Since the announcement of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would force religious employers to violate their consciences and pay for abortion-causing drugs, sterilization and contraception, much misinformation has been bantered about regarding health care, Catholic Church teaching and the impact this new regulation will ultimately have.

On Feb. 10, the Obama Administration announced some “accommodations” to the original rule, but, by the end of the day, the original rule was published without change. Promises were made that more regulations might be developed, but the “accommodations,” if made, will still force religious employers to pay for abortion-causing drugs, sterilization and contraception – either directly or through money paid to an insurance company.

Further, the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s dioceses and Catholic Charities agencies are self-insured, meaning they are both the employer and insurer. Despite the fact that the Church raised this issue throughout the debate dating back to July 2011, the clear violation of conscience for self-insured religious institutions was not addressed in the “accommodations.” Therefore, most of Pennsylvania’s dioceses and Catholic Charities agencies will be required to directly pay for medications and procedures that violate their religious beliefs. The “accommodations” have changed nothing for them.

Fixes for this problem could come in the form of legislative correction via The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S 1467 and HR 1179), litigation that overturns the mandate or a change in the rule by HHS.

On March 1, a vote was taken on the “Blunt Amendment,” which contained the text of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. Both Sen. Toomey and Sen. Casey voted to uphold religious liberty. However, with a final vote of 51-48, the amendment did not pass. Next, HR 1179 will be considered in the House, and it already has nearly 220 co-sponsors. A strong vote in the House will help advance the cause of religious liberty. Please consider contacting Sen. Casey and Sen. Toomey to thank them for their vote, and contact your congressmen and women to ask for their support and co-sponsorship of HR 1179.

You can contact your legislator via or by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Do not be confused: religious liberty now and for the future is at stake in this debate. Will you stand up for our First Amendment right to exercise freely our religion – both on Sundays at Mass AND the rest of the week?

Shea is Outreach Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.

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Update on Legislation

Both Sen. Toomey and Sen. Casey voted in favor of the Blunt Amendment, which mirrored the language in SB 1467. The final vote was 51-48. However, the amendment was ultimately tabled. The next vote will take place in the House of Representatives.

Pennsylvania Co-sponsors on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act:

SB 1467

Sen. Pat Toomey

HR 1179

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny, Butler, Beaver, Lawrence, Mercer, Westmoreland)

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Columbia, Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne, Lackwanna)

Rep. Mark Critz (D-Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, Westmoreland)

Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks, Montgomery, Philadelphia)

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Berks, Chester, Lehigh, Montgomery)

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Armstrong, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Mercer, Venango, Warren)

Rep. Tom Marino (R–Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, Wyoming)

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R–Delaware, Chester, Berks)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny, Beaver, Washington, Westmoreland)

Rep. Todd Platts (R-Adams, Cumberland, York)

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Fayette, Indiana, Perry, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Somerset, Cambria, Mifflin, Juniata)

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mifflin, Potter, Clearfield, Crawford, Lycoming, Tioga, Warren, Venango)