WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy
committee said Jan. 18 that a repeal of the federal health care law should not
take place without immediate passage of a plan that preserves people's access
to adequate health care and also protects human life, conscience rights and the
"Important gains brought about by the Affordable Care Act
must be preserved" as millions of people now rely on the law for their
health care, said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human
At the same time, he said, any replacement measure also must
safeguard human life from conception to natural death, protect conscience
rights and provide adequate health care for immigrants, the poor and others on
Bishop Dewane made the comments in a letter sent to members of
the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. bishops "supported the general goal of the law to
expand medical coverage for many poor and vulnerable people," but they
"ultimately opposed the Affordable Care Act because it expanded the role
of the federal government in finding and facilitating abortion and plans that
cover abortion," Bishop Dewane wrote.
"It also failed to provide essential conscience protections
and access to health care for immigrants," he added.
"We recognize that the law has brought about important gains
in such coverage and those gains should be protected," he continued. In
the days ahead, the U.S. bishops "will examine health care proposals in
greater depth and from various perspectives in the days ahead," he said.
President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law
March 23, 2010.
"We remain committed to the ideals of universal and
affordable health care and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that
includes protections for human life, conscience and immigrants," Bishop
Dewane told the lawmakers. "We urge you to approach the important debates
in the days ahead seeking also to honor these principles for the good of
The bishop's letter pointed out that U.S. Catholic bishops have
"consistently advocated for access to decent health care that safeguards
and affirms human life and dignity from conception until natural
He quoted a 2009 letter to Congress from a previous chairman of
the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development that said:
"All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health
care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life,
where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they
live or where they were born."
The 2017 letter also quoted Pope Francis and St. John Paul II's
remarks on health care.
Bishop Dewane said that in a 2016 address to doctors, Pope
Francis said health care is "not a consumer good, but a universal right
which means that access to health care services cannot be a privilege."
The bishop also noted that St. John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in
Terris" said people have the right to "food, clothing, shelter,
medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services."
In the days ahead, Bishop Dewane said the bishops will continue
to "examine health care proposals in greater depth and from various
perspectives" looking that a replacement health care plan would provide
"adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for
Of particular concern, he said, are those with limited resources
to meet basic needs such as food and shelter rather than seek medical care.