By Kathleen Gilbert

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, September 16, 2009 ( – A number of left-leaning social justice Catholic groups who favor President Obama's health care overhaul have announced that they plan to protest Cardinal Justin Rigali, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life office, for opposing the abortion expansion embedded in the bill.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship, The House of Grace Catholic Worker, and The Philadelphia Catholic Worker are calling on Rigali explicitly to endorse Obama's legislation, claiming that “abortion funding is not included” in the health care proposal.  The groups' “vigil” will gather at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 19, across from the Philadelphia Free Library for a procession to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a 30-year history of lobbying for universal health care, which the bishops have called 'a fundamental issue of human dignity and life,'” wrote the groups in a press release Monday. 

“However, Cardinal Rigali, along with a few other U.S. bishops, is joining with Right-wing Republican fringe groups determined to stop legislation that would bring health insurance to millions and millions of uninsured Americans.”

Brandywine Peace Community's Robert M. Smith, a spokesman for the rally, insisted to (LSN) today that “there's nothing in the bill that would fund abortion.” 

“It [abortion] becomes kind of this red herring now, they make all kinds of accusations, all kinds of efforts that would derail real healthcare,” Smith said.  “In effect, then, that is aiding insurance companies, some of the right-wing efforts to derail real health care reform.”

Cardinal Rigali has issued at least two letters to Congress supporting efforts to pass health care reform, but warning that the current bill's expansion of abortion is unacceptable.

“The Church is very clear in supporting health care, but these are absolute requirements,” Rigali – referring to protection for the unborn and health workers' conscience rights – told LSN in an August interview.  “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.” 

Asked what aspect of the cardinal's message the groups would like to see changed, Smith said the groups want Rigali to “come out in support of the current health care legislation,” noting that opposing abortion in the bill is problematic because “that, in effect, rallies people against [the bill].  And he knows that.” 

LSN asked Smith to respond to pro-life leaders who point out that the Capps amendment in H.R. 3200, which explicitly opens the public option to covering abortion, calls for subsidies to abortion-providing plans, and mandates that every U.S. region have an abortion-supporting program.  The non-partisan watchdog organization recently validated the warnings of National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson, who pointed out the abortion-expanding properties of the amendment.

“I understand the amendment, and that the amendment should be dealt with accordingly, but that that amendment and rallying the amendment should not be confused with the overall health care legislative package, and effort, and movement,” said Smith.  “Unfortunately, when that is brought up, when that is used, it becomes an occasion for opposition to real health care reform generally.”

Speaking on behalf of his group, Smith said it was “a question of debate” whether the Capps amendment ought to be removed, and that, even if the amendment remains in the legislation, it is “more important at this point for there to be a health care reform legislation be instituted, and then the debate as to abortion can come up subsequently.”

“To be very frank, I'm and our group have worked consistently for single-payer universal health care,” said Smith.  “That is not gonna happen now.  Single-payer is not gonna happen.  … So why keep talking about that?  Rather, get behind something that can be done that will happen, then debate the other areas.”

See related coverage:

Cardinal Rigali, Abp. Chaput Intensify Warnings Against Obamacare's Abortion Expansion  

US Bishops Urge House Committee to Support Pro-Life Amendments to Health Care Bill