Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are urged to take part on the weekend of May 20-21 in a nationwide program called Take Action Sunday, in which parishioners are asked to contact their members of Congress to support the Conscience Protection Act.

The bill would codify into permanent law protection for health care providers who do not wish to have abortion coverage in their health plans.

“Passage of the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) continues to be a top legislative priority for the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities and a call to action has been issued,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a recent letter to parishes.

The provisions of the CPA mirror what has since the 1990s been known as the Weldon Amendment, an provision tacked on to annual appropriation bills and named for Florida Rep. Dave Weldon, who first introduced it.

By passing the CPA it would be no longer necessary to add the amendment to the appropriations bills each year.

The Weldon Amendment is similar in structure but different in meaning to the annual Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal funding for abortions in certain instances.

The proposed CPA bill “will write into permanent law the core policy of the Weldon Amendment, which protects those who decline to perform, pay for, refer for, or provide coverage for abortion,” according to a letter issued by HLA (Human Life Action), which serves the legislative agenda of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The CPA also clarifies the protection of Weldon and adds a private right to action to enforce this law and other longstanding conscience laws on abortion.”

The latter is important, because under the Obama administration the amendment was not enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when California chose to ignore it and the right of individuals to sue was not spelled out.

Last year a similar CPA bill was proposed but never enacted. It is hoped this year with a stronger pro-life presence in Congress and a more receptive federal administration, it can be enacted.

This year’s bill, HR 644, was introduced on Jan. 24 by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.).

A summary, which could change in a final version, reads: “This bill amends the public service Act to codify the prohibition against the federal government and state and local governments to receive federal financial assistance for health-related activities penalizing or discriminating against a health care provider based on the provider’s refusal to be involved in or provide coverage for abortion. Health care providers include health care professionals, health care facilities, social service providers, health care professional programs and health insurers.

“The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services in coordination with the Department of Justice (DOJ) must oversee complaints alleging discrimination based on an individual’s religious belief, moral belief, moral conviction or refusal to be involved in an abortion.

“DOJ or any equity adversely affected by such discrimination may obtain equitable or legal relief in a civil action. Administrative remedies do not need to be sought or exhausted prior to commencing an action or granting relief. Such an action may be brought against a government entity.”

All of the materials needed to implement Take Action Sunday at the parish level can be found on HLA’s website

This includes everything from a “how-to” video to model church bulletins to pulpit announcements and step-by-step directions to guide parish volunteers.