The immensity of the nation’s Catholic healthcare system could add clout for Catholic bishops as they advance their opposition to healthcare reform as proposed now.
The Catholic Church demonstrated its legislative influence this year when it threatened to close Catholic hospitals if the Freedom of Choice Act passed, which effectively scuttled plans to introduce the legislation. The legislation would have defined abortion as a “fundamental right” and nullified conscience protections for healthcare providers.
The Catholic health network includes 624 hospitals, 499 long-term nursing facilities, and 41 hospices nationwide, including 11 of the nation’s largest healthcare systems, according to the Catholic Health Association, there are.
Almost 13 percent of the nation’s 4,897 community hospitals are Catholic-run and often provide a higher percentage of public health and specialty services than other healthcare providers. Catholic healthcare facilities accounted for 20 percent of hospital admissions in 21 states and the District of Columbia last year, according to CNSNews.com.
Last year, Catholic healthcare providers saw more than 16.9 million emergency room visits and 92.7 million outpatient visits, and they admitted more than 5.5 million patients.
The bishops have forcefully stated their opposition to healthcare reform that does not specifically exclude abortion and allow for conscience protection.
Advancing their arguments is Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who chairs the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rigali told Congress in an Aug. 11 letter that healthcare reform must “respect human life and rights of conscience in the context of abortion.”
The bishops believe HR 3200, the healthcare reform legislation making its way through the House, could mandate abortion coverage.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCC secretariat for pro-life activities, told CNSNews.com: “Presently, it will lead to mandated abortion coverage in the public health insurance plan and will require anyone purchasing that plan to pay for abortions, even if they oppose abortion. We would like to see an amendment that takes out the abortion funding and coverage mandate.”
President Barack Obama denied during an address to religious leaders Thursday that the legislation would mandate abortion coverage.
“You’ve heard [healthcare reform] is all going to mean funding of abortion, not true,” Obama said.
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