By James Tillman

WASHINGTON, DC, October 30, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has launched a bold and sweeping nation-wide campaign against the abortion funding mandate included in healthcare reform legislation currently making its way through Congress. Pro-life leaders are applauding the campaign, with American Life League's Judie Brown describing it as "unprecedented."

USCCB Pro-Life Activities Secretariat Tom Grenchik this week sent an email to parishes across the US, detailing the contents of the plan. At the same time, Cardinal Francis George and other members of the USCCB leadership have asked every cardinal, archbishop, and bishop in the United States for their personal leadership in ensuring that health care reform does not include funding for abortion.

Much of the campaign involves direct action by parishes and pastors. Grenchik's email states that a pro-life insert should be included in parish bulletins, placed on pews, or distributed at church entrances "as soon as possible."  The insert also says that the health-care bills currently being considered by Congress are "seriously deficient on the issues of abortion and conscience," and directs readers to www.usccb.org/action, where they may send emails to their congressmen through the action center of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.

The U.S. bishops have also asked that a special announcement be made at every parish at two separate Sunday Masses.  Their announcement tells laymen to contact their representatives and senators "immediately" and to "urge them to fix these bills with pro-life amendments," so that "health care reform will be about saving lives, not destroying them."

A special "Prayer of the Faithful" to be used during Mass has also been distributed, which asks both for "health care reform [that] will truly protect the life [and] dignity" of all and that Catholics will raise their "voices to protect the unborn and the most vulnerable and to preserve our freedom of conscience."

The efforts of the USCCB extend beyond church walls, however.

The USCCB has started an ad campaign aimed both at congressmen and at the grassroots.  The campaign uses online advertising on various websites such National Review Online, Catholic Match, and Beliefnet, to urge people to oppose the pro-abortion health care bill.  The information distributed to US parishes also includes an ad that may be run in Catholic papers.

The bishops themselves are opposing the health care legislation by personal action.  Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, with the chairmen of three USCCB committees engaged in health care, has written to the American bishops and asked for their "active and personal leadership" and to "redouble [their] efforts" to ensure that health care does not include abortion.

Cardinal George's letter reads in part that "the outcome [of this debate] will depend not primarily on advocacy done in Washington, but on what we do in our own dioceses and states to make the case clearly and persuasively to influence how our Senators and Representatives vote."

He goes on to ask bishops to personally contact the senators and representatives who serve their diocese, whether by letter, email, personal meeting, or phone, and to tell them that if an amendment is not added to the bill eliminating the possibility of government-funded abortions, that they then must oppose the final bill when it comes to a vote.

Such decisive action has few parallels, according to the American Life League's Judie Brown.
In a statement issued yesterday, Brown said that "We applaud the USCCB's unprecedented action in its national campaign to mobilize parishes against the current versions of the health care bill."

"It has taken an important first step in activating Catholics to take back our health care system and our country from the radical pro-aborts in the legislature and sometimes even in the pulpits."

However, Brown said the USCCB should also point out the other troubling aspects of the bill, such as "its potential to fund Planned Parenthood, to use our tax dollars to indoctrinate children with sex education in schools, to fund euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, human embryonic stem cell research, contraception and health care rationing."

"All of these things are present in all of the current versions of the health care bill. None of these are acceptable according to Catholic teaching," she said.

The USCCB's campaign may be seen as the fulfillment of what they said in letter delivered to Congress on October 8th, in which the bishops said that unless their concerns were relieved they would be forced to strongly oppose the health care bill.

"We sincerely hope that the legislation will not fall short of our criteria," the bishops wrote at the time. "However, we remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes. If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously."
Before this current push, the USCCB had opposed an abortion-funding health care bill through various public statements, but had not made a great effort to move Catholic laymen to oppose it.

See related stories on LifeSiteNews:

USCCB Pro-Life Office: No Health Care Reform while Abortion Mandate Remains

USCCB Pro-Life Office: No Health Care Reform while Abortion Mandate Remains 

Head of USCCB Meets with Obama: Also Releases Video Saying Decision on Conscience Protection a Move Towards "Despotism"