WASHINGTON - The chairmen of two U.S. bishops' committees are
urging Congress to
pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 as an
"immediate federal remedy" for government "coercion on
"Disturbing new actions to force health care providers to
participate in the destruction of human life cry out for an
immediate federal remedy," said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of
New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a
statement released late July 7.
The cardinal is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on
Pro-Life Activities and the archbishop heads the Ad Hoc
Committee for Religious Liberty.
The Conscience Protection Act, or H.R. 4828, would provide
legal protection to doctors, nurses, hospitals and all health
care providers who choose not to provide abortions as part of
their health care practice.
Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori, who have issued previous
statements supporting H.R. 4828, pointed to three government
actions in recent months that show "coercion on abortion."
The first one they cited was a June 21 ruling issued by the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allows
California's Department of Managed Health Care, they said, to
"continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to
cover elective abortions, including late-term abortions."
In 2014, the state began demanding that all health plans
under its Department of Managed Health Care cover elective
abortions. The state allows no exemption of any kind.
The HHS ruling is "contrary to the plain meaning of current
federal law," Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said,
referring to the federal Weldon Amendment, enacted in 2005 to
protect the conscience rights of institutions and
The Catholic bishops and other supporters of H.R. 4828,
introduced by lawmakers last March, say it would address the
situation in California by closing several loopholes in
The bill was introduced in the Senate in May; S. 2927 has
been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions.
In their July 7 statement, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori
pointed to situations in two other states that they said
illustrate the need for enactment of the Conscience
Like California, New York state is mandating that all health
insurers operating in New York require small-group employers
- including faith-based nonprofits and Christian businesses -
to cover all abortions with no exemption.
"Even churches and religious organizations could be required
to cover some abortions in violation of their beliefs," the
The third example was a trial court in Washington state
ruling, also issued June 21, that public hospitals in that
state must perform abortions if they also offer maternity
services. Washington's attorney general says the requirement
applies even if a public hospital is acquired by a Catholic
health care provider.
The Conscience Protection Act would "ensure that those
providing much-needed health care and health coverage can
continue to do so without being forced by government to help
destroy innocent unborn children," Cardinal Dolan and
Archbishop Lori said.
They urged House members to "uphold the rights to life and
liberty which our Founding Fathers wisely asserted as most
fundamental to our nation's existence."
In a March letter to lawmakers, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop
Lori said that the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 "is very
similar to the abortion nondiscrimination provision that for
the last three years has been part of the House's Labor/HHS
"It takes the core policy of Weldon - protecting those who
decline to perform, pay for, refer for, or provide coverage
for abortion - and writes it into permanent law," the letter
said. "It clarifies the protections of Weldon, and adds a
private right of action to enforce this law and other
long-standing conscience laws on abortion."
Other signers of the letter included the Christian Medical
Association and Catholic Medical Association; the National
Council of Catholic Women; the March for Life Education and
Defense Fund; the National Association of Evangelicals; the
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission;
the Knights of Columbus; National Right to Life; and several
associations of physicians and nurses.