March 26, 2010


The end of health care reform does not justify immoral means

Sadness and disappointment are the prevailing emotions of many Americans this week.

We sincerely hoped for authentic health care reform that would provide universal coverage, and protect the life, dignity, conscience and health of all. What we got instead was a misguided health care reform bill and reconciliation package that fail to protect the most vulnerable members of our society and cost way too much—both morally and economically.

Prior to this week’s passage of historic health care legislation, the U.S. bishops had urged members of Congress to fix the serious problems in the Senate bill passed last Christmas Eve.

In their March 20 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops said, “Our community of faith provides health care to millions, purchases health care for tens of thousands, and addresses the failings of our health care system in our parishes, emergency rooms and shelters. This is why we as bishops continue to insist that health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all is a moral imperative and urgent national priority.”

Congress did not accept the bishops’ advice, which was not offered on partisan, political grounds, but on the basis of fundamental moral principles and the Church’s 2,000-year-old commitment to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus.

The new legislation, which was signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, sets aside the language of the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding of most abortions. In place of this statutory prohibition against taxpayer-funded abortions, some Democrat pro-life members of the House of Representatives who voted for the reform bill accepted President Obama’s promise to issue an executive order that reinforces the provisions of the Hyde Amendment.

The text of the draft executive order released by the White House said its goal was to “establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services [except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered], consistent with a long-standing federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.”

This is not a morally acceptable solution. An executive order is not the law of the land. It can be changed with the stroke of a president’s pen—without the consent of Congress or the American people. Individuals who in good conscience oppose federal funding for abortion have been betrayed by this compromise—to say nothing of the unborn children who will die if this executive order is rescinded.

Moreover, in a March 21 memo to congressional staffers, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said that “the statutory mandate construed by the courts would override any executive order or regulation. This is the unanimous view of our legal advisers and of the experts we have consulted on abortion jurisprudence,” he said. “Only a change in the law enacted by Congress, not an executive order, can begin to address this very serious problem in the legislation.”

In addition to the new law’s failure to protect innocent life, this historic legislation also fails to ensure universal health care coverage. As the bishops reminded members of the House of Representatives in their letter, “People should never be denied coverage because they can’t afford it, because of where they live or work or because of where they come from and when they got here.”

In the name of health care reform, our nation continues to deny basic health care to both legal and undocumented immigrants—threatening the health and well-being of millions of people. As the bishops have argued, “These provisions could leave immigrants and their families worse off, and also hurt the public health of our nation.”

The new legislation does accomplish some of the health care goals advanced by the U.S. bishops. Over the next 10 years, the bill will extend coverage to an estimated 32 million people who would otherwise lack coverage. And small businesses may be eligible for tax credits that will help them to provide coverage for their employees. These and other provisions of the new law are welcome.

But we do not share the enthusiasm expressed by Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, who praised the new legislation and said that it “represents great progress in the long effort to make health care available and affordable to everyone in the United States.”

We do not believe that the end—health care for some—justifies the means—flawed legislation that fails to protect the unborn, denies coverage to immigrants, and costs more than our nation can bear.

What can be done? People who care deeply about genuine health care reform should not settle for this misguided new legislation. We should pray fervently, and work diligently, to change this flawed attempt at health care reform, and to ensure that new laws are passed that will protect the life, dignity, conscience and health of all.

—Daniel Conway

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