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20170118T1050 7387 CNS BISHOPS ACA CONGRESS 800The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen in this 2013 photo taken during a rally by supporters of the Affordable Care Act in Jackson, Miss. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- 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 poor.

"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, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

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 society's margins.

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 all."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.