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June 21, 2010

President Barack Obama thanked members of the Catholic Health Association June 14 for their "help and courage in passing health care reform." In a videotaped message to the organization's annual convention in Denver, Obama called passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March "a major victory for our nation, for human dignity and for the most vulnerable among us."

"Your work, your passion, your commitment helped make the difference," he said.

Obama also thanked Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and chief executive, for "the extraordinary leadership she's provided in advancing our national discussion." In the closing days of the health reform debate, Sister Carol and other CHA leaders urged passage of the legislation, saying they were convinced it would not expand federal funding of abortion. Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the final version of the legislation, citing concerns about its provisions on abortion and conscience protections. Although she was not present for the ceremony at which Obama signed the health reform legislation, Sister Carol, right, received one of 20 ceremonial pens used in the signing.

Obama, who signed an executive order affirming that the health reform law would not allow federal funds to be spent on most abortions, said CHA members had achieved their health reform goals "in a way that protects your long-standing beliefs and the beliefs of so many others across the country."

The president's remarks came at the end of a 10-minute video presentation in which CHA members and others discussed the history of Catholic health care, its role in the health reform debate and provisions of the final bill. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., called the final product "pro-life legislation" and said, "If CHA had not been involved, it is highly likely we would not have been able to pass this bill."

Casey said government officials would "continue to call on CHA for help as we implement" the new health reform law.

Father J. Bryan Hehir, in a keynote talk to the convention June 13, also praised Sister Carol for her role in the health reform debate. "It would be a gross missed opportunity in this assembly not to acknowledge the way Sister Carol's leadership embodies the elements of hands-on care of the poor, ministry to all and intelligent, courageous leadership of CHA," he said, to applause from the convention participants.

Father Hehir is secretary for health and social services in the Archdiocese of Boston and a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. During his keynote address, he called for U.S. Catholics to move on from the sometimes contentious debate during the build-up to the signing of health care reform. Differences within the Catholic community during the health reform debate were not about the objectives to be accomplished but about the "degree of assurance" provided by the bill on those objectives, Father Hehir said.

"It is time to face the future, not replay the past continually," said Father Hehir. "As the legislation advanced toward its final outcome, the Catholic debate surfaced, not about the objectives but about methods of achieving them and judgments about the degree of certitude needed in the bill to promote these various objectives," he said.

With passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March, "the four objectives are partially met," Father Hehir said. "It will take continuing work on each [objective] to meet the potential of a just health care system protective of human life and human dignity from life's inception along the spectrum to its natural end."

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