The Cost is too
High; the Loss is too Great
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have long and consistently
advocated for the reform of the American health care system. Their
experience in health care and in Catholic parishes has acquainted them
with the anguish of mothers who are unable to afford prenatal care, of
families unable to ensure quality care for their children, and of those
who cannot obtain insurance because of preexisting conditions.
Throughout the discussion on health care over the last year, the bishops
have advocated a bipartisan approach to solving our national health care
needs. They have urged that all who are sick, injured or in need receive
necessary and appropriate medical assistance, and that no one be
deliberately killed through an expansion of federal funding of abortion
itself or of insurance plans that cover abortion. These are the provisions
of the long standing Hyde amendment, passed annually in every federal bill
appropriating funds for health care; and surveys show that this
legislation reflects the will of the majority of our fellow citizens. The
American people and the Catholic bishops have been promised that, in any
final bill, no federal funds would be used for abortion and that the legal
status quo would be respected.
However, the bishops were left disappointed and puzzled to learn that the
basis for any vote on health care will be the Senate bill passed on
Christmas Eve. Notwithstanding the denials and explanations of its
supporters, and unlike the bill approved by the House of Representatives
in November, the Senate bill deliberately excludes the language of the
Hyde amendment. It expands federal funding and the role of the federal
government in the provision of abortion procedures. In so doing, it forces
all of us to become involved in an act that profoundly violates the
conscience of many, the deliberate destruction of unwanted members of the
human family still waiting to be born.
What do the bishops find so deeply disturbing about the Senate bill? The
points at issue can be summarized briefly. The status quo in federal
abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion
from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies. In the Senate
bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state
plans will not cover elective abortions – all other plans (including other
multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means
that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely
be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds
abortions in order to meet their particular health needs.
Further, the Senate bill authorizes and appropriates billions of dollars
in new funding outside the scope of the appropriations bills covered by
the Hyde amendment and similar provisions. As the bill is written, the new
funds it appropriates over the next five years, for Community Health
Centers for example (Sec. 10503), will be available by statute for
elective abortions, even though the present regulations do conform to the
Hyde amendment. Regulations, however, can be changed at will, unless they
are governed by statute.
Additionally, no provision in the Senate bill incorporates the
longstanding and widely supported protection for conscience regarding
abortion as found in the Hyde/Weldon amendment. Moreover, neither the
House nor Senate bill contains meaningful conscience protection outside
the abortion context. Any final bill, to be fair to all, must retain the
accommodation of the full range of religious and moral objections in the
provision of health insurance and services that are contained in current
law, for both individuals and institutions.
This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by
the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover,
that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage
of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so
fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote.
Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only
after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern
parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.
What is tragic about this turn of events is that it needn’t have happened.
The status quo that has served our national consensus and respected the
consciences of all with regard to abortion is the Hyde amendment. The
House courageously included an amendment applying the Hyde policy to its
Health Care bill passed in November. Its absence in the Senate bill and
the resulting impasse are not an accident. Those in the Senate who wanted
to purge the Hyde amendment from this national legislation are obstructing
the reform of health care.
This is not quibbling over technicalities. The deliberate omission in the
Senate Bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral
question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way
to meet the President’s and our concern to provide health care for those
millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor. As
Pope Benedict told Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz when he
presented his credentials as the United States government’s representative
to the Holy See, there is “an indissoluble bond between an ethic of life
and every other aspect of social ethics.”
Two basic principles, therefore, continue to shape the concerns of the
Catholic bishops: health care means taking care of the health needs of
all, across the human life span; and the expansion of health care should
not involve the expansion of abortion funding and of polices forcing
everyone to pay for abortions. Because these principles have not been
respected, despite the good that the bill under consideration intends or
might achieve, the Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be
opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed.