WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 ( – Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has urged U.S. Congressmen to pass the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

H.R. 940 was introduced by Rep. Diane Black, R-TN, on March 4, and seeks to protect the rights of pro-life employers and health care workers. The bill has 66 co-sponsors.

According to O’Malley, protections for conscience rights, which have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, “are under greatly increased pressure today.”


He cited the mandate for coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs under the Affordable Care Act's “preventive services” provision, known as the HHS mandate.

H.R. 940 would provide full exemption from the HHS mandate, as well as enshrine conscience protections for individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers because of their deeply held beliefs. 

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A press conference announcing the introduction of the legislation earlier this month included a nurse who had been forced to participate in a late-term abortion, and representatives of Hercules Industries Inc., who are fighting the HHS mandate in court. 

“Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of American society through a network of schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities,” Cardinal O’Malley wrote in a March 8 letter to Congress. “These institutions, which have been part of the Church's ministry since the earliest days of the Republic, arose from religious conviction. They provide a substantial savings to communities and states throughout the nation, and we believe they contribute to the common good.” 

“The legal protections which allow us to fulfill our obligation to serve others, without compromising our religious or moral convictions, are essential to the continued vitality of these ministries,” he said.

The cardinal also referred representatives to a letter written by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, who explained the need for such legislation in greater detail. 

“A failure to provide clear and enforceable protection for a right of conscience could undermine Americans' access to quality health care,” said O’Malley. 

“Providers of health care, as well as those who offer or purchase insurance, should not face an unacceptable choice between preserving their religious and moral integrity or participating in our health care system,” the cardinal wrote. 

He closed by urging support for the bill and the incorporation of its policies into upcoming “must-pass” legislation.