American Catholics will receive an insert in their church bulletins at this weekend's Masses asking them to lobby Congress on abortion restrictions in the pending health care bill.
Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, inserts in English and Spanish have been mailed out to nearly 19,000 churches reaching the nation's 67 million Catholics.
They ask adherents to e-mail, phone or fax their members of Congress asking them not to make taxpayers pay for abortions directly or indirectly, to include conscience protections for health care workers, and to keep health care "accessible and affordable."
Along with the inserts, priests are being asked to read aloud two statements — one this weekend and the other on the Jan. 23-24 weekend — giving instructions on how to access a USCCB Web site that would allow them to send automated messages to their members of Congress as well as House and Senate majority leaders.
The inserts also come along with an intercession to be added to the Prayers of the Faithful during the Mass beseeching God "that Congress will act to ensure that needed health care reform will truly protect the life, dignity and health of all."
This is the second time in three months that the USCCB has mailed out bulletin inserts urging Catholics to agitate on behalf of health care reform. Similar packets were sent out in October along with a letter signed by two cardinals and two bishops urging their fellow prelates to get active on the issue.
The earlier inserts apparently were quite effective. USCCB lobbyists were key behind-the-scenes players in negotiating a House health care bill in November that held the line against federal funding of abortions. Not only were several bishops actually putting in personal calls to various members of Congress, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summoned four USCCB lobbyists to her office on Nov. 6 when it looked as though the bill would fail.
The lobbyists helped her get the necessary votes, but with the proviso that she add an amendment proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Michigan Democrat and Catholic, that barred federally-subsidized insurance plans from covering abortion.
The U.S. Catholic bishops, who have supported national health insurance for almost a century, insist that such a measure is necessary to maintain the abortion-funding status quo established by the 1976 Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funds paying for abortions.
The Senate version of the bill does not have an equivalent to the Stupak amendment, which is why the USCCB has mounted a second campaign to influence the final bill. The bishops have threatened to withdraw their support for health care reform if the final bill subsidizes abortion.
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