(CNSNews.com) -- The nation’s Catholic bishops have told Congress that they oppose H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, as it currently stands, because the health-care reform bill would mandate funding and insurance coverage for abortion.
In an August 11 letter to members of the House of Representatives, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.), told lawmakers that health-care reform must “respect human life and rights of conscience in the context of abortion.”
“Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an ‘abortion rights’ agenda or reversing longstanding policies against federal funding and mandated coverage of abortion,” Rigali wrote.
“We urge you to make this legislation ‘abortion neutral,’ by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights,” he added.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S.C.C.B.  secretariat for pro-life activities, told CNSNews.com that the conference, which represents 424 active and retired American bishops, is also urging lawmakers to support amendments against pro-abortion provisions in the bill.
“We would like to see an amendment that takes out the abortion funding and coverage mandate,” Doerflinger said. “It is safe to say that the conference of bishops does not support the House health-care legislation in its present form.”
“Presently, it will lead to mandated abortion coverage in the public health insurance plan and will require anyone purchasing that plan to pay for abortions even if they oppose abortion,” he explained to CNSNews.com.
‘Fabrications’ vs. ‘Forced Abortion Coverage’
President Obama, when addressing religious leaders on August 20, said, “You’ve heard that this (health-care reform) is all going to mean funding of abortion. Not true.”
“These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation,” he added. 
But Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, Pa., pointed out in the
letter that the legislation would give the secretary of health and human services the power to make unlimited abortion “a mandated benefit” in the “public health insurance plan” the government will manage nationwide.”
“This would be a radical change,” Rigali wrote, “Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits packages, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions.” 

Because some federal funds would be authorized and appropriated without passing through the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, Rigali pointed out they “would not be subject to the Hyde Amendment or other federal provisions that prevented federal funding of abortion and of health-benefits packages that include abortion.” 

Under the Hyde Amendment, the only instances where federal subsidies may be used to cover abortion are in cases of incest, rape, or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.
But the House Energy and Commerce Committee had rejected an amendment to extend “this longstanding policy” to the use of federal subsidies for health-care premiums under the bill, Rigali noted.
“Instead the committee created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion,” he said. “Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand; but anyone who purchases these plans is required to pay a premium out of his or her own pocket (specified in the Act to be at least $1.00 a month) to cover all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde amendment.”
The letter acknowledged the claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion under the health bill, which the bishops dismissed as “an illusion.”
“Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions,” Rigali wrote.
Furthermore, Americans who may be forced “ by economic necessity” to purchase insurance through the government-run “public plan” will be forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage, the bishops argued.
“Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others (and abortion coverage for themselves) even if they find abortion morally abhorrent,” Rigali wrote.
“By what right, then, and by what precedent, would Congress make abortion coverage into a nationwide norm, or force Americans to subsidize it as a condition for participating in a public health program?” he added.
The cardinal urged Congress to “help ensure that any legislation that comes up for a vote in the full House does not include these unacceptable features.”
“Please support amendments to correct them, and oppose any rule for consideration of H.R. 3200 that would block such amendments,” he added.
The positions of the Catholic Church may carry added sway in the health-care debate, given that Catholic hospitals are major health-care providers in America.

According to
data from the Catholic Health Association (CHA), the nation’s largest nonprofit health-care organization, there are currently 624 Catholic hospitals, 499 Catholic long-term care nursing facilities, and 41 hospice organizations in the U.S. alone, including 11 of the nation’s largest health-care systems.
Of the 4,897 community hospitals in America, 12.7 percent are Catholic-run organizations that “often provide a higher percentage of public health and specialty services than other health care providers,” according to the CHA, which defines community hospitals “as all non-federal, short-term, general and other specific hospitals.”
Catholic facilities accounted for more than one-fifth, or 20 percent, of hospital admissions in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Last year, Catholic-run health care saw more than 16.9 million emergency room visits, at least 92.7 million outpatient visits -- and admitted more than 5.5 million patients.
Calls to the pro-abortion rights Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), were not returned. But PPFA President Cecile Richards blasted the bishops in an Aug. 18 Huffington Post article for demanding that abortion be excluded from health-care legislation.
“If we did our job right in expanding access to contraception, we'd see a lower abortion rate in America, just like in most other developed nations,” Richards  stated.
“I'd welcome the bishops' commitment to focus on these ‘universal’ problems, rather than continue to fight to diminish a woman's right to make personal decisions that should be kept between her and her doctor,” she added.