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J. Shane Mercer, Published September 01 2009

Bishops weigh in on health care reform

The bishops for both North Dakota Catholic dioceses have weighed in on the health care debate, taking firm stances against abortion, and backing health care for the poor and conscience rights.

In his Aug. 28 letter addressed to priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the diocese, Fargo Bishop Samuel Aquila laid out several principles to guide the evaluation of any health care plan.

He writes that any “provisions for actions which deny the dignity of human life, especially abortion, euthanasia, whether passive or active, and embryonic stem-cell research must be excluded.”

Aquila also wrote that “freedom of consciences must be safeguarded. The moral voices of individual doctors, nurses and health professionals, as well as the general public, deserve reverence and respect.” And he made the case for health care for all, “including the poor, legal immigrants, the handicapped and especially the elderly and unborn members of society.”

Bismarck Diocese Bishop Paul Zipfel touched on several similar themes in his own letter, which was released Monday.

The letter states that legislation must “expressly and specifically prohibit any agency from funding abortion, mandating abortion coverage or preempt state laws on abortion coverage.”

Zipfel specifically backed health care for the poor and legal immigrants. He also writes, “Genuine health care reform that protects human life and advances universal coverage is a moral imperative.”

Aquila’s letter addressed the role of the federal government when it comes to health care.

“As our society seeks to achieve the goal of ensuring access to health care for all, the federal government surely has a role to play, but definitely not the only role, or even the primary role,” he writes.

As to why he wanted to weigh in on the issue, Zipfel said, “I think whenever we’re talking about human life and the dignity of human life, it’s an important issue.

It’s at the center of who we are as Catholic people.”

He said there is concern “that if there are some decisions made by legislators without regard for the principles we think that are basic and that are fundamental that things could certainly go in the wrong direction.”

Aquila was not available for comment on the letter, but the Rev. Luke Meyer, chancellor of the Diocese of Fargo, said that one of the primary missions of the bishop is to teach and that Aquila “wanted to frame the discussion, or help frame the discussion, in terms of certain principles.”

North Dakota is just part of a larger national landscape on which Christians are taking up positions on the issue of health care reform.

“I think you find Christians kind of all over the map when it comes to health care reform,” said Kevin Lum, national church and outreach coordinator for Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian social justice organization.

But he believes most Christians favor reform of some kind.

Some would call Sojoruners a left-leaning group, but Tom McClusky, vice president for the more conservative Family Research Council Action, also believes most Christians favor some form of reform.

“It’s the form of the reform that I think is where the debate begins,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734