(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Catholic bishops have told the pastors of all the Catholic churches in America to insert a flyer in their church bulletin and read a statement at every Mass, informing their congregations that the health care bills now before Congress allow abortion-funding and must be opposed unless amended to specifically prohibit such funding.
There are nearly 19,000 Catholic churches and approximately 69 million Catholics in the United States, including 162 Catholics in Congress.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), headed by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, sent the three-part directive to parishes on Oct. 29, the same day the House of Representatives unveiled its 1,990-page health care bill.
The directive has a bulletin insert, a color flyer, and a statement that priests are to read from the pulpit at every Mass either this weekend or in coming weeks as the House votes on its bill and the Senate moves to pass a final version of health care reform legislation.
The headline of the bulletin insert reads: “Tell Congress: Remove Abortion Funding & Mandates from Needed Health Care Reform.” It explains that Congress is gearing up to debate and vote on health care and also details that the Catholic Church supports reform for all Americans that will “protect the life and dignity of all people from the moment of conception until natural death.”
“The U.S. bishops’ conference has concluded that all committee-approved bills are seriously deficient on the issues of abortion and conscience, and do not provide adequate access to health care for immigrants and the poor,” reads the insert. “The bills will have to change or the bishops have pledged to oppose them.”
The insert also urges Catholics in the pews to contact their congressional leaders and urge them to put legal language in the health care bill that would explicitly prohibit taxpayer-funding of abortion and protect the conscience rights of health workers. It also provides a telephone number (202-224-3121) to the congressional switchboard to contact lawmakers, Web site addresses for the House and Senate, and another Web address www.usccb.org/action for those who want send a pre-written, instant e-mail to Congress.
The bulletin insert is to “be printed or hand-stuffed in every parish bulletin and/or distributed in pews or at church entrances as soon as possible,” read the instructions from the USCCB. “Congressional votes may take place as soon as early November. Please encourage parishioners to pray for this effort as well.”
Priests are instructed to read a statement on the issue at every Mass on the weekend that the bulletin insert is distributed, and to follow-up with a statement one week later at all the Masses. The color flyer is headlined, “Health Care Reform Is About Saving Lives, Not Destroying Them,” and shows a pregnant woman and a doctor. The flyer also urges Catholics to contact Congress and provides contact information.
The Catholic Church has a major stake in the health care reform debate as a little over 100 million Americans are treated through Catholic hospitals and health centers. There are 624 Catholic hospitals in America. Also, 11 of the nation’s 40 largest health care systems are Catholic, such as Ascension Health, Catholic Health Initatives and Trinity Health.
“The bishops want health care reform, but they recoil at any expansion of abortion," said Helen Osman, the USCCB secretary for communications, who helped organize the campaign. “Most Americans don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions via health care either. This impasse on the road to reform of health care can be broken if Congress writes in language that assures that the Hyde Amendment law continues to guide U.S. federal spending policy."
The Hyde amendment prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions as allocated through the annual appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. It does not apply to funds that may come from other sources, which all five of the current health care bills before Congress allow: taxpayer funds going into a government-run system that would provide coverage for abortion.
Thus, the Catholic bishops have pressed for an amendment or language in the final health care bill similar to the Hyde amendment. One such amendment has been written by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which would prohibit federal funds from being used to cover “any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.”
For Catholics, the bulletin insert urges them to send a message to the House of Representatives that reads: “Please support the Stupak Amendment that address essential pro-life concerns on abortion funding and conscience rights in the health care reform bill. Help ensure that the Rule for the bill allows a vote on this amendment. If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.”
“The insert is already in our bulletin,” a priest who asked for anonymity, told CNSNews.com.
But the real underlying issue, he said, is that the Catholic Church “walks on three legs in America. It deals with schools, hospitals, and with churches, and the bishops have learned that they have lost their universities, they’re losing their hospitals, and it’s only a matter of time before they lose control over their churches, which might be taxed.”
“The bishops are getting worried – this is the battle for their hospitals,” the priest said. “It used to be that you could not participate with programs that are pro-abortion, can’t lease out your buildings to abortionists to do abortions. Well, now, it’s the actual health care system itself, where the doctor’s conscience clauses are being tossed out. The integrity of human life is going to be snapped because doctors are going to be forced to do abortions, or forced to withdraw treatment for senior citizens because of rationing, like the Canadians do.”
“What’s happening with Catholic health care is what happened with Catholic universities,” he said, “and they lost the Catholic universities. What happens here, with health care, sets the tone for what happens with the churches. If the government can take over the Catholic hospitals and health care systems, it won’t be long before they take over the religious systems. You can still have separation of church and state but still tax the churches. I think that’s coming.”