WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees are urging Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 as an “immediate federal remedy” for government “coercion on abortion.”
“Disturbing new actions to force health care providers to participate in the destruction of human life cry out for an immediate federal remedy,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a statement released late July 7.
The cardinal is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the archbishop heads the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
The Conscience Protection Act, or H.R. 4828, would provide legal protection to doctors, nurses, hospitals and all health care providers who choose not to provide abortions as part of their health care practice.
Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori, who have issued previous statements supporting H.R. 4828, pointed to three government actions in recent months that show “coercion on abortion.”
The first one they cited was a June 21 ruling issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allows California’s Department of Managed Health Care, they said, to “continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions, including late-term abortions.”
In 2014, the state began demanding that all health plans under its Department of Managed Health Care cover elective abortions. The state allows no exemption of any kind.
The HHS ruling is “contrary to the plain meaning of current federal law,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said, referring to the federal Weldon Amendment, enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of institutions and individuals.
The Catholic bishops and other supporters of H.R. 4828, introduced by lawmakers last March, say it would address the situation in California by closing several loopholes in current law.
The bill was introduced in the Senate in May; S. 2927 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
In their July 7 statement, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori pointed to situations in two other states that they said illustrate the need for enactment of the Conscience Protection Act.
Like California, New York state is mandating that all health insurers operating in New York require small-group employers — including faith-based nonprofits and Christian businesses — to cover all abortions with no exemption.
“Even churches and religious organizations could be required to cover some abortions in violation of their beliefs,” the prelates said.
The third example was a trial court in Washington state ruling, also issued June 21, that public hospitals in that state must perform abortions if they also offer maternity services. Washington’s attorney general says the requirement applies even if a public hospital is acquired by a Catholic health care provider.
The Conscience Protection Act would “ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said.
They urged House members to “uphold the rights to life and liberty which our Founding Fathers wisely asserted as most fundamental to our nation’s existence.”
In a March letter to lawmakers, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said that the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 “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.”
“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,” the letter said. “It clarifies the protections of Weldon, and adds a private right of action to enforce this law and other long-standing conscience laws on abortion.”
Other signers of the letter included 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 nurses.