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Keeping Health Care Universal

Archbishop Timothy Dolan
Archbishop of New York, NY

March 15, 2010

Published on the Archbishop's Blog

This is a very significant week for a cause championed by an overwhelming majority of Americans: health care reform. Our prayers are with our president and elected officials in D.C. as they work hard at bringing about a bill that is just and good for the country we love.

Thoughtful Catholics are especially attentive to this effort, but we find ourselves in a tough spot.

On the one hand, we are enthusiastic about universal health care. The Catholic community in the United States, led by brave sisters, have been on the front line of tending lovingly for the sick and frail for centuries, way before government ever got into it.  The bishops have been advocating universal health care for nearly a century. So, we sure want to see it work, and appreciate the efforts of the president and both parties in Congress to bring it home.

On the other hand, we’re worried.  Health care, we insist, has to be truly universal. That means everybody – the baby in the womb, his or her mother, the poor, the immigrant, and our elders until natural death.

So, although there’s a lot for us to cheer about, especially a provision for expectant mothers in the Senate’s version – which, if I understand correctly, is what the president and many of the majority party are promoting – there remains a grave concern: that our money will be used for abortion.

For the last three-and-a-half decades, the only legal protection the unborn baby could count on was the Hyde Amendment, guaranteeing that no tax money could pay for an abortion.  Simply put, this provision has to be assured in any bill.  If not, health care would not be universal at all.

That’s why we were so relieved when the president himself stated that no federal money should ever pay for an abortion, and that he had no plan to tamper with the status quo on abortion.

That’s why we applauded when the House bill assured precisely this in the Stupak Amendment.

But – and here’s the alarm – the Senate bill has been gutted of such a guarantee.  We’re worried, because a cause we very much welcome has become ominous, and could be unacceptable.

Our analysis, made in broad consultation with partners from other faiths and with an array of health providers, is that the Senate version does not reflect the protections of the Hyde Amendment.

Some others, even a few Catholic observers, tell us not to worry, because the Senate bill would keep the protection of Hyde in place.  Good.  Then they will not mind an explicit mention of it, or even the language of the Stupak or Casey amendments.

All we ask is that the bill be consistent with the president’s assurances, that the abortion license will not be extended, and that the decades-long protection of the Hyde Amendment continue.

We’re not the obstructionists here, since all we’re insisting upon is that the understanding that tax money not pay for abortions, in place since 1975, remains.

It is instead those who have radically altered the debate to open a loophole to eliminate the Hyde Amendment who are risking the very fate of this legislation.

It’s so easy: just say straight-out that the Hyde amendment is still in place.

That keeps health care universal.

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