Mainline religious groups, along with faith-based hospitals and health-care providers, called this week for health-care reform with universal coverage as a bottom line.
Taking sharp exception to the conservative Christian Coalition, the political arm of evangelical television broadcaster Pat Robertson, the groups said at a news conference that they were pleased President Clinton has made health care a top agenda item, declaring it "unconscionable that any person in this land has to go without basic health protection."
The news conference was called to counter the conservative coalition's much-publicized $1.4-million campaign to defeat the president's proposed health care reform legislation, the Health Security Act.
Sponsoring the news conference were the National Council of Churches, the Protestant Health Alliance, the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign and Interfaith Impact for Justice and Peace.
"Health reform is a tremendously complex undertaking," said Benjamin Aune, president of InterHealth, a network of faith-based hospitals and long-term care facilities, representing the Protestant Health Alliance.
"The process is already emotionally charged," Aune said at the Feb. 28 news conference. "We are disturbed that some have chosen to take a negative approach to the debate _ attempting to frighten, to alarm and to mobilize against significant, necessary change."
Aune said the Christian Coalition "does not speak for our Protestant health care providers," noting that the alliance differs "with those who either deny the moral injustices of the present system or who seek to advance partisan politics by claiming to be the sole voice of families and Christians."
The coalition contends that Clinton's plan is "anti-family," particularly because it would provide coverage for abortions and because, in the coalition's view, it would limit the ability to choose doctors.
"From our perspective," said Sarah Naylor, leader of the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign, "there is no "Christian' health care plan. There can only be health care reform which equitably addresses the health care needs of all."
Asked about coverage for legal abortions, National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell reminded reporters that the ecumenical agency has never taken a position on abortion because member churches have different views.
"It is not for us (in the council) a bottom line issue," she said. "Our bottom line is universal coverage.
"Both our history and our faith commitments equip those of us in the religious community to play a unique role in the debate about health-care reform," Campbell said.
"We participate in the system at every level," she added, from consumers, to practitioners, to small employers and to operators of hospitals and other health facilities.
"The nearly 40-million people in this country who lack health care coverage are not strangers to us," she said. "They are in our churches."