A bill that would protect health care providers’ freedom to opt-out of abortion mandates they find objectionable has once again been introduced in Congress.
“This bill is needed to give health care providers the right to
provide medical care without violating their deeply held beliefs,” Sen.
James Lankford, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, stated on Friday.
“Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should
not force anyone to participate in it or provide coverage,” he added.
The Conscience Protection Act would protect health care providers
from federal, state, and local abortion mandates if they conscientiously
object to assisting with abortions. It would also protect religious
employers from having to cover elective abortions in their health plans,
and establishes a “right of action” for all entities if they believe
their religious beliefs on the matter are violated.
The bill was introduced in Congress last year and passed the House 245-182, but did not receive a vote in the Senate.
Its sponsors say that doctors religiously objecting to abortion are
not sufficiently protected from abortion mandates. Medical professionals
must file a grievance with the civil rights office at the Department of
Health and Human Services, and some complaints reportedly sit undecided
for months or years.
Some states have already been forcing religious employers to offer
abortion coverage and have coerced health providers into assisting or
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who introduced the Conscience Protection
Act in the House, pointed to California and New York abortion mandates
as examples of this, including the case of a New York nurse who in 2009
was forced to assist with an abortion.
Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, said
the hospital coerced her into helping with an abortion there. She
requested an investigation by the HHS, which in 2013 found that the
hospital had to change its policies to accommodate employees with
conscientious objections to abortion.
California recently forced all employers, including religious groups,
to cover elective abortions in their health plans. Last June, the
former head of the HHS civil rights office ruled that religious groups
which opposed California’s mandate were not protected and would have to
comply with it.
In light of these incidents, last March leading U.S. bishops asked Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.
The bill would “address the deficiencies that block effective
enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private
right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own
rights in court,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop
William Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement in March of 2016.
Other religious groups pushed for Congress to pass the bill last
year, including the Christ Medicus Foundation, a non-profit which
advocates for Catholic teaching and ethics in health care.
“Conscience is the sacred space of human dignity where persons
exercise their sincerely held, reasoned beliefs,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry
(R-Neb.), another sponsor of the bill, said on Friday. “It is a true
poverty that this most cherished American principle is under assault,
violating the good of persons and communities.”