Richard M. Doerflinger
Associate Director, Secretariat on Pro-Life Activities
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Conference call with news media - November 23, 2009
We support health care reform because access to basic health care is a human right, an aspect of the fundamental right to life. A health care bill that weakens or reverses current protection for life itself is not authentic reform, and we will oppose it.
Longstanding current laws governing Medicaid, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the Children’s Health Insurance program, and other major health programs prevent federal funds from supporting elective abortions, OR benefits plans that include such abortions. The current Senate bill violates this longstanding policy. Its government-run health plan, the “community health insurance plan,” allows the HHS Secretary to mandate elective abortion coverage nationwide; and federal subsidies can be used to support privately offered plans that include such abortions. The bill creates a mandatory “abortion surcharge” for all purchasers of these plans, so the money they are forced to pay for other people’s abortions can be called a premium rather than a tax. This completely misses the point of federal abortion funding policy.
The Stupak amendment passed by the House is the only language to come forward that actually complies with current federal policy. The Senate approved virtually identical language last year as part of the Indian Health Services reauthorization, with support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats; it can do so again.
The bill is also seriously deficient in the area of conscience rights. Its conscience clause on abortion is much weaker than current law, and actually protects abortion clinics more than providers who decline to be involved in abortion. It contains no protections for conscience rights beyond abortion; religiously affiliated health plans and employers could be discriminated against for offering coverage that is consistent with their moral and religious convictions. We will work with Senators of both parties to address these and other flaws, so the final bill respects the life, health and consciences of everyone.