Catholic Bishops: All Current Health Care Bills in Congress Would Permit Federal Funding of Abortion

By Michael W. Chapman | October 2, 2009 | 5:44 PM EDT

Musician Jon Bon Jovi, right, and Cardinal Justin Rigali appear at a news conference on Wednesday, July, 8, 2009. (AP photo)

( – The health care bills currently under consideration in the House and Senate do not bar federal funds from being used to pay for abortion, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) explains in a Sept. 30 letter sent to members of the Senate.
“So far, the health reform bills considered in committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met President Obama’s challenge of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws,” states the letter. “These deficiencies must be corrected.”
The letter also says, “We urge you to … Support a fair and just health care reform bill that excludes mandated coverage for abortion, and upholds longstanding laws that restrict abortion funding and protect conscience rights. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. It is essential to clearly include longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding/mandates and protections for rights of conscience.”
The USCCB represents the approximately 300 active bishops in America, and the Sept. 30 letter is the fourth letter on health care from the conference to members of Congress since July 17.
The latest missive is signed by Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bp. William F. Murphy, chairman of the committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester, chairman of the committee on Migration.
The bishops who signed the Sept. 30 letter speak for the USCCB, and all its bishops, on this issue, Richard Doerflinger, associate director for policy development at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, told
He further explained that the policy guidelines in the letter are in conformity with Canon Law, the law that governs the Catholic Church, and in line with Catholic moral teaching on the issue of health care and abortion.
“The bishops are basically together on this,” said Doerflinger. “We are concerned about covering people who can’t afford health insurance now, but we are also insisting that it must be health care reform that protects life at every stage and, so far, we don’t have that.”
“We don’t have any bill in Congress right now that’s acceptable on the abortion issue,” he said.
Cardinal Rigali, who also is the archbishop of Philadelphia, re-emphasized that fact in a statement for Respect Life Sunday, released on Sept. 29. In the statement, Rigali says, “[D]espite the opposition of 67 percent of Americans to taxpayer-funded abortion, all current health care proposals being considered by Congress would allow or mandate abortion funding, either through premiums paid into government programs or out of federal revenues.”
”It bears repeating,” says Rigali, “Abortion – the direct, intentional killing of an unborn girl or boy – is not health care. Abortion robs an innocent child of his or her life, and robs mothers of their peace and happiness.”
Rigali made the same point in his Aug. 11 letter to members of Congress, explaining that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (HR 3200), had “created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion” because “funds paid into these [health insurance] plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortion.”

President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

Eight days after the Aug. 11 letter from the USCCB, President Obama spoke to a religious audience on BlogTalkRadio. He said: “I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this [health care] debate. And there’s some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness.”
“You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion,” said Obama. “Not true. This is all – these are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation.”
Also, during his Sept. 9 speech on national television before a joint session of Congress, Obama said: “One more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.”
However, the bishops’ latest letter re-explains how current health care reform legislation provides for federal funding of abortion. Further, The New York Times has reported that the bills allow for federal funds to go to insurers that cover abortion.
In addition, when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tried to amend the Senate health care bills with explicit language prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion, his amendment was defeated by the Democrat majority on the committee. See here and here
Beyond the statements from Cardianl Rigali, Bp. Murphy, and Bp. Wester, who represent all bishops on these issues, other Catholic bishops have spoken out against the current legislation and urged that it be amended to specifically exclude taxpayer-funding of abortion.
In a letter to his diocese, Sioux City Bp. R. Walker Nickless said that the House reform bill (HR 3200) does not meet the Catholic Church’s standard against “any legislation that mandates coverage, public or private, for abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research.”
Citing Rigali, Nickless wrote that the House bill “circumvents the Hyde amendment (which prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions) by drawing funding from new sources not covered by the Hyde amendment, and by creatively manipulating how federal funds by the Hyde amendment are accounted.”
As for the Senate bill, “it also does not meet the first standard of explicitly excluding mandatory abortion coverage,” said Bp. Nickless.
In a Sept. 1 statement, the two bishops of Kansas City – Kansas Archbp. Joseph Naumann and Kansas City-St. Joseph Bp. Robert Finn – said that health care reform must “keep intact our current public policies protecting taxpayers from being coerced to fund abortions. … It is inadequate to propose legislation that is silent on this morally crucial matter.”
“Given the penchant of our courts over the past 35 years to claim unarticulated rights in our Constitution, the explicit exclusion of so-called ‘abortion services’ from coverage is essential,” said the two bishops.
Bp. Howard Hubbard, diocese of Albany, said in September that health care reform must respect “the life and dignity of every person from conception until natural death” and that means “the unborn.”
In addition, reform legislation must “protect the unborn by excluding abortion as part of a mandated national health care benefit and maintains current restrictions on government funding of abortions,” said Bp. Hubbard. “The health care reform that is so critically needed will be doomed if the plan compels Americans to pay for the destruction of human life whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.”
In an Aug. 28 letter, Bp. Samuel Aquila, diocese of Fargo, wrote that “any attempt to provide greater access to health care without safeguarding human life from the moment of conception is inherently inconsistent. The destruction of human life by abortion and other evils can never be a neutral question or one that is promoted by any faithful Catholic.”
The USCCB’s Doerflinger told “I’ve seen many misleading news reports saying, ‘Oh, Cardinal Rigali is out there being concerned about abortion – but he’s alone in this and the other bishops are more concerned about passing health care reform or something.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
“He [Rigali] was speaking for the USCCB on those issues when he wrote his letter,” said Doerflinger,  “and I think the fact that all three committee chairman [Bps. Murphy and Wester] who are interested in the bill are signing this common letter now [Sept. 30] that raises the same concerns, among others, is an indication of that. The bishops are basically together on this.”

Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman