With regard to the debate on health care reform, the US Conference of Bishops has not been silent. Three statements from American Bishops on behalf of the Conference are very much worth our attention here. The first is a July 21 letter from Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center, NY to all members of the US House of Representatives and Senate. This excerpt from Murphy's letter sums up the Bishops' stance:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I write to outline our policy priorities and to express hope that the serious efforts of the Congressional committees will bring genuine life-affirming reform to the nation’s health care system. The USCCB looks forward to working with you to reform health care successfully in a manner that offers accessible, affordable and quality health care that protects and respects the life and dignity of all people from conception until natural death.(A summary of Murphy's letter and a link to the complete text is here.)
For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform that leads to health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable. The bishops want to support health care reform. We have in the past and we always must insist that health care reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life.
As Congress begins debate on health care reform the Catholic bishops of the United States offer the following criteria for fair and just health care reform. Health care reform needs to reflect basic ethical principles. We offer these as a guide:
• a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity;
• access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants;
• pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options;
• restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.
On July 29, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chair of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee, wrote to the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging them to amend “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act” (H.R. 3200) to retain longstanding government policies on abortion and conscience rights. Rigali asked the House Committee to follow through on President Obama’s pledge to preserve conscience rights.(A summary of Rigali's letter and a link to the complete text is here.)
Rigali wrote again (August 11) after action on the amendment of H.R. 3200:
As amended by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 31, H.R. 3200addresses two aspects of the abortion issue: The Act will not preempt certain state laws regulating abortion, and will have no effect on existing federal conscience rights on abortion. These changes are helpful improvements. Especially welcome is the committee’s approval of the Stupak/Pitts amendment, prohibiting governmental bodies that receive federal funds under this Act from discriminating against providers and insurers who decline involvement in abortion.Rigali goes on to criticize other portions of the legislation to which the US Bishops object: making unlimited abortion a mandated benefit in the public health insurance plan and federal funding of abortion and health benefits packages that include abortion.
The bishops’ conference had urged approval of this amendment, which applies the policy of the Weldon amendment (approved by Congress every year since 2004 as part of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill) to the health care reform bill.
(A summary of Rigali's letter and a link to the complete text is here.)