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Baltimore Archbishop William Lori chairman of USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious LibertyLisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Two of the nation's top Catholic leaders wrote to every member of the U.S. Congress, urging them to enact the Conscience Protection Act.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, appealed to Congress in their official capacity to pass legislation protecting Christian healthcare providers and other moral health coverage entities from “being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

In the July 7 letter the two bishops pointed out to legislators “serious new reasons to urge your immediate action to enact the Conscience Protection Act.”

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori wrote. “Since then, three new developments make the need for immediate action to pass the Conscience Protection Act even more urgent.”

Dolan and Lori noted that last month “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared, contrary to the plain meaning of current federal law, that California's Department of Managed Health Care can continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions, including late-term abortions.”

On June 21, the Obama administration ruled against two Catholic universities, requiring them to cover elective abortions in their insurance plans – even though the schools object to abortion based on religious principles.

The second “serious new reason” the bishops list, is “the state of New York's Department of Financial Services … forcing healthcare entities to cover abortions in health plans … including faith-based nonprofits and Christian businesses … with no exemption whatsoever.”

“The current administration, led by the Department of Health and Human Services, has been engaging in a frontal assault on religious freedom and conscience protections, particularly with regard to abortion.”

New York Catholic churches and charity groups are suing the state Department of Financial Services over the abortion mandates.

“Even churches and religious organizations could be required to cover some abortions, in violation of their beliefs,” the bishops' letter states.

The third reason prompting the bishops to write is a Washington state judge's ruling forcing hospitals to perform abortions. The judicial fiat specifically cites as its logic that if a hospital provides maternity care, it must also provide abortion “services” on site.

The bishops added, “What's more, a 2013 opinion by Washington's Attorney General applies this policy even if the public hospital is acquired by a Catholic healthcare provider.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori concluded, “These disturbing new actions to force healthcare providers to participate in the destruction of human life cry out for an immediate federal remedy.”

“Even those who disagree on the issue of abortion should be able to respect those who wish not to participate in abortion. We strongly urge you to uphold the rights to life and liberty which our Founding Fathers wisely asserted as most fundamental to our nation's existence.”

Rick Hinshaw of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil rights told LiteSiteNews, “The Conscience Protection Act should not even be necessary; and wouldn't be, if laws already passed — not to mention the religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution — were being respected. But the current administration, led by the Department of Health and Human Services, has been engaging in a frontal assault on religious freedom and conscience protections, particularly with regard to abortion.”

Hinshaw charged that the Obama Administration is “threatening to undermine the moral and ethical principles that are the very essence of Catholic healthcare, and that make Catholic healthcare institutions such vital and sought-after resources for millions of Americans.”

Hinshaw noted that the Administration's decree against California Catholic schools is “in flagrant disregard of the 2005 Weldon Amendment, which specifically prohibits states from forcing any healthcare entity to provide abortions.”

“In the face of such blatant attacks on religious freedom, it is essential that Congress pass the Conscience Protection Act,” Hinshaw concluded.

Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, president of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), agrees. “The Catholic Medical Association fully supports the passage of the Conscience Protection Act,” he told LifeSiteNews in an email. “The CMA supports the Constitution of the United States, which supports the God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — the latter of which guarantees the right to live and act according to one's conscience.”

Dr. Ruppersberger also noted the Weldon Amendment “guaranteed this freedom,” and the Conscience Protection Act “will continue and enhance those protections.”

The Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828), introduced in March, is designed to make permanent the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Amendment protections against employers forcing employees to participate in abortions, approved by Congress and retained as a clause in appropriations bills annually since 2004.

H.R. 4828 would also eliminate loopholes in the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Amendment, because it does not allow victims whose employers forced them to participate in abortions under threat of losing their job to go to court. It also leaves employee protection entirely in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services — “which in some cases has been the perpetrator of the discrimination, and in other cases has given this issue a low priority,” the bishops note.  

In 2010, a federal court ruled that despite the Hyde/Weldon amendments and even a Church amendment designed to preserve the rights of religious objectors, a pro-life nurse doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion. In fact, the only consequence for violating the Hyde/Weldon clause is a limitation of federal funds — something critics say will never be implemented.

Furthermore, pro-lifers say the Conscience Protection Act is desperately needed because the Hyde/Weldon clause does not apply to a subunit of state government not receiving federal funds.

In a most recent development, the President-elect of the Catholic Medical Association, Dr. Marie Alberte Boursiquot, testified before the Energy and Commerce Commission last Friday, encouraging the passage of the Conscience Protection Act.

“This Act will strengthen other existing laws to allow healthcare providers to practice medicine according to their consciences while still providing excellent healthcare to their patients,” CMA told LifeSiteNews.


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