US Bishops Urge Protection of Conscience Rights

Warn Against Potential Misuse of Health Care Law

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 6, 2011 ( The U.S. bishops are urging lawmakers to support a bipartisan bill upholding conscience rights for all who offer and purchase health insurance.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made this appeal in a letter sent today to members of the house of representatives.

He urged support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, introduced March 17 by Jeff Fortenberry and Dan Boren.

The prelate affirmed that this bill “will help ensure that the new health care reform act is not misused to violate the religious freedom and rights of conscience of those who offer and purchase health insurance coverage in our nation.”

He noted that “federal law, until now, has never prevented the issuers and purchasers of health coverage from negotiating a health plan that is consistent with their moral and religious convictions.”

The cardinal added, “This could change, however, with implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as now written.”

In particular, he expressed concern that the health care act “establishes a new list of ‘essential health benefits’ that will be mandatory for most health plans throughout the United States.”

Mandated services

The prelate noted in particular that “Planned Parenthood and other groups have been urging that mandated ‘preventive services for women’ include all drugs and devices approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] for contraception — including those that can prevent the implantation and survival of a newly conceived human being, and hence are seen as abortifacient by the Catholic Church and many others.”

“Mandated inclusion of contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs in health plans poses an obvious potential conflict with rights of conscience,” he asserted.

Cardinal DiNardo continued, “Such conflicts would also arise if [Health and Human Services] mandates inclusion of some fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, treatments using material from deliberately killed unborn children, or other procedures specifically rejected by the teachings of some religions.”

He asserted that the health care act “arbitrarily and inexplicably” fails to protect the “many religious denominations — including those providing the backbone of the nonprofit health care system in this country — whose moral teaching rejects specific procedures.”

“If religious and other stakeholders are driven out of the health insurance marketplace by this aspect of PPACA, legislation whose purpose was to expand health coverage could have the opposite effect,” the prelate warned.

He noted that the conscience protection bill “only prevents PPACA itself from being misused to deny Americans’ existing freedom to seek health care coverage that meets their medical needs and respects their deepest convictions.”

“I am sure that most members of congress voting for PPACA did not intend that it should deny or take away this freedom,” the cardinal concluded. “Therefore I hope and expect that representatives who supported PPACA as well as those who opposed it will join in co-sponsoring the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and in helping to ensure its enactment.”

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