Roman Catholic leaders are stepping up their fight against the Obama administration’s healthcare plans, urging their faithful nationwide to contact legislators to protest abortion provisions in Democratic bills.
Catholics who attended Mass Sunday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, received weekly bulletins with a call to action from Cardinal Justin Rigali, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' pro-life committee. The archdiocese, one of the largest in the nation, serves 1.45 million Catholics.
“While this legislation is still in draft form, the request for action at the local level is imperative,” the cardinal wrote. “[W]e must take action now to share our thoughts and beliefs with our national legislators in time for them to consider incorporating these points when deliberation resume in September.
“We need to ensure that the new legislation preserves freedom of conscience for healthcare professionals and does not violate the right to life by allocating tax revenues for abortions.”
The cardinal urged his parishioners to fill out a petition to their members of Congress on the Web site of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment [http://www.nchla.org], an organization that works closely with the Catholic bishops on pro-life matters.
The Aug. 13 statement has stimulated much conversation and activism, according to an archdiocesan spokesman who declined to be identified. The cardinal’s memorandum was the topic of discussion in numerous priests’ homilies, and they urged their flocks to press members of Congress to exclude abortion and euthanasia and to ensure that healthcare providers are not coerced into participating in abortions.
Although the archdiocese issued the memorandum independently it was related to the bishops' national effort to get the nation’s 68 million Catholics — better than 22 percent of the U.S. population, and a key swing voting bloc — mobilized in opposition to the absence of an explicit abortion ban and conscience protections in the healthcare legislation.
The Catholic bishops showed their clout this year when they succeeded in preventing the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would have codified abortion as a fundamental right in federal law and would have nullified conflicting state laws regulating abortions.
The bishops conference has established a Web site [http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/] where it provides information about healthcare reform and gives Catholics information about contacting their legislators.
The site includes a repository of bishops’ letters, information for contacting members of Congress, statistics about Catholic healthcare, providers and videos stating the Catholic Church’s positions.
The site underscores the Catholic position that healthcare "is a human right and that the bishops feel that healthcare has reached a critical point and that they do want Catholics nationwide to stand up for healthcare reform that . . . protects the life and dignity of all people,” said bishops' spokesman Don Clemmer. “This is a concerted push on the national level.”
Although Catholic supporters of the healthcare proposal, such as Catholics United, contend that the Capps amendment that passed the House this month would keep federal money from paying for abortions, Cardinal Rigali and the bishops conference call it a “legal fiction” and contend more needs to be done.
The Capps amendment forbids federal funds from being used directly to pay for abortions, but it allows health plans that pay for abortion on demand to be subsidized.
“Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions,” Cardinal Rigali wrote in an Aug. 11 letter to Congress on behalf of the bishops conference on the eve of his effort to mobilize his archdiocese. “Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others (and abortion coverage for themselves) even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.”
The cardinal also expressed his support for a failed amendment sponsored by U.S. Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., that would have excluded abortion specifically from consideration.
The bishops are not alone among Catholics in their effort to prevent abortion and euthanasia from being covered.
The 1.78-million member Knights of Columbus, which is one of the nation’s largest lay Catholic organizations, added its voice to the healthcare debate at its recent Aug. 4-6 convention in Phoenix.
The group passed a resolution calling on Congress to specifically exclude abortion and euthanasia from healthcare reform, and many of its chapters have been working on the parish level to get Catholics involved.
“A healthcare system designed to save lives on the one hand must not become a vehicle for taking lives through abortion and euthanasia,” Supreme Knight Carl A. Andersen said in his Aug. 6 address to the convention. “Healthcare reform must be abortion-free.”
The Knights of Columbus cite a July 2009 Marist poll the Knights commissioned that found 86 percent of Americans Americans favor significant restriction on abortion as an additional reason for Congress to bar abortion coverage.
“There needs to be a transparent up or down vote on abortion as part of healthcare reform,” said Knights spokesman Andrew Walther. “It should be in everybody’s best interest.”
Priests for Life, an influential Catholic pro-life group consisting of bishops, priests and deacons, also has been working to get priests and laity involved with opposing healthcare reform unless it excludes abortion and euthanasia.
The organization has sent numerous communications to priests in 10,000 parishes across the country. It also has done things such as providing bulletin inserts and giving priests talking points about healthcare reform to share with their parishioners.
“We don’t want healthcare reform to be expanded to include abortion,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, the organization’s president and founder. “It all gets done on the parish level, and we always encourage people to contact their congressmen and senators. History shows this is a matter of public outcry.”
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