By Bishop William F. Murphy, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Bishop John Wester
For decades, the United States Catholic bishops have actively supported universal health care. The Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity. Our community of faith provides health care to millions, purchases health care for tens of thousands and addresses the failings of our health care system in our parishes, emergency rooms and shelters. This is why we as bishops continue to insist that health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all is a moral imperative and urgent national priority.
(Read more about Catholic moral teaching at Patheos.com.)
We are convinced that the Senate legislation presented to the House of Representatives on a “take it or leave it” basis sadly fails this test and ought to be opposed in its current form. Why do we take this position, when we have a long record of support for health care reform? This judgment is based on a set of moral principles and legislative criteria that can be found on our Web site. But more simply, our essential priorities can be summarized in two sentences:
1. Health care reform must protect life and conscience, not threaten them. The Senate bill extends abortion coverage, allows federal funds to pay for elective abortions and denies adequate conscience protection to individuals and institutions. Needed health care reform must keep in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy that neither elective abortion nor plans which include elective abortion can be paid for with federal funds. Simply put, health care reform ought to continue to apply both parts of the Hyde amendment, no more and no less. The House adopted this policy by a large bipartisan majority, establishing the same protections that govern Medicaid, SCHIP, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and other federal health programs. Despite claims to the contrary, the status quo prohibits the federal government from funding or facilitating plans that include elective abortion. The Senate bill violates this prohibition by providing subsidies to purchase such plans. The House bill provides that no one has to pay for other people’s abortions, while the Senate bill does not. While the Senate provides for one plan without abortion coverage in each exchange, those who select another plan in an exchange to better meet the special needs of their family will be required to pay a separate monthly fee into a fund exclusively for abortions. This new federal requirement is an attempt to circumvent the Hyde amendment. It is a far more direct imposition on the consciences of those who do not wish to pay for the destruction of unborn human life than anything currently in federal law.
It is not those who require that the Hyde Amendment be fully applied who are obstructing reform, since this is the law of the land and the will of the American people. Rather, those who would expand federal participation in abortion, require people to pay for other people’s abortions, and refuse to incorporate essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context) are threatening genuine reform. With conscience protection as with abortion funding, the goal is to preserve the status quo.
2. Universal coverage should be truly universal. People should never be denied coverage because they can’t afford it, because of where they live or work, or because of where they come from and when they got here. The Senate bill would not only continue current law that denies legal immigrants access to Medicaid for five years, but also prohibit undocumented immigrants from buying insurance for their families in the exchanges using their own money. These provisions could leave immigrants and their families worse off, and at the same time it would also hurt the public health of our nation by making hospital emergency rooms the doctors’ offices of the uninsured.
Now, after a year of divisive political combat, members of the House are told that they can advance health care reform only by adopting the Senate legislation as is, including these fundamental flaws. The House Democratic leadership is ignoring the pleas of pro-life and Hispanic members of their caucus. Apparently they will not even try to address the serious problems on abortion funding, conscience protection and fair treatment of immigrants. On the other hand, Republicans pledge to do all they can to defeat the legislation by threatening to object to any improvements in the Senate bill, further complicating the process. The White House, admirably concerned for the many millions without insurance and for those who cannot purchase it, seems willing to accept even a bill which leaves immigrants worse off and undermines the President’s pledge to retain existing protections on abortion funding and freedom of conscience.
We are bishops, not politicians, policy experts or legislative tacticians. We are also pastors, teachers, and citizens. At this point of decision, we cannot compromise on basic moral principles. We can only urge — and hope and pray — that the House of Representatives will find the will and the means to adopt health care reform that protects the life, dignity, conscience and health of all. The legislation the House adopted, while not perfect, came closer to meeting these criteria. The Senate legislation simply does not meet them. This is why we are compelled to urge members of the House to oppose the Senate bill unless and until these fundamental flaws are remedied. Then it would be possible for Congress to advance health care reform that reflects a true commitment to life and dignity for all.
We urge our people to let their representatives know that we want Hyde Amendment protections for the unborn, conscience protections for individuals and institutions and openness to the legitimate claims of immigrants.
Bishop William F. Murphy is bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York and chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston is chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities. Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City is chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration.