Groups ask Congress to pass conscience protection for health care workers


WASHINGTON (CNS) — For decades,
Congress and U.S. presidents — both Republican and Democrat — have approved federal
laws “protecting conscientious objection to abortion,” but it is
increasingly clear current laws “offer far less protection in practice
than in theory,” said a group of faith-based, health care and pro-life

A group of 26 organizations made
the comments in a joint April 19 letter to members of the House of
Representatives urging them to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, or
H.R. 4828.

“Even many ‘pro-choice’
Americans realize that the logic of their position requires them to respect a
choice not to be involved in abortion,” the group said.

“We represent millions of
Americans and tens of thousands of health care professionals with a profound
concern about abortion, and particularly about the conscience rights of health
care professionals and facilities,” it added.

The letter pointed to several
loopholes in current law that it said would be addressed by the Conscience
Protection Act, introduced March 22 by Reps. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, and Vicky
Hartzler, R-Missouri. Fleming is a medical doctor.

One example of such a loophole is
taking place in California, it said. In 2014, the state began demanding that all
health plans under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Managed Health
Care — “even those purchased by churches and other religious organizations”
— cover elective abortions for any reason, “including late-term abortions
and those performed for reasons of ‘sex selection.'”

The state allows no exemption of
any kind, the letter said, noting that such a policy “flagrantly violates”
the Weldon Amendment, a federal law enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience
rights of institutions and individuals.

The California Catholic
Conference filed a complaint about the policy in September 2014 with the Office
of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To date,
that office has not acted on the complaint, the letter said.

H.R. 4828 “is very similar
to the abortion nondiscrimination provision that for the last three years has
been part of the House’s Labor/HHS appropriations bills,” the letter said.
“It takes the core policy of Weldon — protecting those who decline to perform,
pay for, refer for, or provide coverage for abortion — and writes it into
permanent law. It clarifies the protections of Weldon, and adds a private right
of action to enforce this law and other long-standing conscience laws on

Among the signers of the letter
are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Christian Medical Association
and Catholic Medical Association; the National Council of Catholic Women; the March
for Life Education and Defense Fund; the National Association of Evangelicals;
the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; the Knights of
Columbus; National Right to Life; and several associations of physicians and

The group’s letter follows a March 31
letter to House members from the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees urging
support for H.R. 4828 and noting its “modest scope.”

“While existing federal
laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this
protection has not proved effective in practice,” wrote New York Cardinal
Timothy M. Dolan and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who chair,
respectively, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life
Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.


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