Bishops Urge Support for the Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Congress should reaffirm the principle that government “should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care” because of a conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. In a February 13 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged legislators to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).

“It is increasingly obvious that Congress needs to act to protect conscientious objection to the taking of innocent human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. “Recently California’s Department of Managed Health Care began demanding that all health plans under its jurisdiction include elective abortions, including late-term abortions. This mandate has no exemption for religious or moral objections, and is being enforced against religious universities, schools and even churches. Similar proposals have emerged in Washington and other states.”

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The bishops noted that the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) section of the bill would give firmer legal basis to the Weldon amendment, part of every Labor/HHS appropriations bill since 2004, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. They noted that President Obama has expressed support for the Weldon amendment.

In addition, the bishops said that H.R. 940 would incorporate respect for rights of conscience into the Affordable Care Act, allowing those who purchase, provide and sponsor health coverage under the Act to opt out of abortion or other specific items that violate their moral and religious convictions. Finally the bill would recognize a private right of action for victims of discrimination under either provision, so they can go to court to defend their rights.

“We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” the bishops concluded.

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