U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have taken a consistent line on a health care overhaul: It's vital, but they cannot support proposals that go too far in covering abortion and not far enough in protecting health workers who don't want to provide that procedure.
Bishops want more protections for providers in reform bill
Now, at least a half-dozen bishops have gone beyond that position, some of them using hard-hitting terms such as "socialization" and "monopolization" to launch a broader critique of big government. Their argument isn't that the federal government should necessarily stay out of healthcare coverage altogether, but that an oversized government health system could wield too much power over people's lives.
U.S. bishops for decades have advocated comprehensive health care coverage as a right for all Americans, with a special focus on meeting the basic medical needs of the poor, elderly and disabled. But bishops taking the lead on healthcare—the ones who have written letters to Congress on behalf of the bishops' conference—have made it clear that the current legislation has too many problems.
"Among the Catholic bishops, on all issues, there will be disagreement," said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "This is almost like the minority report being issued here." Although the limited-government bishops are a small minority, if their arguments gain momentum it could pose another challenge to President Barack Obama's efforts to make sweeping changes to the nation's healthcare system.
Bishops have criticized proposals that would allow the proposed government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions. As it stands, federal funds for abortions are restricted to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. Bishops also are insisting on protections for health care workers who in good conscience feel they cannot have a hand in abortion services. "The bishops want to support healthcare reform," Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the bishops' Committee Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote to Congress. "We have in the past and we always must insist that healthcare reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life."
Among the new wave of critics is Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, who warned that healthcare should not be subject to "federal monopolization." He wrote "... the proper role of government is to regulate the private sector in order to foster healthy competition and curtail abuses. Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect."
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