The U.S. Catholic bishops are calling on the Senate to amend a bill whose abortion-funding provisions pose “a direct threat to innocent human life.”

Provisions in the current bill would allow taxpayer-funded elective abortions in the District of Columbia and would permit federal employee health plans to fund elective abortions. One provision would also permanently ban the Mexico City Policy that restricts U.S. funding for foreign groups involved in abortion.

“At a time when Congress is tempted to reduce even vitally important programs that serve the poorest and neediest people here and abroad, the moral wrong of expanding subsidies for direct violations of human life and dignity is especially egregious,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. bishops’ conference, said in a Nov. 14 letter to senators.

His letter concerned H.R. 2354, a package of three funding appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2012.

The Financial Services bill “completely eliminates” a longstanding provision against federal funding for elective abortions in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

If approved, Cardinal DiNardo said, Congress will directly use taxpayers’ funds for elective abortion coverage. This contradicts the “repeated assurances” made in arguments for the 2010 health-care legislation that Congress had no intent to fund these procedures.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will offer an amendment to restore the ban in current law.

The legislation would also reverse current policy against spending any congressionally appropriated funds on elective abortions in the District of Columbia. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., will propose an amendment to maintain the ban.

The legislation dealing with the State Department and Foreign Operations would permanently legislate against the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. funding of non-governmental organizations that perform and promote abortions as a method of family planning. The Reagan and George W. Bush administrations implemented the policy, while the Clinton and Obama administrations rescinded it.

The provision also says that no “health or medical service” would render an organization ineligible for U.S. funds if that service is permitted in the host country and would not violate U.S. law.

Cardinal DiNardo characterized the law as broad in scope, noting that infanticide, euthanasia and other lethal procedures are generally forbidden by individual state laws, not by federal law.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will offer an amendment to address the proposal.

The bill also recommends $40 million for the United Nations Population Fund despite the agency’s “continued support for a brutal program of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization in China,” Cardinal DiNardo said. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Kan., will offer an amendment to eliminate this funding.

“I urge you to support all these amendments, to ensure that federal taxpayers’ funds are not used to attack and demean innocent human life,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote the U.S. senators. “With the approval of these corrective amendments, I hope funds that would have been spent to take life can be directed instead to the true needs of the poor and vulnerable.”

A vote on the legislation is expected this week.

In other news, the U.S. bishops’ conference chose Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle as their new secretary-elect, who will also serve as chairman of the conference’s Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The bishops picked new chairmen-elect for several other committees at their fall general assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 14.

After serving for one year as chairman-elect, each bishop will serve a three-year term as chairman of their individual committees.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City was chosen as chairman-elect of the Committee on Communications, and Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was picked as the new head of the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, will become the new leader of the Cultural Diversity Committee, while Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati was chosen as chairman-elect of the Committee on National Collections.

The bishops selected Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, was elected as chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. Unlike the other committees, Bishop Pates was chosen as the chairman rather than the chairman-elect of the committee and will assume leadership at the end of the meeting.

The unusual situation was due to the fact that Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore had been chosen as chairman-elect in 2010 but will not be able to take up the position as chairman because he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in August as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

The bishops also elected Bishop Flores, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, and Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley of Washington to the board of Catholic Relief Services.

Bishop Joseph Pepe of Las Vegas and Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., were also chosen to be members on the board of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

One of the biggest announcements from the USCCB meeting this week was that the U.S. Anglican ordinariate will be official on Jan. 1. See Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond’s coverage here.