The bill, which would prevent the government from discriminating against any health care provider who refuses to “perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion,” also allows victims of discrimination to sue in civil court.
The law would codify into law the Weldon Amendment, an amendment passed every year since 2004 but which Republicans and the U.S. Catholic bishops say the Obama administration has ignored.
On the House floor today, several Republicans quoted President Obama's 2009 speech at Notre Dame, in which he said, “Let us honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause” related to ObamaCare.
Congress also heard the story of Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, a New York nurse who says her hospital forced to participate in the dismemberment abortion of a 22-week-old baby. After the abortion, she had to count the baby's limbs, a process she had described as “a horror film unfolding.”
President Obama announced yesterday that he will veto the Conscience Protection Act if it reaches his desk, because it “would have the consequence of limiting women's health care choices.”
Democrats: The bill allows “discrimination against women”
Several House Democrats tried to position the bill as a misogynist measure intended to deny women “access” to their “constitutionally protected” right to abortion-on-demand by no longer requiring all employers to pay for its coverage. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, said pro-life lawmakers secretly hope “to use the premise of religion to allow further discrimination against women. We must not let them succeed.”
“We see your bias. We see your intent. And we won't let you enshrine discrimination into federal law,” he said.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, said that “this terrible bill” ultimately “leaves the decision whether a woman can have an abortion or not in the hands of her boss.”
“It is crazy that we're here debating a bill like this,” McGovern said. “We have better things to do.”
“When will the Republicans' war on women ever end?” asked New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone.
But Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, called his argument “disgusting” and a “red herring.”
“This bill would allow employers to continue to have the freedom to decline to pay for abortions,” she said.
“Conservatives don't ask for bosses to purchase weapons protected under the Second Amendment. Why must my progressive colleagues ask private citizens to pay for the death of a child?” she asked.
Republicans: Conscience is “sacred space”
“This is about private health insurance plans of Catholic dioceses, religious schools, and others who have been ordered to violate their deeply held convictions,” agreed Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, the co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. “The Obama administration's refusal to enforce the civil right of conscience is not only unfair and unjustified, it violates the rule of law.”
Some Democrats agree the bill is motivated by conscience but felt its protections were too robust. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, said the proposal “allows health professionals to object to providing abortions for moral or religious reasons. The Conscience Protection Act would take this concept to a new extreme.”
Some feel Americans also enjoy too much freedom of conscience. “There's already plenty of evidence that current conscience provisions jeopardize women's health and safety,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO.
But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, said, “Conscience is the sacred space of human dignity.” And Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who chairs the House Select Panel on Infant Lives, called religious freedom “a cornerstone of our Constitution.”
Protecting “the other right to choose”
The bill, originally introduced in the Senate by South Dakota's John Thune on an unrelated topic, is now amended in full with the abortion conscience measure backed for years in the House by Congressmen John Fleming, R-LA, and Diane Black, R-TN.
Speaker Paul Ryan, who testified on the House floor this afternoon, said the two “have done the Lord's work” by introducing the bill. “I'm thankful for these warriors.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also commended the pair. Rep. Fleming is a doctor and Rep. Black is a nurse, he noted.
Congresswoman Black spoke several times, saying that Democrats who call themselves “pro-choice” must protect “the other right to choose, as well: the right not to choose to partner in the practice of abortion.”
The amended bill must now be approved by the Senate.
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