BY NANCY FRAZIER OʼBRIEN IN WASHINGTON DC US PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms contain some “unacceptable features” that must be removed, the chairman of the US bishops’ pro-life committee has told politicians.
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who heads the bishops’ committee on prolife activities, said the health reform bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July would make a “radical change” in US abortion policy by making abortion a mandated benefit in the public health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers and by allowing the expanded use of federal funds to pay for abortions.
He said the committee “created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion” through which those in the public plan and in private insurance plans that cover abortion would pay an outof-pocket premium of at least $1 a month to cover abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life.
Cardinal Rigali said the separation of funds in the reform bill “is an illusion” because “funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidise the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortion”.
He added: “Those constrained by economic necessity or other factors to purchase the ‘public plan’ will be forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage ... even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.” The cardinal had praise, however, for amendments to the bill that stipulate that health reform legislation will not pre-empt certain state laws regulating abortion and will not affect existing federal conscience protections on abortion.
He also thanked the committee for approving an amendment “prohibiting governmental bodies that receive federal funds under this act from discriminating against providers and insurers who decline involvement in abortion”.
Cardinal Rigali’s comments came in a letter to politicians. He urged that attention be paid to the priorities and concerns outlined in an earlier letter.
The US bishops “have long supported healthcare reform that respects human life and dignity from conception to natural death; provides access to quality healthcare for all, with a special concern for immigrants and the poor; preserves pluralism, with respect for rights of conscience and restrains costs while sharing them equitably”, he said.