UPDATE 3/18/2010: Today, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which represents about 20% of American nuns, issued a brief statement supporting the bishops' opposition to the health care reform bill. Meanwhile, columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. added his perspective in a column titled On health care, listen to the nuns in today's Washington Post. The most interesting assertion in this column is that the bishops have been misrepresenting the CHA's position on the issue...
Two days after the U.S. bishops refused to support the health care reform bill, restating their objections to provisions in the measure they said would expand federal funding of abortions, the leaders of more than four dozen U.S. congregations of women religious are urging members of Congress to "cast a life-affirming 'yes' vote" on the Senate's version of health reform legislation.
Signers of the letter, who represent 59,000 Catholic women religious in the United States, include the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the superiors or leadership teams of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Adrian Dominican Sisters; Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sisters of the Holy Family; Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis; Society of the Holy Child Jesus; and dozens of other religious orders.
The following is the text of the sisters' letter, released to the media and delivered to members of Congress today.
"Members of Congress:
"We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming "yes" vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week. We join the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which represents 1,200 Catholic sponsors, systems, facilities and related organizations, in saying: the time is now for health reform AND the Senate bill is a good way forward.
"As the heads of major Catholic women's religious orders in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation's hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country.
"We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.
"The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold long-standing conscience protections and it will make historic new investments —“ $250 million" — in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.
"Congress must act. We are asking every member of our community to contact their congressional representatives this week. In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days. For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.
"We urge you to vote 'yes' for life by voting yes for health care reform in H.R. 3590."
The Catholic Health Association — which represents more than 2,000 Catholic hospitals and medical providers in the United States — has also officially endorsed the health care reform bill. In her March 11 letter to members of the House of Representatives, Sr. Carol Keehan, President and CEO of CHA, says:
"On behalf of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), the national leadership organization of more than 2,000 Catholic health care sponsors, systems, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and related organizations, I am writing to urge you to move quickly to enact health
reform by passing the Senate-approved legislation in conjunction with a second “corrections” bill providing for necessary legislative fixes that will improve the overall package."
Since these are the folks on the front lines dealing directly with the poor and medically uninsured -- the people who know the extent of the problem first hand, maybe it would be time for the bishops to come out of their ivory tower and listen to the sisters for a change.