in current law, for both individuals and institutions."

In contrast with the U.S. Bishops, Sr. Carol Keehan, director of the Catholic Health Association, expressed approval in a statement on March 13 for the current Senate bill. "The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care," she asserted. "If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage."

"Is (the bill) perfect? No." stated Sr. Keehan last Saturday. "But is it a major first step? Yes."

Cardinal George addressed Sr. Keehan's claims on Monday, noting, "This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill."

"The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote," the Chicago cardinal explained. "Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke."

"This is not quibbling over technicalities," Cardinal George insisted. "The deliberate omission in the Senate Bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way to meet the President's and our concern to provide health care for those millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor."

"Two basic principles, therefore, continue to shape the concerns of the Catholic bishops," Cardinal George concluded, "health care means taking care of the health needs of all, across the human life span; and the expansion of health care should not involve the expansion of abortion funding and of polices forcing everyone to pay for abortions."

"Because these principles have not been respected, despite the good that the bill under consideration intends or might achieve, the Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed."

To read Cardinal George's full statement, visit: