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November 20, 2017
Bishops push for Congress to support conscience rights in health care act
US Capitol at sunset. Credit: vgm8383 via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
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.- Just because you may oppose abortion doesn’t mean you should be denied comprehensive health care coverage, according to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

The two spoke last Friday, urging Congress to support the Health Care Conscience Rights Act in defense of conscientious objection.

“Government should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care because they cannot in conscience participate in destroying a developing human life or violate their conscience in other ways,” Archbishop Lori and Cardinal O’Malley together wrote in a letter to Congress.

The bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged Congress to support conscience rights in health care legislation, dwelling on the importance of maintaining protected civil rights when it comes to the issue of moral objections in health care.

Archbishop Lori and Cardinal O’Malley referred specifically to a recently introduced mandate in California that incorporates all elective abortions – including late term – into the state’s health care policy, insisting that all health care plans within the state include this mandate.

Although this policy violates civil rights protected by federal law, California is leaving no room for moral objections and will enforce the legislation in religious universities, schools and churches. Other states, such as Washington, have also adapted this mandate.

On the other side of the fence, Reps. Diane Black, John Fleming and Jeff Fortenberry have introduced the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940) which would protect individuals from purchasing health insurance when they have a moral or religious objection to what it covers.

This bill, which boasts bi-partisan support, would also incorporate a conscience clause into the Affordable Care Act, providing an option to deny the items in the health care plan which violate moral or religious values. The bishops believe Congress acting to support this bill is an obvious step in protecting basic civil rights of conscience.

Similar to the H.R. 940 bill is the Weldon amendment, which prevents the government from using received federal funds to discriminate against individuals who do not want to participate in health care that violates a religious belief.
This bill has been successfully approved in Congress for the past ten years, although it does not provide the right of private action.
 
This is especially significant, because if the Weldon amendment merged with the H.R. 940 bill, it would also provide the right to go to court to individuals who reject health care coverage on moral grounds.

“We hope Congress will agree that people whose civil rights on this point are violated have a right to go to court,” the bishops noted.

In fact, President Obama has expressed support for the Weldon amendment, maintaining that on a federal level at least, individuals have a protected civil right to choose not to be involved in an abortion when it comes to health insurance.

The issue is likely to get more heated before it cools down, given that California believes the penalty of funding withdrawal in the Weldon amendment is subject to challenge. Even if the mandate violates federal law, it will have to receive the red light from Congress before dying down, which is why the bishops are pleading with Congress to take heed.

“We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” the bishops continued, urging legislators to stand against the mandates that would deny health coverage to those with conscientious objections.