Thursday, March 18, 2010

59,000 U.S. Nuns and the Catholic Health Association Urge Health Reform Passage

Right on the heels of the Catholic Health Association's announcement that it is parting ways with the U.S. Bishops' opposition to health-care reform, representatives of 59,000 U.S. women religious delivered a letter to every member of Congress yesterday urging them to vote in favor of the pending legislation. Signers of the letter include the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and, according to the National Catholic Reporter, "the leaders of more than four dozen U.S. congregations of women religious."

What is significant is that both Catholic groups do not buy the bishops' position that the reform bill would weaken current restrictions on using federal funds for abortions. That tends to confirm recent analysis here that the bishops' true intent is to add to the current restrictions, not just maintain them.

Also significant is that Catholics more directly involved in health care than the bishops are telling the bishops and their conservative allies in Congress that they have got it wrong. This is precisely the way we do morality in post-Vatican II Catholicism. The bishops don't understand that yet, but maybe this can be another teachable moment for a few of them. The text of the letter follows.

Dear Members of Congress:

We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming “yes” vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week. We join the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which represents 1,200 Catholic sponsors, systems, facilities and related organizations, in saying: the time is now for health reform AND the Senate bill is a good way forward.

As the heads of major Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation’s hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country.

We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

Congress must act. We are asking every member of our community to contact their congressional representatives this week. In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days. For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.

We urge you to vote “yes” for life by voting yes for health care reform in H.R. 3590.

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