Health-Care: Still Hope in Reconciliation

The health-care reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate this morning “violates the long-standing federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops maintains.

The bill violates “a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program—and now in the House-passed ‘Affordable Health Care for America Act,’” the bishops said.

In the legislation, “federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions,” the bishops said in a letter to senators Dec. 22. “All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium check payment designed solely to pay for abortion,” they noted. “There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions.”

But although the bill passed by a 60-39 vote, the process is not over, and there is still a chance lawmakers may listen to the concerns of the bishops, of Catholics and of pro-life Americans.

A Quinnipiac University survey Dec. 22 showed that 72% of Americans oppose public funding of abortion in health-care reform.

The bishops’ letter to senators also noted the bill’s lack of conscience protections for Catholic hospitals and conscientious objectors in the medical field. The bill, they said, “continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental discrimination against health-care providers that decline involvement in abortion.” It also “includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures.”

Now that the Senate has passed its version—in a vote this morning at 7:15—the bill will go into a process to reconcile it with the House version. The bishops said in their letter that the House version “keeps in place the long standing and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions” and “ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions.”

“Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, we will work vigorously to incorporate into the final legislation our priorities for upholding abortion and conscience rights and long-standing current prohibitions on abortion funding,” they conclude. “We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.”