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(RNS) The nation’s Catholic bishops have threatened to pull their support for health care reform unless their concerns about abortion and access for immigrants are addressed by lawmakers.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports universal access to health care as a “basic human right,” had been supportive of efforts to reform the health care system, but is concerned about taxpayer-funded abortions.
Current law prohibits federal funding of abortions, and the White House has insisted abortion will not be covered in a final bill, but many conservatives worry that attempts to make that promise explicit in legislation have failed.
Catholic officials are also concerned about failed attempts to insert language that would protect the consciences of medical providers who object to procedures like abortion, birth control, or fertility treatments.
“It is essential that the legislation clearly apply … longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and protections for rights of conscience,” the bishops said in an Oct. 8 letter to Congress. “No current bill meets this test.”
The bishops maintained that health care reform must provide for low-income Americans who lack access to health insurance, as well as “legal” immigrants. Some bishops and liberal groups have argued that reform must also encompass undocumented immigrants.
“If final legislation does not meet our principles,” the bishops warned, “we will have no choice but to oppose the bill.”
Progressive Catholic groups, meanwhile, are cheering the passage of the centerpiece health care bill on Tuesday (Oct. 13) by the Senate Finance Committee. “People of faith in general, and Catholics in particular, believe that universal health care ranks among our nation’s most urgent moral priorities,” said Chris Korzen, executive director of the group Catholics United.
Reform Jewish leaders called the Senate bill “a milestone in the journey toward giving American citizens the health care coverage they deserve,” but urged congressional negotiators to include a government-sponsored “public option” in the final bill.
By Kevin Eckstrom
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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