WASHINGTON — Cardinal
Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore have
urged the House and Senate to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.
They called it "essential legislation protecting the
fundamental rights of health care providers ... to 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."
The two prelates made the plea in a joint letter dated Feb. 8 and
released Feb. 10 by the USCCB.
Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life
Activities and Archbishop Lori is chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for
In the Senate, the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is known as
S. 301, and in the other chamber it is H.R. 644. The companion bills 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
In the House, Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee and Jeff
Fortenberry of Nebraska introduced the measure Jan. 24. Republican Sen. James
Lankford of Oklahoma sponsored it in the Senate Feb. 3 and it now has at least
"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 noted, citing recent
examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.
Last June, they said, the federal Department of Health and Human
Services Office for Civil Rights declared that the state of California could
"continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover
elective abortions — in violation of the plain text of the Weldon
Amendment." Weldon was enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of
institutions and individuals.
"The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies
that block effective enforcement of existing laws," they said, "most
notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of
discrimination to defend their own rights in court."