It’s an enormous one, in view of what the US body of bishops so wholeheartedly encouraged senators to do with this momentous opportunity.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urged
the Senate to make essential changes its health reform bill in order to
keep in place federal law on abortion funding and conscience protection
on abortion, protect access to health care for immigrants and include
strong provisions for adequate affordability.

The bishops called the Senate health care bill an “enormous
disappointment” that creates new and unacceptable federal policy for
funding and coverage of abortions, as well as rights of conscience.
Bishop William Murphy, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Bishop John Wester
voiced their wish for better health care reform legislation in a
November 20 letter to the Senate.

The letter, which was accompanied with a fact sheet on the House
Stupak Amendment, urged Senators to improve the Senate health care bill
in the key areas of affordability, immigration, federal funding and
coverage of abortion and conscience rights.

According to the bishops, the bill “does not live up to President
Obama’s commitment of barring the use of federal dollars for abortion
and maintaining current conscience laws.” They cited an “abortion
surcharge” that would force insurance purchasers to pay for other
people’s abortions, provisions that would allow the HHS Secretary to
mandate unlimited abortion coverage nationwide, and that the bill does
not even allow for religious institutions to offer their own employees
coverage that conforms to their institution’s teaching.

The day after the Senate drove their version through to passage last
Saturday, on shaky ground with even some of the leadership’s own
Democratic members, USCCB president Cardinal Francis George made a few
brief but sobering remarks about it at a benefit dinner. “Everybody
should be cared for,” he stated, “no matter how the politicians work
out as the ‘how to do that’. Everybody should be cared for.”

That’s a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching, and
during the next few minutes’ remarks about health care
legislation, Cardinal George repeated it a third time.

“Everybody should be cared for. But just as clear a principle…is that nobody should be killed. That’s very clear.”

So it seems, and yet members of Congress like Michigan Democratic
Representative Bart Stupak and other pro-life elected leaders are
beleaguered in committee or floor battles to ensure that the eventual
legislation to make health care accessible to all Americans won’t
require paying to end the lives of some.

Everyone has the responsibility to be part of shaping this
legislation, he said, by contacting the people we elected and
encouraging them to make moral law. Contact can be by phone, letter,
email or personal visits to their offices, but it must be made and
repeatedly followed up.

“We have to cover the backs of our representatives. They need to
know that,” said George. ”It’s a long conversation, stay with it.”

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....