“Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2012 / 12:22 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have refuted the White House’s claim that they never supported health care reform in America.
“Since 1919, the United States Catholic bishops have supported decent health care for all and government and private action to advance this essential goal,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif.
Bishop Blaire, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, responded to a recent statement by White House press secretary Jay Carney.
At a Feb. 13 press briefing, Carney was asked about the bishops’ dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. He replied, “I would simply note with regard to the bishops that they never supported health care reform to begin with, of which this is an important element.”
“This is not the case,” countered Bishop Blaire on Feb. 14. “Long before the current battles, the Catholic Church was persistently and consistently advocating for this overdue national priority.”
During the recent debates over health care, the U.S. bishops said that universal, affordable health care was “an urgent national priority and moral imperative.”
The bishops’ conference called for health care reform that is universal, protects human life, does not discriminate against immigrants and respects conscience rights.
Bishop Blaire explained that the bishops “opposed the final legislation” because it failed to meet these standards.
He added that their judgment has been “sadly but clearly borne out by the failure of the law and the recent regulation to protect conscience and religious liberty.”
The bishops had initially raised strong objections to a federal mandate announced Jan. 20 that required nearly all employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to employees.
They argued that the mandate did not include a sufficient religious exemption for those employers who held moral objections to such products and procedures.
President Barack Obama announced an “accommodation” on Feb. 10 that instead requires religious employers to purchase the same coverage from health insurance companies that will be required to provide the coverage in all plans they offer.
However, the bishops have argued that the new policy still fails to offer adequate protections for religious liberty.
Bishop Blaire called on those who have spoken falsely to correct their error and acknowledge the bishops’ “long and consistent record of support for health care which protects the life, dignity and consciences of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.””