WASHINGTON, D.C. — If it passes and becomes law, the American Rescue Plan Congress is considering would pit the great need Americans have for economic relief in this pandemic against those who insist the bill must include abortion funding, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of seven USCCB committees.

“Our nation needs to heal, come together and help one another. The is an important step in the right direction,” the prelates said March 5 in a joint statement. “It should provide much needed assistance for American families and businesses hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“However, we are deeply concerned that this important legislation, as written, risks creating new divisions by abandoning a long-standing bipartisan compromise that respects the consciences of millions of Americans,” they added.

The bishops were referring to the Hyde Amendment, which was not included in the House version of the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package approved early Feb. 27 in a 219 to 212 vote. The Senate began to take up its version of the bill March 4.

The amendment outlaws federal tax dollars from directly funding abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.

“For 45 years, the U.S. Congress — whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans — has maintained that taxpayers should not be forced against their conscience to pay for abortions,” the bishops said. “Abandoning this compromise in a time of national emergency only serves to divide people in the very moment we should be united. Please, let us instead focus on delivering the COVID relief so desperately needed.”

From the floor ahead of the House vote, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the House Rules Committee for refusing to allow a vote on adding language to the bill “to ensure that taxpayers aren’t forced to subsidize abortion,” as provided by the Hyde Amendment.

Leaving out the language is “a radical departure from all previous COVID-19 relief laws” Smith said.

“We urge President (Joe) Biden and the leadership on Capitol Hill not to force upon Americans the wrenching moral decision whether to preserve the lives and health of the born or unborn, all of whom are our vulnerable neighbors in need,” the bishops said. “We ask that our leaders please not pit people against one another in such a way.

“We ask all members of Congress to include the same protections against abortion funding that have been present in every COVID relief bill to date, and every annual spending bill for almost half a century.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, issued the statement along with these USCCB committee chairmen:

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Justice, Peace and Human Development; Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, Committee on Catholic Education; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, Committee on Migration.

The McMorris Rodgers-Foxx-Walorski Amendment — co-sponsored by 206 House members — would have added Hyde language to their version of the American Rescue Plan, but it was rejected on the floor and as what became the final bill worked its way through to the House floor.

Democratic members of the U.S. Senate were hopeful their version of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package would be passed the second week of March, so they could send it to Biden for his signature before unemployment assistance expires March 14.

The measure includes $246 billion for extending unemployment benefits through August and increasing the federal supplemental payment from $300 per week to $400.

The House, which included this provision, will likely have to vote again on its version to reconcile any changes the Senate may make.

Besides the Catholic bishops, a number of national pro-life organizations decried the absence of Hyde language in the American Rescue Plan.

March for Life’s president, Jeanne Mancini, said that “pro-abortion Democrats are using this bill to push through billions of dollars in subsidies for abortions, not only here in the U.S. but also abroad.”

Other critics of the legislation complained that only 9 percent of the total is earmarked for pandemic relief.

News reports said Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate were concerned about the size and scope of the bill, which includes $350 billion to help state and local governments bridge budget shortfalls.

The American Rescue Plan bill includes $17 billion for vaccine-related activities and programs and $110 billion for other efforts to contain the pandemic; $130 billion for public schools; and $143 billion to expand child tax credit, child care tax credit and earned income tax credit mostly for one year.

Other provisions include $45 billion to temporarily expand Affordable Care Act subsidies for two years and subsidize 2020 and 2021 coverage; $50 million for family planning; $25 billion for grants to restaurants and bars; $7 billion to allow more loans under the Paycheck Protection Program; and $6 billion to increase nutrition assistance.

The House bill also provides for checks of $1,400 to go to individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year, heads of households earning $112,500 or married couples earning $150,000. Eligible dependents, including adult dependents, also would each get $1,400.

But after Biden agreed to smaller income levels for stimulus checks, Senate leaders March 3 said they’d put the eligibility at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for joint tax filers, down from $80,000 and $160,000 respectively.

The House measure also mandates phasing in a hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Minimum wage is not in the Senate version; the Senate parliamentarian said under budget rules, it cannot be considered.