NEW YORK – Hours after the Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief plan passed Wednesday, the U.S. bishops called it “unconscionable” that the bill didn’t include protections against taxpayer funding of abortion.

The $1.9 trillion bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, passed the House of Representatives by a partisan 220-211 vote Wednesday after the Senate passed it on Saturday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it on Friday.

“The many important, life-saving provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act have been undermined because it facilitates and funds the destruction of life, which is antithetical to its aim of protecting the most vulnerable Americans in a time of crisis,” a statement from the USCCB said

The following USCCB committee chairmen signed the statement: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington.

The abortion protection they’ve consistently called for is the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision that bars the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life would be endangered. It’s not a permanent law, but it has been added to the annual congressional appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services with bipartisan support for the last 45 years.

Hyde language was added to previous COVID-19 relief packages. The policy was needed because “this bill includes many general references to healthcare that, absent the express exclusion of abortion, have consistently been interpreted by federal courts not only to allow, but to compel, the provision of abortion without meaningful limit,” the statement said.

It further notes that Catholic bishops reached out to every House and Senate office to express support for certain aspects of the bill and their “strong conviction” that it should include protections for the unborn.

The USCCB committee chairmen also commended many parts of the American Rescue plan, including the provisions towards unemployment assistance, child and earned income tax credit enhancements, nutrition funding, vaccine distribution funding, health care funding, housing assistance, and international COVID-19 relief.

“There are provisions in this bill that will save people from extreme desperate situations and will likely save lives,” the statement reads.

Allocations in the American Rescue Plan include $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution. It also includes $130 billion to return to in-person learning at schools and extends $300-a-week unemployment benefits through Sept. 6.

Other provisions include an expansion of the annual child tax credit up to $3,600 per child. It provides $350 billion for state and local governments, $50 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, and $25 billion in rental assistance.

The bill also provides a third round of stimulus payments. $1,400 checks will go to individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year and $2,800 to married couples who make less than $150,000. Eligible dependents, including adult dependents, would also each get $1,400.

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