Bishops plead for conscience protections on abortion

Bishops plead for conscience protections on abortion

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, answers a question during a press conference at the U.S. bishops' annual fall meeting. Pictured at right is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. (Credit: CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec.)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore have written members of Congress to urge passage of the “Conscience Protection Act of 2016,” citing recent cases in California, New York and Washington in which faith-based facilities have faced orders to provide abortions.

Two senior American prelates have written members of the U.S. Congress pleading for new conscience protections to ensure that faith-based institutions, especially health care facilities, are not compelled to become complicit in abortion.

The letter urging passage of the “Conscience Protection Act of 2016” was signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who heads the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William Lori, who heads the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The bill’s sponsor is Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a Republican and a Southern Baptist. It would amend the Public Health Service Act to bar federal, state and local governments from penalizing or discriminating against a health care provider based on the provider’s refusal to be involved in, or provide coverage for, abortion.

The bill is currently before a Congressional subcommittee, and it’s unclear if or when it may be brought forward for a vote.

In their July 7 letter, Dolan and Lori argue that three recent events have underlined the importance of passing the new legislation.

First, they cite a June 21 decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that California’s Department of Managed Health Care has the authority to compel all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions, including late-term abortions.

Second, Dolan and Lori point to the fact that New York’s Department of Financial Services has adopted a similar stance to California’s. Effective January 1, 2016, New York requires small group employers — including faith-based nonprofits and Christian businesses — to cover abortions.

Third, they cite a June 21 ruling by Skagit County Superior Court in Washington state holding that public hospitals must do abortions if they also offer maternity care.

Skagit Regional Health was referring women to abortion clinics because none of its physicians and nurse practitioners are willing to do perform the procedure, but the court held the facility must offer abortions on-site. In addition, a 2013 opinion by Washington’s Attorney General applies this policy even if the public hospital is acquired by a Catholic healthcare provider.

“These disturbing new actions to force healthcare providers to participate in the destruction of human life cry out for an immediate federal remedy,” Dolan and Lori write.  “Even those who disagree on the issue of abortion should be able to respect those who wish not to participate in abortion.”

“As we continue to bask in the glow of our Fourth of July celebrations, 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,” the two prelates write.

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