Conscience Protection in Health Care Seen as 'Must-Pass' Legislation

US Bishops Call Congress to Act on HHS Mandate

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«Preserving religious freedom and the right of conscience for all who take part in our health care system» is an increasingly grave concern as Congress considers «must-pass» legislation in the days ahead, said the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In a September 26 letter to the House and Senate, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said the policy of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204) should be incorporated into must-pass legislation such as the Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill. Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori chair the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.

«Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of U.S. society through schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities,» wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. «These institutions, which have been part of the Church’s ministry since the earliest days of our country, arose from religious convictions. They should not be told by government to abandon or compromise those convictions in order to continue serving their own employees or the neediest Americans. Nor should individual Catholics or others be told they cannot legally purchase or provide health coverage unless they violate their conscience.»

Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori identified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) preventive services mandate, which requires virtually all employers to include female sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives in their employee health care plans, as a particular threat. «The mandate includes drugs and devices that can act against a human life after fertilization, implicating our moral teaching on abortion as well as contraception,» they wrote.

«We make our plea as religious leaders who strongly support universal access to health care,» they added. «Such access is threatened by Congress’s continued failure to protect the right of conscience. Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health care system.»

Full text of the letter is available online:

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