Few issues of this generation have churned as much political and social turmoil as the health care reform debate heading into its final stage now in Congress. Democratic leaders are busy trying to hold together a balky coalition of their own ranks to retain the votes needed to pass a compromise bill in the House and Senate. They aim to accomplish health care reform perhaps this month.

Reform of the system in which high costs force millions of people to go without health insurance is a goal shared by the Catholic bishops of this country, who rightly see the extension of affordable health care for all Americans as a noble and necessary aspiration of a great nation.

Many provisions of the compromise bill are still up in the air, including one major component: abortion.

Will everyone be forced to pay for the abortions of a few? Will the conscience rights of health care workers opposed to abortion be respected? Whether the practice of abortion in America expands or remains the status quo hangs on the result of the bill.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges Catholics to make a last-minute press on their legislators now to do at least as much as the U.S. House has done, which is to maintain current policy on abortion (no public funding, respect for conscience rights) in the final bill. Cardinal Justin Rigali has asked pastors of parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to communicate the urgency of this effort to all the Catholic faithful. (Click here to read Cardinal Rigali’s letters to the parishes.)

Telling your Congressional representative about the need to respect human life from conception until natural death is not a futile exercise in faithful citizenship. The House listened and passed a generally favorable health reform bill. Though far from perfect, it reduced the potential for greater evil by avoiding an expansion of abortion.

That effort failed to persuade enough votes in the Senate, but pressure on the Congress at this late hour may yet succeed.

Pennsylvania’s elected officials in Congress must hear from their constituents on this issue so that the Democratic leadership offers both chambers a bill that reflects the will of the people by refusing to expand the availability of abortion.

In the congressional vote coming soon, lawmakers must write today’s limitations on abortion into law, at a minimum. If the resulting bill calls for public funding of abortion and ignores the conscience of health workers, Congress should reject such a flawed bill.