Health Bills Get Religion

Faith Groups Use Power of Prayer to Sway Debate

Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:22pm

And on the eighth day, God created the health care debate.

Pharmaceutical companies, device makers, hospitals and other traditional stakeholders are not the only interest groups weighing in on the health care debate. Many religious leaders, too, are buttonholing Members, particularly on contentious issues such as abortion, coverage for undocumented immigrants and cost control.

“We have something that’s affecting every American; we had no choice but to address it,— said Richard Land, an ethics adviser with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Land’s group represents 16 million members in the United States. He said his faithful are worried primarily that taxpayer money could wind up paying for abortions. Democratic leaders are not being honest with evangelicals about the difficulties in crafting a bill that could avoid covering the contentious procedure, Land said.

“The president is being disingenuous,— he said.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has been an outspoken critic of the alleged provisions covering reproductive procedures and treatments frowned on by church leaders. Like many faith-based groups, Catholic bishops are working with lawmakers to lighten the expected heavy financial lift on working families, according to policy adviser Kathy Saile.

Catholic bishops are also pushing lawmakers to ensure that “immigrants are no worse off after reform.—

“There’s no political will to give undocumented immigrations [health care], but they should still be allowed to purchase health care with their own money in the open market,— Saile said.

A prominent Muslim group also has staked out a hard line on the inclusion of a public insurance option in any final legislation. Although his group prefers a single-payer system similar to Medicare, Muslim American Society Executive Director Mahdi Bray is pushing lawmakers to adopt a public insurance option.

“The majority of the Muslim community favors a public option,— he said. “From a theological standpoint, it’s very similar to other Abrahamic traditions — the Christians and Jews — in that we have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate. All of the great world religions call for a concern for others and we feel that health care reform and the public option is a good way.—

Bray called proposals that would create nonprofit health care cooperatives a “fig leaf.— At the very least, he said his group would like “trigger— provisions in any bill that reaches the president’s desk.

“Public option is better than the concept of a co-op,— he said. “It’s a cosmetic and tactical ploy to put profit over the health of our citizens.—

Bray’s organization has 55 affiliates in 35 states.

Across other denominations, many church leaders have take more nuanced approaches. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints issued a statement Tuesday that said the mainline Mormon church “has not taken a position on any specific health care legislation in the United States.—

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, too, is reserving judgment for a final bill, the group said Tuesday.

David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said his group “is generally supportive of the legislation that is coming out of the committees.—

The abortion issue appears to be dividing the Lutheran community. In August, the president of the conservative wing of the Lutheran faith said in a statement that provisions including public abortion funding could be a deal-breaker for his denomination.

Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said in a statement that his church “supports the protection and nurture of human life from conception through death. We would not endorse any component of a plan that includes funding for abortion.—

“As pro-life advocates, we would want to prohibit any government money from being used, even indirectly, for insurance that covers abortion,— he added.

But on Tuesday, a domestic policy adviser for the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church of America said the ELCA is more focused on cost issues than abortion, which — along with immigration — “should not be used as tools to defeat reform.—

“On abortion, we would be with other groups that support that status quo,— spokesman Bob Francis said. “We’re supportive of reform and, like a lot of groups, in particular, affordability.—

“If there’s going to be an individual mandate, we want to make sure it’s affordable for folks, especially low-income folks,— he continued. “We want to make sure there’s cost containment, that it’s financially stable in both the short and long term.—