December 7, 2009

U.S. Bishops Urge Senators to Support Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment on Health Care Reform; Urge Constituents to Back It

WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops have voiced support for the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment to the Senate health reform bill and have asked voters to back it.

The bishops took the position in a Dec. 7 letter to all U.S. senators, after Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Robert Casey (D-PA) proposed an amendment to prevent the health reform bill from using federal funds to pay for health plans that include elective abortions. The ban would be similar to the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, to ban federal funds in the Health and Human Services’ appropriations bill from paying for coverage that includes most abortions.

Similar bans are part of other federal programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, and included in the House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.”

“We urgently ask you to support an essential amendment to be offered by Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Robert Casey (D-PA) to keep in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of health coverage that includes elective abortions,” the letter said.

The bishops also sent to the senators two fact sheets: Abortion and Conscience Problems in the Senate Health Care Reform: and the one on What the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment Does:

The letter was signed by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“This amendment will have the same effect as the Stupak-Smith-Ellsworth-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Pitts Amendment already accepted in the House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” the letter said. “Like that amendment, it does not change the current situation in our country: Abortion is legal and available, but no federal dollars can be used to pay for elective abortions or plans that include elective abortions. This amendment does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions.”

The letter said that the bill currently before the Senate “allows the HHS Secretary to mandate abortion coverage throughout the government-run ‘community health insurance option.’ It also provides funding for other plans that cover unlimited abortions, and creates an unprecedented mandatory ‘abortion surcharge’ in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly and explicitly for other people’s abortions. The bill does not maintain essential nondiscrimination protections for providers who decline involvement in abortion. The Nelson-Hatch-Casey amendment simply corrects these grave departures from current federal policy.”

“We urge the Senate to support the Nelson-Hatch-Casey amendment keeping the health care bill abortion-neutral. As other amendments are offered to the bill that address our priorities on affordability and fair treatment of immigrants, we will continue to communicate our positions on these issues to the Senate,” the bishops said.

In supporting the amendment the bishops urged Catholics to work for passage by contacting their senators. One vehicle to do this is through

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