U.S. bishops issue statement on health care reform

Cardinal George is interviewed March 23. (CNS/Bob Roller)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this afternoon issued a statement on the health care reform bill approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday and signed into law by President Barack Obama this morning. According to an accompanying news release, the USCCB said the statement, by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, had been approved unanimously by the 32-member USCCB Administrative Committee, which by coincidence was meeting in Washington for its regular March meeting. The committee is a panel of bishops which conducts USCCB business between the bishops’ general meetings.

The news release also said Cardinal George issued the statement “moments after President Barack Obama signed the Senate version of health care reform legislation approved by the House of Representatives.”

The full statement:

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so that all may have access to the care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity” (United States Catechism for Adults, page 454). Included among those elements is the provision of necessary and appropriate health care.

For too long, this question has gone unaddressed in our country. Often, while many had access to excellent medical treatment, millions of others including expectant mothers, struggling families or those with serious medical or physical problems were left unable to afford the care they needed. As Catholic bishops, we have expressed our support for efforts to address this national and societal shortcoming. We have spoken for the poorest and most defenseless among us. Many elements of the health care reform measure signed into law by the president address these concerns and so help to fulfill the duty that we have to each other for the common good. We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context). As well, many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money.

Many in Congress and the administration, as well as individuals and groups in the Catholic community, have repeatedly insisted that there is no federal funding for abortion in this statute and that strong conscience protection has been assured. Analyses that are being published separately show this not to be the case, which is why we oppose it in its current form. We and many others will follow the government’s implementation of health care reform and will work to ensure that Congress and the administration live up to the claims that have contributed to its passage. We believe, finally, that new legislation to address its deficiencies will almost certainly be required.

As bishops, we wish to recognize the principled actions of the pro-life members of Congress from both parties, in the House and the Senate, who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the principles outlined above. They have often been vilified and have worked against great odds.

As bishops of the Catholic Church, we speak in the name of the church and for the Catholic faith itself. The Catholic faith is not a partisan agenda, and we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to working for health care which truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.

How immigration marchers made his day

Near the end of a long day of events for the March for America immigration reform rally and march  (and here) on March 21, a sign caught my eye.

The sign held by the man near the playground in Lincoln Park stood out even among the day’s wide variety of slogans, posters, T-shirts and banners: “Montanans for Kindness,” read his folded-out pizza box (extra large, I’d guess) in bright Crayon colors.

Turns out this Montanan had been standing there for something like two hours, cheering on the thousands and thousands of people from across the country who were crossing the park. For about another hour I stood there with him, chatting a bit, but mostly watching the passing parade of people marching from the immigration reform rally on the National Mall to RFK Stadium, where their buses waited to take them home.

Participants were of all ages, but a majority were probably under 35.  Nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis walked with their people. Many, many families pushed strollers. A handful pushed wheelchairs. Some people stopped to rest for a few minutes on the park benches. Families paused to let the kids climb around on the playground equipment for a bit. 

They carried American flags and flags from their home countries. Here and there, someone using a five-gallon bucket as a drum would keep a rhythm for chants of “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, we can.” People sitting outside homes they passed on East Capitol Street would wave and join in the cheering. Some raised their wine glasses in a toast. The mood was optimistic and upbeat.

CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

The walkers passed unknowingly through this park named for Abraham Lincoln, with its memorial to the Emancipation Proclamation. Most walked past the giant statue of civil rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune without realizing the parallels between her work and their goals.

“Mr. Montana,” a community organizer, explained that he’d encountered the immigration marchers as he returned from participating in a rally at the Capitol in support of the health care reform bill. As he headed to where he was staying near Lincoln Park, people from the immigration rally had started to walk toward the stadium, about three miles from the Mall.

“I thought, ‘This isn’t very many people,'” he said, and decided to go back out and cheer them on. Turns out that at 3:30 he’d only seen the leading edge of people from the immigration event. The majority didn’t even start walking from the Mall until 5 p.m., by which time tens of thousands had already set out, making their way through this historic park and past the Montanan with his cheery pizza box sign.

People who noticed the “Montanans for Kindness” sign smiled, waved, thanked him for his sign and his support. He grinned and waved, and echoed every chorus of “Si, se puede.”

In the third hour of the procession, with no end in sight of the swarms of people coming up over the hill, he grinned some more. “This has made my day, my week, my decade,” he said. “This is great.”