The Senate's health bill suffers from a "fundamental failure" on the issue of abortion, representatives of America's Catholic bishops said Monday.

Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said the healthcare bill being debated by the Senate falls short on barring federal funding for abortion, providing coverage for immigrants, and providing affordable care to all Americans.

"If in fact this legislation were to be substantially improved in these three areas," said John Carr, the executive director of the group's Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, "the members of the Senate will have a letter from the bishops' conference saying that the bill is an urgent national priority."

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Carr said the abortion provision is a "fundamental failure" in the Senate bill, and the group urged the Senate to adopt language similar to the more expansive ban on abortion funding offered in the House by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

But although concerns about abortion top the bishops' concerns, the group said the Senate bill falls short on the other criteria.

"Congress has failed to write the right prescription" when it comes to allowing immigrants to buy coverage in the new health exchange, said Kevin Appleby, the director of USCCB's Office of Migration and Refugee Policy.

"In fairness, they should be eligible for the programs for which they paid taxes," Appleby said, adding that legal immigrants should be able to buy into plans (which they're not allowed to do in the Senate bill) and that they should be eligible for Medicaid.

"This is sound public policy which should take priority over partisan politics," he said.

Carr also said that the Senate bill fell short on making healthcare more affordable, and that the bishops preferred the House bill's solutions. He cautioned, though, that the church views abortion coverage as having more moral gravity than the other two criteria.

"The answer is that we have to look at the entire bill in terms of all our moral criteria.

We are not here to judge whether doing healthcare reform is the most efficient or cost-effective way. We've never really endorsed an overall healthcare bill that has a million things in it as this bill surely will.

Richard Doerflinger, the bishops' associate director and secretariat of pro-life activities, said that the Catholic Church isn't wedded to any one political solution to healthcare, but was instead most concerned about its criteria.

"The answer is that we have to look at the entire bill in terms of all our moral criteria," he said. "We are not here to judge whether doing healthcare reform is the most efficient or cost-effective way. We've never really endorsed an overall healthcare bill that has a million things in it as this bill surely will."

The group said that it was looking to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to improve the Senate bill on immigration, and said it hadn't secured a Senate sponsor for a version of the Stupak amendment.