Abortion funding a ‘fundamental problem’ in proposed federal budget, US bishops say

Kevin J. Jones   By Kevin J. Jones for CNA

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a Capitol press briefing, Sept. 23, 2021. / EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Nov 4, 2021 / 09:43 am (CNA).

The presence of expanded taxpayer funding of abortion in the proposed federal budget is “completely unacceptable”, despite many worthy programs that help the poor and vulnerable, the U.S. bishops have said in a call to restore long-standing Hyde Amendment limits.

“(I)t is completely unacceptable that the current House version of the Build Back Better Act expands taxpayer funding of abortion,” six committee heads with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Nov. 3 letter to members of Congress.

“We have been consistent in our position and reiterate that it would be a calamity if the important and life-affirming provisions in this bill were accompanied by provisions facilitating and funding the destruction of unborn human life,” they said. “No proposal to support individuals needing affordable health care coverage should compel Americans to pay for the destruction of human life through their tax dollars.”

The bishops’ letter reflected on the congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which combined could approve trillions of dollars in spending.

The bishops emphasized the need for funding protections that have traditionally been included in the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for most abortions. The amendment has normally been part of annual budget legislation since the 1970s. A key figure in the budget debates over abortion funding is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who is adamant that the bills must include Hyde Amendment language.

Language to exclude abortion in Medicaid is “insufficient and must be clarified,” said the bishops. These changes would ensure that elective abortion coverage is not mandated or funded. Language regarding a proposed health care affordability fund for states needs Hyde language, as do provisions for several public health grants.

“This fundamental problem of expanded taxpayer funding of abortion in the Build Back Better Act must be remedied before the bill moves forward,” the bishops said.

The Catholic bishops also voiced concern that no funding encourage assisted suicide.

While praising provisions that fund the training of health professionals in palliative medicine or hospice care, the bishops emphasized the need for additional language “to ensure that this funding cannot be used for training or promotion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

New funding rules could also exclude faith-based childcare providers and pre-K programs, the bishops said.

“Specifically, while expanded access to early child care and pre-K would be beneficial for many working families, we are concerned that the current provisions to do so–in a departure from the approach in existing federal programs–explicitly make providers recipients of federal financial assistance and attach new and troubling compliance obligations.”

These would “effectively exclude many faith-based providers” and provide significant limits for families’ choices, said the bishops

Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, told the Deseret News that proposed eligibility requirements include many non-discrimination rules, which could mean religious childcare programs could not receive new funding if they have hiring or admission decisions based on faith.

The bishops also found much to praise in the legislation. They praised provisions that strengthen social programs, support workers and families, or provide affordable housing, affordable health care coverage, and environmental protection.

They noted that premium tax credits aim to provide health care coverage for those who suffer a “Medicaid gap.” Medicaid post-partum coverage will be extended to 12 months and other funding aims to address preventable maternal deaths. The bill gives more support to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and provides Medicaid sustainability and improvement funds to U.S. territories.

The needs of undocumented immigrants should also be a consideration. The bishops said the bill should be amended to help integrate undocumented residents into U.S. society, legalize their immigration status, and provide a “path to citizenship.” They lamented the existence of a “double society” for U.S. residents. Even if there are parliamentary constraints that bar permanent protections for the undocumented, said the bishops, temporary protections could still be valuable.

The U.S. bishops’ conference committee heads who signed the letter include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the Committee on Migration; Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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