By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer and Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA – As the debate and decisions on national health care reform reach critical stages, Cardinal Justin Rigali is counting on the clergy of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to assist him in “a most urgent and important national Catholic effort” to prevent reform from being derailed by abortion advocates.

He has called on the pastors of the Archdiocese’s 267 parishes to promote to their parishioners through the weekly bulletin, from the pulpit and through prayer petitions a health care reform campaign he and other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) are spearheading.

“Health care reform is about saving lives, not destroying them,” states an excerpt from a bulletin insert from the USCCB to nearly 19,000 parishes across the country. The correspondence is scheduled to appear in bulletins or be distributed in pews or church vestibules at Masses this weekend, Nov. 7-8.

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In his letter to pastors of the Philadelphia Archdiocese promoting the campaign, Cardinal Rigali said immediate action is imperative to ensure that the new legislation protects the life and dignity of all people from the moment of conception until natural death; preserves freedom of conscience for health care professionals; and does not violate the right to life by allocating tax revenues for abortion.

“Please encourage the faithful of your parish to pray that Congress will act to ensure that needed health care reform will truly protect the life, dignity and health care of all, that we will raise our voices to protect the unborn and the most vulnerable, and preserve our freedom of conscience,” said the Cardinal.

“Be assured of my continued prayers and support as we join in this collective effort to preserve the sanctity of life and conscience rights for all.”

The campaign urges Catholics to contact Senate leaders so they support efforts to “incorporate long-standing policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights” in health reform legislation.

The campaign also contains information about how Catholics can take specific action by writing, calling, faxing or e-mailing members of Congress to let them know health care reform must explicitly ban abortion coverage.

The insert highlights an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) which “addresses essential pro-life concerns on abortion funding and conscience rights.”

“Help ensure that the rule for the bill allows a vote on the amendment,” the insert states. “If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.”

Bulletin inserts were distributed to dioceses Oct. 29, the day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)and other House leaders unveiled an $894 billion health care reform bill called the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

The House measure combines bills passed by three committees in July into one piece of legislation that members were to begin debating on the House floor in early November. Floor action on the U.S. Senate bill had not yet been announced.

The U.S. bishops have criticized the Senate measure for not explicitly barring funding of abortion coverage. The House bill also does not resolve the issue of abortion coverage.

“The debate and decisions on health care reform are reaching decisive moments. We write … to ask for your active and personal leadership to ensure that needed health care reform protects the life, dignity and health care of all,” said the president of the USCCB and the chairmen of three bishops’ committees in an Oct. 28 letter to their fellow bishops across the country.

The letter accompanied the bulletin inserts urging the bishops to promote the campaign in their dioceses.

It was signed by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president; Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities; Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

They thanked all the bishops for their work so far to make Congress understand the bishops’ “principles and priorities” for health care reform the Catholic Church has long supported.

“We now ask you to redouble your efforts to ensure that we speak clearly, effectively and together for health care reform that protects life and conscience and reaches out to the vulnerable and marginalized who need life-affirming health care the most,” they wrote.

“The bishops want health care reform, but they recoil at any expansion of abortion,” said Helen Osman, USCCB communications secretary, who helped organize the campaign. “Most Americans don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions via health care either.

“This impasse on the road to reform of health care can be broken if Congress writes in language that assures that the Hyde amendment law continues to guide U.S. federal spending policy,” she said.

The Hyde amendment bars funding of abortion in the spending bills for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and in military hospitals, federal employees’ health benefits, foreign assistance and other circumstances.

The correspondence includes a dramatic ad of a pregnant woman and notes that the Hyde amendment, which passed in 1976, has prevented federal funds from paying for elective abortions, yet health care reform bills that are advancing in Congress violate this policy. The ad’s message: “Tell Congress: Remove Abortion Funding and Mandates from Needed Health Care Reform.”

The ad also states: “Abortion is not health care because killing is not healing.”

The campaign directs Catholics to the web page

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or