These faith groups are demanding Republicans stop repealing Obamacare

Religious communities spent years helping implement the law.

CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Faith leaders across the country are calling on Congressional Republicans to halt their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insisting lawmakers have a moral obligation to protect health care laws that aid society’s most vulnerable.

A number of religious groups have long been vocal supporters of the ACA, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, touting it as an important way to provide health care for impoverished Americans.

“This law…factors in a preeminent human need that we have to help one another live, survive and make it through,” Rev. Heyward Wiggins, Senior Pastor of Bible Tabernacle Church in Camden, New Jersey, said in 2011.

“Faith communities know [repealing the ACA] is a bad idea, and we will continue to advocate and pray for Congress to stop and listen to the voice of reason.”

But now that Senate Republicans have advanced their long-promised effort to repeal the law, faith leaders are speaking out in its defense.

When Republicans introduced a budget resolution to dismantle key parts of the ACA last week, Sister Simone Campbell—a Catholic nun and the executive director of the Catholic social justice lobbying group NETWORK—issued a statement imploring the GOP to “not play politics with people’s lives” and to protect the legislation often called Obamacare.

Campbell reiterated her opposition to the effort on Thursday in an email to ThinkProgress.

“Despite cries for common sense on both sides of the aisle, Congressional leadership insists on rushing through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act with no plan to replace it,” she said. “Faith communities know this is a bad idea, and we will continue to advocate and pray for Congress to stop and listen to the voice of reason.”

Another Catholic nun, Catholic Hospital Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, voiced a similar message earlier this week. Once credited by Obama himself as a key leader who helped push Congress to pass the ACA in 2010, Keehan offered a candid defense of the law on Tuesday while speaking at an event hosted by Catholic University.

“[The] Church must use a unified voice to fight efforts to take away healthcare from 22 million Americans enrolled in Obamacare,” Keehan reportedly said.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also tweeted out a rebuke of the repeal effort Thursday morning.

“For centuries, Jewish law has commanded communities to provide healthcare to their inhabitants,” the rabbi wrote. “We are inspired by this tradition that reflects the fact that healthcare is a core element of creating a just society. We call on the Senate and House to take no further steps down the dangerous path of ACA repeal and instead to work together to enhance our healthcare system so that all people can access the care they need and deserve.”

“For centuries, Jewish law has commanded communities to provide healthcare to their inhabitants.”

The Religious Action Center (RAC) and a number of other faith groups participated in a “Protect Your Care Call-In Day” earlier this week, during which people of faith were encouraged to contact their legislators and urge them to protect Obamacare. In addition to RAC and NETWORK, participating religious groups included Bread for the World, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Friends Committee on National Legislation, United Methodists General Board of Church & Society, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, and Justice & Witness Ministries.

What’s more, a joint statement released on January 6 from four major faith coalitions—the Conference of National Black Churches (NCC), Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, National Council of Churches, and Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference—implored President-elect Donald Trump to push back against any effort to repeal. The NCC alone claims roughly 45 million people spread across 38 denominations and faith communities, and the Conference of National Black Churches boasts 30,000 congregations representing about 70 percent of black churchgoers nationwide.

“Throughout Christian scriptures we are instructed to care for the poor and the most vulnerable,” the statement read. “The Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion, has given more than 30 million people access to affordable health coverage. While working to improve the ACA will benefit all Americans, repealing it without simultaneously offering a replacement is reckless and unnecessarily endangers the health of millions of people. This is certainly no way to make America great.”

Meanwhile, progressive Christian advocacy group Sojourners has begun publishing stories from readers detailing how the law bettered their lives.

“To be blunt, the ACA is the only thing keeping our family afloat right now in the midst of so much uncertainty — uncertainty about my family’s health and how to plan for our future,” one submission read.

Religious support for the law runs deep, in part because many faith groups spent years helping the federal government implement the ACA at the local level. In 2012, mosques across the country delivered a joint sermon praising the law and encouraging their members to enroll, and Jewish groups visited college campuses to champion its merits to students. Hundreds of churches, mosques, temples, and other houses of worship also volunteered their facilities to host events for those seeking more information about enrollment.

Not all faith organizations are defending the law, however. Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (which initially opposed the ACA, citing its contraception mandate), the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment.