Catholic leaders and advocates of religious liberty threw their support behind newly proposed federal legislation that would offer additional conscience protection in the realm of health care.
“I welcome the Health Care Conscience Rights Act and call for its swift passage into law,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
“While federal laws are on the books protecting conscience rights in health care, this Act would make such protection truly effective,” the archbishop said in a March 5 statement.
“This overdue measure is especially needed in light of new challenges to conscience rights arising from the federal health care reform act,” he added.
Chief among the concerns voiced by the U.S. bishops is a health care mandate requiring employers to offer insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their deeply-held religious beliefs.
The mandate is currently the subject of numerous lawsuits brought by more than 130 plaintiffs across the country who say that it forces them to act against their religious convictions in violation of the First Amendment.
To counter the mandate, a group of 50 lawmakers, led by Representative Diane Black (R-Tenn.), introduced the Health Care Conscience Rights Act into the U.S. House of Representatives on March 4.
The bill would exempt employers with religious objections to the mandate. It would also protect doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to participate in the provision of abortion or contraception due to their sincere religious beliefs.
The Catholic Association, a public advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., welcomed the decision, calling it a “fair and reasonable solution to the controversy that continues to engulf the mandate.”
“We commend Representative Black for her leadership in seeking protection for the rights of conscience in the health care arena that have come under assault from the Obama Administration,” added Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the organization.
“A pluralistic and tolerant society should not force a healthcare worker to participate in abortion procedures, nor a Christian employer to provide abortion-inducing drugs for employees,” she said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, welcomed the text of the bill but stressed that it must be included in legislation to continue funding the federal government so that it can be passed in a timely manner.
“This bill's language must be included in must-pass legislation to ensure that the First Amendment-guaranteed religious liberties of all Americans are protected,” Perkins stressed.
“Failure to include it will result in thousands of religious organizations being forced to comply or face severe fines for maintaining their religious convictions.”