The U.S. House of Representatives advanced legislation July 13 promoting freedom of conscience, protecting pro-life employers and healthcare workers from being complicit in the practice of abortion.
“If we don’t have the right to abide by our own consciences—particularly on a matter as deeply affecting as abortion—we don’t have much left, do we?” asked Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., the primary sponsor of the bill.
The Conscience Protection Act prohibits government discrimination against healthcare providers and sponsors for refusing to perform or provide coverage for abortions. And it gives healthcare workers a legal recourse if penalized for refusing to perform a procedure they deem morally wrong. After passing 244 to 182 in the House, the bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
In 2009, New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital threatened to charge Cathy DeCarlo, a Catholic nurse, with insubordination if she did not assist in an abortion. DeCarlo filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and waited three years for a resolution. She then filed a lawsuit, but an appeals court threw out her case, claiming she had no legal standing.
“This is a disturbing trend. And what’s even more disturbing is that the federal government has not been protecting people’s rights,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “That’s why this bill makes it perfectly clear: People of faith have standing, and they deserve relief.”
At a Capitol Hill forum last week Fe Vinoya, a nurse from New Jersey, told lawmakers healthcare workers need a safeguard from participating in the destruction of human life that violates her religious convictions and conflicts with her calling as a medical professional to protect life, not end it.
“No one should be forced to have an abortion; no one should be forced to participate in an abortion, and no one should be discriminated against for refusing to collaborate in an abortion,” said. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill. “Certainly no one—nurses, doctors or other healthcare providers—should be forced to help carry out an abortion against their conscience.”
Democrats scolded Republicans on the House floor while debating the bill, calling it a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a political game to rally the support of party hardliners before next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., argued the bill is a ruse in its efforts to associate it with religious liberty when the goal is to bypass Roe v. Wade.
“The bill leaves the decision of whether a woman can have an abortion or not up to her boss,” he said. “It is crazy that we are here debating a bill like this. It basically removes a woman from the equation in the decision to have an abortion.”
McGovern said low-income workers would be subject to the whim of their employers, should they choose a healthcare plan that does not provide coverage for abortions.
Twelve years ago, Congress passed the Weldon Amendment on a bipartisan basis to protect pro-life Americans from participating in abortions against their will, but states governed by a Democratic majority are finding ways to circumvent it.
In 2014, California’s Department of Managed Health Care ordered that all health insurance plans—including ones offered by churches and Christian universities—must have coverage for elective abortion.
New York recently passed a similar mandate, and Republicans fear more states will follow. Black’s bill seeks to reaffirm the Weldon Amendment and give individuals like DeCarlo their right to have their day in court if they are discriminated against because of their views on abortion.
During floor debates, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., pointed out that President Barack Obama has already said he will veto the law if it comes to his desk and that deliberating the Conscience Protection Act is a waste of time.
But pro-life advocates say passing the bill in the House is a victory worth celebrating.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List organization said it’s critical to keep fighting for conscience protections even if President Obama continues to stonewall.
“It is an important thing for the American people see the president use his pen and his power to reject a bill that protects their freedom,” Dannenfelser told me. “This law affirms the free exercise of religion, and without that, our country falls.”
— by Evan Wilt