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November 8, 2009

Catholics urged to get involved in health care debate Conscience protection, abortion coverage main moral concerns

By Michelle Martin


As Congress moved closer toward voting on health care reform proposals in the beginning days of November, the Archdiocese of Chicago joined with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to ask Catholics to make their voices heard on the issue.

The bishops’ conference on Oct. 29 distributed announcements for parish bulletins, prayers to be read during Mass and advertisements (see Page 16) emphasizing the church’s commitment to improving access to health care for all people, but not at the price of government funding of abortion or of abridging the conscience rights of health care providers.

“The U.S. bishops’ conference has concluded that all committee-approved bills are seriously deficient on the issues of abortion and conscience, and do not provide adequate access to health care for immigrants and the poor,” the bulletin insert reads in part. “The bills will have to change or the bishops have pledged to oppose them.

“Our nation is at a crossroads. Policies adopted in health care reform will have an impact for good or ill for years to come. None of the bills retains longstanding current policies against abortion funding or abortion coverage mandates, and none fully protects conscience rights in health care.”

The announcement also includes several ways for Catholics to contact their representatives and senators, along with suggested wording for messages.

‘A local voice’

“Through these bulletin inserts to all parishes, we are trying to bring a local voice to the debate in Washington on health care insurance,” said Jimmy Lago, the archdiocesan chancellor.

Cardinal George “strongly supports access for all especially the poor,” Lago said, adding that Cardinal Bernardin also supported this issue.

“Fifteen years ago, I was in Washington with Cardinal Bernardin during the Clinton administration to lobby hard for universal access and against public funding for abortions in any health care reform. These concerns remain even stronger today.”

Lago said the bulletin inserts are one way to inform Catholics in the archdiocese about the critical importance of getting involved in the health care reform process.

“We have always stood for good health, support for life, full coverage for all and against death,” he said. “These messages to our congressmen will continue to support those core values during time of health care reform.”

Because the information was not distributed to parishes until Oct. 29, a Thursday, several parishes contacted by phone said they did not have time to include the material in the bulletins distributed the weekend of Oct. 31- Nov. 1.

However, most intended to make fliers available in their churches and make announcements during Masses.

Learn the issues

Mary-Louise Kurey, director of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office, said Catholics must educate themselves on the issues involved and make their voices heard.

While early versions of bills under consideration do not explicitly include money to pay for abortions, she said, neither do they forbid such funding. If consumers can use government-subsidized insurance policies to pay for abortions, then all U.S. taxpayers will have a hand in procuring abortions, she said.

“This is extremely important, because we know that in states where Medicaid pays for abortions, Medicaid patients have three times more abortions,” Kurey said.

If any law that is passed is silent on the issue of abortion funding, workers in executive branch off ices could be setting policy, Kurey said.

“Then we [voters] would have no say,” Kurey said. “This is our opportunity to have our voices heard.”

The bulletin insert highlights the Stupak Amendment from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that, it states, “addresses essential pro-life concerns on abortion funding and conscience rights.”

Cardinal George, president of the USCCB; Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities; Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y ., chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged fellow bishops to promote this campaign in their dioceses.

“The bishops want health care reform, but they recoil at any expansion of abortion,” said Helen Osman, USCCB secretary for communications, who helped organize the campaign.

“Most Americans don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions via health care either,” Osman said.

“This impasse on the road to reform of health care can be broken if Congress writes in language that assures that the Hyde Amendment law [barring federal funding of abortions] continues to guide U.S. federal spending policy.”

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