By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Three major Catholic organizations have issued a video and an action alert urging constituents to tell their legislators to immediately enact health care legislation, despite the vast abortion expansion embedded in the bills currently under consideration.

"Please call and e-mail your Representative in the next 24 hours expressing your support for Congress to enact health care reform now," the groups urge in an alert released last week.  The page hosted by St. Vincent De Paul offers contact information and email forms for congressional offices.

"Saint Vincent de Paul is partnering with Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association to amplify our collective voice to let Congress know that health care reform can not wait," it continues.

The call to action echoes those of President Obama, who has been aggressively pushing through a health care plan in Congress that pro-lifers have strongly condemned as containing "the biggest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade." 

Pro-life lawyers say that the government health care insurance is bound to include abortion as an essential health care benefit and would be funded by taxpayer dollars, unless an amendment is introduced to specifically exclude abortion.  However, all such amendments, including amendments to protect doctors' conscience rights, have failed in both the House and Senate.

While the pro-life community in America is therefore urging for the health care bills to be struck down unless abortion coverage is specifically excluded, the joint Catholic Charities statement instead urges readers to tell legislators, "We need health care reform now," but without any caveat in relation to the abortion controversy.

Noting that the Obama-sponsored legislation is underway, the group writes only: "While there are many details in the health reform bill(s) that still need to be developed, we must maintain momentum for health care reform efforts with calls and emails supporting health care reform immediately." 

The statement then condemns those opposing the health care legislation as "The groups that do not support health reform."  "Your members of Congress need to hear from you that you support health care reform, and that the system needs to be reformed now," they state.

When LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) described the healthcare plan's abortion mandate to Roger Playwin, the National Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he interrupted to say: "The bishops' office has advised us that that's not accurate.  So I can't speak to it, because all I know is that the bishops' office has said that story is going around, but it's inaccurate.  That's all I know."

Playwin said that by bishops' office he meant the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, specifically the bishops' charity arm, Catholic Charities USA.  "There's a lot of disinformation about - there is no legislation, number one," he said.  Asked to clarify, Playwin said, "There is not a piece of legislation that the House and Senate are going to agree to about health care reform."

The USCCB itself, however, has made a point of strongly warning against the possible dangers to the unborn embedded in health care legislation.  Bishop William Murphy, representing the USCCB, told Congress in a letter July 17 to shun any health care legislation that failed to uphold pro-life values.  "No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion," he wrote.

Murphy continued: "Genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation. ... Health care reform cannot be a vehicle for abandoning this consensus which respects freedom of conscience and honors our best American traditions."

Playwin also insisted that "we're not supporting any legislation."  "Our alert was to our members to make sure Congress enacts healthcare legislation based on the five ... principles that we support," said Playwin.  He indicated that the alert was meant to combat the "pressure to keep the status quo" in American healthcare.

Multiple calls and messages left with Catholic Charities USA were unanswered as of press time. 

A Catholic World News report last week broke the news of a letter issued by Catholic Charities president Fr. Larry Snyder, urging Congress to enact health care reform.  However, LSN's request to Catholic Charities for confirmation on this report was also unanswered as of press time.

When LSN sought comment from the Catholic Health Association (CHA) on the matter, communications director Fred Caesar said he was not familiar with the press release, and directed LSN to a letter CHA issued to Congress in July 2008, urging them to uphold pro-life amendments in the annual appropriations bill. 

On July 8, 2009, however, CHA President Sister Carol Keehan visited the White House to represent CHA as one among a group of hospitals committed to contributing $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings over ten years to help cover health care cost reform.  "We know how urgently change is needed for both moral and economic reasons, and today's agreement marks major progress in advancing reform and working together to finance health care in this country," said Keehan.

A CHA video entitled "I Can't Wait…for Health Reform," was posted June 17 of this year on YouTube featuring a clip of President Obama declaring to applause: "Let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."

The clip is followed by pictures of various individuals holding signs calling for health care reform that begin "I can't wait…" and ends with the statement: "Now is the time to create a health care system that works for everyone. Because we, the people, can't wait." (See the video here)

Judie Brown, president of American Life League, responded with outrage at the organizations' failure to address the serious problems inherent in the current health care legislation, saying that "There is no social justice in rationing charity."

"Millions of taxpayers will be forced to subsidize abortion, contraception, euthanasia and bureaucratic denial of health care to the poorest of the poor," she said.
 
"All these organizations claim to be faithful to Catholic social teaching - which unambiguously and passionately puts respect for human personhood at the core of all other social and charitable works," Brown pointed out. "Yet these same organizations are undermining the very foundation they exist to protect and foster: the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of their right to life."

UPDATE (29/07/09, 5:31pm): In response to LSN's inquiries about CHA's stance on the healthcare bill, CHA issued a statement that reads in part: "CHA has written letters to members of Congress and the White House – often in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – calling for legislation that does not include an expansion of abortion. ...

"In personal conversations with members of Congress and their staffs and in letters, CHA continues to work to ensure that public policies reflect the importance of religious freedom and conscience clause protections in the delivery of health and social services.

The statement concludes: "Clearly, our letters, statements, web-based information and outreach efforts speak eloquently to the deep commitment to the dignity of life. Therefore, the association and its members continue to push a legislative agenda that would commit this nation to respecting the dignity and life of each person while ensuring enactment of a health care system that is of the greatest possible quality and available and accessible to everyone."

CHA declined any further comment on the matter.

To express concern:

Catholic Charities USA
66 Canal Center Plaza
Suite 600
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Phone: (703) 549-1390
Fax: (703) 549-1656
info@catholiccharitiesusa.org

Sister Carol Keehan, President and CEO
The Catholic Health Association
1875 Eye Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20006-5440
phone: (202) 296-3993
ckeehan@chausa.org

Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
58 Progress Parkway
St. Louis, Missouri 63043-3706
phone: 314-576-3993
fax: 576-6755
usacouncil@svdpusa.org