WASHINGTON, D.C., July 31, 2009 ( – Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote on July 29 to the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging them to amend “America's Affordable Health Choices Act” (H.R. 3200) to exclude an abortion coverage mandate and taxpayer funding of abortion.

Cardinal Rigali reiterated criteria for “genuine health care reform” set forth by Bishop William Murphy, Chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Policy, in his letter to Congress on July 17. 

Rigali said that health care is “a basic right belonging to all human beings, from conception to natural death,” but stressed that the USCCB “is working to ensure that needed health reform is not undermined by abandoning longstanding and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates and in favor of conscience protection.”

The Cardinal enumerated several problems with the bill as introduced: It would be used to mandate abortion coverage in private health plans, expand abortion funding, override state laws that limit or regulate abortion, and endanger existing laws protecting the conscience rights of health care providers.

“In this particular letter I am writing specifically about our fundamental requirement that health care legislation respect human life and rights of conscience,” he wrote.  “Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an 'abortion rights' agenda or reversing longstanding current policies against federal abortion mandates and funding.”

“Several federal laws have long protected the conscience rights of health care providers,” Cardinal Rigali added. “President Obama recently stated that he accepts these current laws and will do nothing to weaken them. Congress should make the same pledge, by ensuring that this legislation will maintain protection for conscience rights.”

The Cardinal closed by urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to support amendments by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA) to address these problems in H.R. 3200.

(The full text of his letter is available here.)

Last night, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Stupak-Pitts conscience-protection amendment by a voice vote, but struck down their amendment to abolish the taxpayer-funded abortion mandate. 

However, the House approved an amendment by pro-abortion Democrat Lois Capps that allows for federal funding of abortion coverage in the public plan, permits taxpayer subsidies of private plans covering abortion, and mandates that all U.S. regions provide at least one abortion-covering private plan.

Three major Catholic organizations – Catholic Charities USA, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Catholic Health Association – have come under fire from the pro-life community for telling constituents to urge congressmen to support immediate health care reform, despite the current bill's openness to taxpayer-funded abortion coverage.

See related coverage:

Major Catholic Organizations Push for Healthcare Overhaul Despite Abortion Mandate

Prominent Nun Ridicules Healthcare Vote Delay over “Insignificant Details”

Proposed Health Care Bill is an “Abortion Industry Bailout” Warns Congressman