Today, the four Catholic bishops in Kansas sent a joint letter to each of the state’s two US senators and four US representatives on the subject of health care reform. The bishops sought to express their concerns over serious deficiencies in the legislation before Congress, among them the fact that it fails to protect against public financing of abortion. The text of the letter is as follows:
October 2, 2009
As you know, Congress is in the process of considering far reaching changes to our nation’s health care system. We are pleased that Congress and the President are making health care reform a high priority, and we are hopeful that Congress will ultimately produce legislation that improves all Americans’ access to health care. However, we believe it is important that any reform of our health care system adhere to certain important principles, which we would like to take this opportunity to describe.
First, let us be clear that we believe our health care system to be in need of reform. Health care costs are rising at unsustainable levels, and millions of Americans lack health insurance. The Catholic Church, which is an important provider of health care, in particular to those unable to afford coverage or treatment, is especially supportive of efforts to ensure that the needy have access to high quality health care.
It is important, however, that any health care reform legislation truly be in the service of protecting human life. It is absolutely imperative that the final health care reform bill not contain any language permitting public financing of abortion. Indeed, we feel that it is necessary that the final bill contain explicit protections ensuring that public funds will not be used to finance abortion. Amendments codifying such protections have thus far been defeated by committees in both the House and the Senate, a most disappointing development. Existing protections are not adequate to meet the new circumstances that would exist under some of the proposals currently before Congress. If the federal government is going to expand its regulatory power over insurance providers, or actually provide coverage itself, then existing protections against taxpayer financing of abortion must be adapted to fully apply to these changed conditions. Mandated coverage of abortion by any plan, public or private, would poison the prospects for genuine reform and render the legislation unacceptable.
Any authentic reform of health care must also place special emphasis on the unique needs of those near the end of life, whether elderly or terminally ill. While the debate over end of life issues in the context of health care reform legislation has become heated and at times hyperbolic, we are nonetheless concerned by some of what has been proposed. Language in the House bill concerning end of life consultations has proven particularly contentious. Many Americans see in this language the possibility of government encouragement of those near the end of life to consider all options, presumably one of which would be the refusal of life-continuing treatment. The location of this proposal within the pages of legislation designed to reduce health care costs – most of which involve those near the end of life – is not reassuring, nor is the ambiguity of what the legislation actually requires. There should be absolute clarity in the final bill that Americans near the end of life will have access to the care they need and their fundamental human dignity demands.
The debate over health care reform legislation has brought renewed focus to President Obama’s regrettable decision earlier this year to begin the process of rolling back the conscience protection regulation put in place by the previous administration. It is critically important that doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel be able to practice medicine without being forced to be complicit in procedures they find profoundly immoral, like abortion. Failure to protect conscience rights could potentially put Catholic hospitals in an untenable position, which would have grave consequences for the one out of every six patients who rely upon them for health care. The final legislation should include language preventing recipients of federal funds from discriminating against health care providers who refuse involvement in abortion and other services they find morally objectionable. That such language was voted down in the Senate Finance Committee this week is yet another signal that much work remains to be done.
There are many other important components of health care reform that Americans are depending on their elected representatives to decide upon with wisdom and compassion. Americans should have choices with regards to their health care, and reform legislation should not place the country on a short-term or long-term trajectory for a system without choice. Health care reform should not become a vehicle for policies that discriminate against legal immigrants. Reform legislation for its own sake is not enough. Health care reform must improve health care, not merely change it. It must build upon the many strengths of the existing system, which the majority of Americans already have access to and regard favorably.
We were grateful for President Obama’s assurance in his September 9, 2009 address before Congress that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.” In order for this promise to be realized, however, significant changes to the health care reform bills before Congress will be necessary. We look forward to those changes and, hopefully, to passage of legislation that will improve the American system of providing health care.
Thank you for your consideration of these points and for your hard work on behalf of the American people.
Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann
Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas
Most Reverend Ronald M. Gilmore
Bishop of Dodge City
Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley
Bishop of Salina
Most Reverend Michael O. Jackels
Bishop of Wichita