By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
WASHINGTON (CNS) — It might take time to mend the divisions among some Catholic groups about whether the Senate-passed health reform bill expands federal funding of abortion, a leading pro-life official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said March 19.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, spoke two days before the expected House vote on health care reform at a teleconference with officials of the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee.
“The Church does have some work to do in dealing with frayed nerves and divisions on policy questions,” Doerflinger said. “But I don’t think it is the moral teaching (on abortion) that is at the root of this. It’s people who are not in Washington cooking the details of this every day” being misled by others, he added.
Asked why the Catholic Health Association had endorsed the bill opposed by the bishops because of its abortion wording, Doerflinger said, “Like us, they have been very anxious to have health care reform for many years. But unlike us, they don’t have policy people who work on these pro-life issues day in and day out.”
Doerflinger said the Senate bill “is morally unacceptable” because it appropriates billions of dollars in new funding that would not be subject to the provisions of the Hyde amendment, which bars most federal spending on abortion, and because it would create a “stunning new conscience problem” by requiring people in certain health plans to pay for other people’s abortions.
Representatives of all three groups said they did not expect any changes to be made in the abortion language of the Senate-passed bill and therefore would oppose its passage in the House.
Doerflinger said he believed “where there was a will, there would be a way” to make changes in the bill before the House, despite procedural barriers. But, he said, “there is no will” in the White House or congressional leadership to do so.
On March 18 several Hispanic bishops joined Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in urging House members to allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to use “their own money to purchase health care coverage in the newly created health care exchanges.”
“We also request that the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing Medicaid coverage be eliminated,” they said in a letter. Current law forbids legal immigrants to access Medicaid benefits for five years after being admitted to the United States.
During the teleconference Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, called the legislation “the biggest expansion of government-funded abortion since Roe v. Wade” and Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said it was “the most abortion-expansive bill ever to reach the floor of the House for a vote.”
Johnson said he believed “the outcome is in doubt” for the House vote, expected to occur March 21.
“As that famous Roman Catholic scholar Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over until it’s over,” McClusky said.
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