Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- As the Senate considers a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on Friday, the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference warned that the bill will fund abortions.
“We urge President Biden and the leadership on Capitol Hill not to force upon Americans the wrenching moral decision whether to preserve the lives and health of the born or unborn, all of whom are our vulnerable neighbors in need,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), in a statement on Friday.
He implored Congress not to force pro-life Americans to oppose the COVID relief bill.
“We ask that our leaders please not pit people against one another in such a way,” he said, asking for the pro-life protections to be added in to the legislation.
The American Rescue Plan of 2021, which passed the House last week, does not include traditional abortion funding restrictions. Pro-life groups, including the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), have warned that it would result in a significant increase in funding of abortions, abortion coverage, and abortion providers.
The president of March for Life Action, Tom McClusky, said the relief bill “has the potential to be the largest expansion of abortion funding since Obamacare.”
In 2010, the USCCB opposed the Affordable Care Act in large part due to expectations that it would allow for subsidies of abortion coverage. A 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found that abortion coverage was being subsidized in health care plans under the law.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said on EWTN’s The World Over on Thursday that the funding to state and local governments in the bill has “absolutely no strings” attached and could go to abortion providers. In addition, federally-qualified health centers would receive billions of dollars; once subject to pro-life funding restrictions, Smith said the federally-funded centers could now do abortions under the COVID relief bill.
On Friday, Gomez noted that Congress for 45 years “has maintained that taxpayers should not be forced against their conscience to pay for abortions.”
The Hyde Amendment, enacted in law each year since 1976 as a rider to budget bills, prohibits federal funding of elective abortions. Once receiving bipartisan support, the policy is now opposed by leading Democrats—including by previous long-time supporter President Biden.
“Abandoning this compromise in a time of national emergency only serves to divide people in the very moment we should be united,” Archbishop Gomez said.
The archbishop emphasized that the rest of the bill is “important” in its goal of providing “much needed assistance for American families and businesses hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.”
In a Feb. 26 letter, the conference highlighted “many positive provisions” in the legislation that included increases to food stamp benefits, emergency rental and homelessness assistance, and unemployment benefits.
However, the USCCB warned, “billions of dollars for health care services” are not subject to abortion funding restrictions, “and could therefore allow funding of abortions.”
On Friday, Gomez said that pro-life members of Congress and many Americans will be forced to oppose the bill for its lack of pro-life funding protections.
The conference has also asked for increased access to aid for Catholic schools, and for the charitable tax deduction to be available to all taxpayers whether or not they itemize their deductions.
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