By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 14, 2009 ( – Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' (USCCB) Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, has again spoken out aganst the abortion expansion in President Obama's health care legislation, calling the bill “seriously deficient” on the issue of mandated coverage and funding of abortion.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver also issued a call to action urging Catholics to tell legislators that only a bill that excludes abortion is acceptable health care reform. 

In an August 11 letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, Cardinal Rigali criticized the bill for delegating to 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.”  He called this a “radical change” since federal law excludes most abortions from federal employees' health benefits, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions.

Cardinal Rigali also criticized the bill for bypassing the Hyde Amendment and other longstanding provisions preventing federal funding of abortion, and called the provisions to separate funding for abortion created by the House Energy and Commerce Committee a “legal fiction.” 

Because funds paid into these plans are fungible, noted Rigali, the bill would still end up forcing low-income Americans, who may only be able to afford the public plan, to subsidize abortions for others and abortion coverage for themselves “even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.”

“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 said. He added that “no federal program mandates coverage for elective abortions, or subsidizes health plans that include such abortions. Most Americans do not want abortion in their health coverage, and most consider themselves 'pro-life,' with a stronger majority among low-income Americans.”

“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 asked.

In an interview with (LSN) this week, Rigali said that, while the American Catholic Church has sought true health care reform for years, the current legislation was “not acceptable.”

“There's not a provision, the necessary provision for the exclusion of abortion.  That has to be very, very clear,” the cardinal emphasized.  “And besides that, there has to be the very clear provision … that medical caregivers will not be forced to do things against their conscience. So there has to be freedom of conscience, and also we have to make sure there's no inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit.

“The Church is very clear in supporting health care, but these are absolute requirements,” he continued.  “So our message is very clear: support genuine health care reform that respects the life and dignity of all. That has to be made clear … for it to be acceptable to us.”

In the archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote a column for the Denver Catholic Register urging readers to ensure Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life is secured in the health legislation, and to fight against any “shrewdly hidden” plan to expand abortion. 

“The whole meaning of 'health care' would be subverted by any plan that involves mandated abortion access or abortion funding,” wrote Chaput.  “The reason is obvious.  Killing or funding the killing of unborn children has nothing to do with promoting human health, and including these things in any 'health care' proposal, no matter how shrewdly hidden, would simply be a form of lying.”

Chaput pointed out the deceptive nature of the abortion amendment offered by pro-abortion Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA).  While it “would seemingly ban abortion coverage as part of a federally mandated minimum benefits package,” he noted, “it would require at least one insurance plan in each “premium rating area” to cover abortion. 

“In its effect, the Capps approach would lead to elective abortion being covered under a government-operated public plan by allowing federal subsidies to flow to private insurance plans that cover elective abortion,” wrote the archbishop.

“This isn't a compromise.  It's a shell game.”

Chaput urged Catholics in Colorado “to contact their federal lawmakers immediately and demand that abortion and abortion funding be completely excluded from any national health care plan.” 

Today the USCCB announced its new web page promoting its advocacy for “truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity.” The page includes letters from bishops to Congress, videos, facts and statistics, frequently asked questions, and links for contacting members of Congress.