In his speech last evening, President Barack Obama made the commitments that a broad coalition in the faith community had asked for -- reform as a moral issue, affordable coverage for all, and no federal funding of abortion.
First, the faith community has asked the president to make "the moral case" for health care reform, not just the policy arguments -- and he couldn't have been more clear about the moral imperative for fixing a broken system. He quoted a letter from Ted Kennedy, written last spring but delivered to the president after Kennedy's death, stating that health care "is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
Second, we have told the White House that the faith community will accept nothing less than accessible, affordable, and secure coverage for everyone. The president said that, "If you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices." And while there may be various means of achieving that goal, "I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice." He rejected the incremental approaches that will again postpone bringing everyone into America's health care system and making sure it is working for all of us -- and so will we.
Third, we have told the president that we needed to hear a clear commitment on prohibiting federal funding of abortion as well as maintaining a strong conscience protection. He gave that public commitment: "Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place." As the president said, "There remain some significant details to be ironed out," but his commitment to these principles means we can now work together to make sure that they are consistently and diligently applied to any final health care legislation. The practical application of that principle should mean that no person should be forced to pay for someone else's abortion, and that public funds cannot be used to pay for elective abortions.
Now it is the job of the faith community and every concerned American to make sure the final bill reflects these moral principles. And the faith community will continue to be vigilant to ensure that each one is followed throughout the process of achieving health care legislation. The president has set the stage for finally achieving real solutions to health care reform by defining the deeper moral issues at stake and clarifying the policy debate. We will now be calling on our members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, many of them members of our congregations, to support these moral commitments and to make sure, as they "iron out the details," that each one is firmly upheld.
At the beginning of the speech, after noting the continuing economic crisis, President Obama said, "[W]e did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future." That future indeed involves a significant social transformation, and like most such change, it invokes strong reactions. We in the faith community have a special role in that process of change -- to help the nation make the spiritual choice of hope rather than fear, and to believe that the way for all of us to move forward as a society is to make that choice.