Over 1,000 Clerics Want Abortion Access in Health Care Bill

More than 1,100 clerics and religious professionals want U.S. Senators to provide women with access to abortion as lawmakers consider new amendments that would cut coverage for the procedure.

The Religious Institute released an open letter that maintains that abortion is a "morally justifiable decision" that should be left to women to decide. The letter is a response to amendments in the Senate that would cut abortion coverage in private insurance plans that receive federal funding.

"Already, federal policy unfairly prevents low-income women and federal employees from receiving subsidized reproductive health services, but the new proposals would mean that even more women and families would lose access to these vital services," said the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute.

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Haffner added, "Placing restrictions on private insurance plans that make abortion accessible to women represents a serious moral injustice."

The letter itself contends that the sanctity of human life is "best upheld" when it is made carefully, not when women are "coerced to carry a pregnancy to term."

Religious denominations that have endorsed the letter include: American Baptist Churches, Church of the Brethren, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church, among others.

Supporters of access to abortion call on government leaders to respect religious differences on the contentious issue.

The open letter is a sharp contrast to the more publicized voice of conservative Christians who have demanded that no public funding go towards abortion. Pro-life groups have organized formidable grassroots campaigns that have barraged Congress and the White House with petitions demanding that any health care reform clearly prohibit tax dollars from paying for abortions.

Despite President Obama and some Democratic leaders assuring that no federal funds will go towards abortion, pro-life leaders continue to believe the current health reform bills would allow the government to pay for the procedure.

Pro-life leaders, as well as some Democratic leaders, have accused President Obama of misleading the public about abortion funding.

"President Obama continued to mislead the American people by casually dismissing the concerns of millions of Americans who have deep moral objections to their tax dollars paying for abortions," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, after Obama's speech at the joint session of Congress in September.

"It's surprising the President continues to claim that 'no federal dollars' will fund abortion particularly after this assertion was widely disputed weeks ago by along with reporters and columnists at the Associated Press, Time Magazine, and The Washington Post," Perkins said. "Even supporters of the President such as Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, Rev. Jim Wallis, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren agree that the current health care plans include abortion coverage with federal dollars."

According to a new Rasmussen survey, nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe any government-subsidized health care plan should be prohibited from covering abortions. Only 13 percent believe such plans should be required to cover abortions and 32 percent took a neutral approach saying no requirements should be set for either direction.

The Religious Institute, which supports giving women access to abortion, claims to represent more than 4,800 clerics and religious leaders and more than 40 religious denominations and organizations.

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