BY JULIE ASHER
Catholic News Service
Editor’s note: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, will deliver the keynote address at the Diocese of Evansville’s Oct. 14 Respect Life Celebration at St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Two Catholic archbishops objected Sept. 17 to two U.S. House of Representatives committees advancing portions of the $3.5 trillion budget bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, because language that funds abortions was added to wording they support to improve access to affordable healthcare for all.
The funding of abortion, "the deliberate destruction of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – those in the womb – cannot be included," said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
"Congress can, and must, turn back from including taxpayer funding of abortion, in the Build Back Better Act," they said. "We urge all members of Congress and the administration to work in good faith to advance important and life-saving health care provisions without forcing Americans to pay for the deliberate destruction of unborn human life."
Archbishops Naumann and Coakley's joint statement came in response to the Sept. 15 markup of the legislation by the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to include the abortion funding provision.
On Sept. 13, in advance of the markup, the two prelates wrote "to implore" House members "to reject provisions that would expand taxpayer funding of abortion" and include the Hyde Amendment principle "of not funding elective abortions."
In both their letter and follow-up statement, they reiterated the U.S. bishops' long-standing support and advocacy for proposals "at both the federal and state level that ensure all people will have access to affordable health care, including Medicaid expansion proposals."
"We are encouraged by several health care provisions in portions of the Build Back Better Act that will improve health care coverage for those in need," the prelates said Sept. 15.
These include "enhanced postpartum coverage and other investments to address the high rates of preventable maternal deaths in the United States, expanded access to in-home care for family members, support for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and pre-release Medicaid coverage for returning citizens," they said.
The archbishops' statement about health care access and abortion coverage echoed a Sept. 7 letter from five USCCB chairmen to all members of Congress and the Senate on priorities they urged the lawmakers to include in the budget measure.
The letter called on Congress to "respect the rights and dignity of every human life in health care" by making sure the final bill allows everyone "to have access to affordable and comprehensive care that promotes life and dignity," they said.
The USCCB "insists that health care proposals in this bill, such as Medicaid expansion, be governed by the long-standing Hyde Amendment principle of not funding elective abortions. The destruction of human life through abortion is not a form of health care, and taxpayers should not be compelled to fund it," the five committee chairs said.
"Should this bill expand taxpayer funding of abortion, the USCCB will oppose it," they said.
Archbishops Naumann and Coakley signed the letter along with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, Committee on Catholic Education; and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, Committee on Migration.
In August, House members and senators passed their respective versions of a framework, or blueprint, for the $3.5 trillion budget measure, and now they are filling in the details.
Senate Democrats hope to pass the bill using the process of reconciliation -- meaning it could be passed with a simple majority, not the 60 votes usually needed.
Other priorities the bishops outlined included creating jobs that pay "just wages"; strengthening families by making the child care tax credit permanent; ensuring "safe, decent and affordable housing"; expanding access to early childhood education; addressing greenhouse gas emissions especially as they affect poor and vulnerable communities; guaranteeing access to clean water, "a universal human right"; and preserving religious liberty for all to benefit from the bill's provisions.
Another of the bishops' priorities -- meeting the needs of migrants and refugees -- was addressed Sept. 12 in a vote by the House Judiciary Committee to approve language that would provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as "Dreamers."
The citizenship provision also would cover Temporary Protected Status holders, Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries, and agricultural workers and other essential workers who are in the country without legal permission.
"Undoubtedly, Catholic social teaching will be implicated by many aspects of this budget reconciliation bill, but this is a welcome milestone for many families and the common good," Bishop Dorsonville said in a Sept. 15 statement.
In urging a pathway to legalization and citizenship for migrants and refugees, the committee chairmen in their Sept. 7 letter noted their "deep concern for family unity and the obstacles facing many mixed-status families."
Regarding jobs for the poor and vulnerable, the bishops said: "We have long held that work is fundamental to human dignity (and) consistently call for the creation of decent work at decent wages as the most effective way to build a just economy."
"Job creation should focus on just wages, include a right to organize, and resources for job training and apprenticeship programs," they said.
The five committee chairs called climate change "a serious challenge that requires investments in mitigation and adaptation to achieve rapid decarbonization, curb other greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and protect the most vulnerable."
"Disadvantaged and marginalized communities who suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change should receive priority for investments in clean energy infrastructure and climate resilience," they said.
"Special attention must be paid to jobs and the needs of coal and fossil fuel industry workers and their families, whose livelihoods face the uncertainties of energy transitions."
The bishops outlined provisions they said are needed to strengthen families: "We have long taught that "economic and social policies, as well as the organization of the work world, should be continually evaluated in light of their impact on the strength and stability of family life.
"The long-range future of this nation is intimately linked with the well-being of families, for the family is the most basic form of human community."
They urged the expanded child tax credit be made permanent and called for increasing access to in-home care for family members, strengthening child nutrition programs, ensuring quality and affordable child care options, paid sick leave, parental leave "and other forms of support for working families."
Congress could support affordable housing, the bishops said, through "increased funding for the national Housing Trust Fund and the low-income housing tax credit" and by "significantly expanding rental assistance so it is available to more households in need."
Lawmakers also should preserve public housing by addressing the $70 billion repair backlog, addressing the eviction crisis, "and encouraging equal housing opportunities for all including by addressing racial disparities in homeownership," they said.
The bishops called for expanding access to early childhood education and said this "must take into consideration the desires of parents, the unique needs of their children, and include a variety of educational opportunities, including programs provided by the faith-based community."
They also said that Congress must preserve religious liberty by ensuring the "benefits of this legislation (are) available to all."
"To that end, Congress must avoid saddling programs and funding partnerships with obligations that exclude people and organizations who hold certain religious beliefs," they said. "For example, recipients of funding under the bill should not be required to assent to a false understanding of gender and sexuality."