WASHINGTON — In response to ongoing controversy over the federal contraception mandate, a diverse coalition of more than 30 pro-life groups is urging Congress to include conscience protections in any new government funding legislation.
“There must be no religious ‘test’ by the government as to who, and what type of entities, are entitled to a conscience,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony List, one of the groups in the Call to Conscience campaign.
“Congress must act immediately to ensure the right of citizens to be free from government compulsion of this most fundamental issue,” she said.
The campaign is found at Call2Conscience.com, a grassroots action center where people who wish to uphold conscience and faith can contact their elected officials.
The initiative is calling on legislators to attach conscience protections to any essential legislation, such as continuing resolutions to fund the federal government. Federal spending cuts of more than $85 million will automatically go into effect unless Congress comes to an agreement on a spending and taxation deal by Feb. 28.
The pro-life groups joining the coalition include both national and local groups, such as American Catholics for Religious Freedom, Anglicans for Life and Colorado Christian Outdoorsmen. Other coalition members include the Association of Christian Schools International, Hispanic Leadership Fund and Oregon Right to Life.
The coalition’s efforts come in response to the contraception mandate that requires employers across the country to offer health-insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Although the Obama administration has proposed “accommodations” for the religious freedom of groups that object to the mandate, the Call to Conscience group believes that the suggestions fail to protect Americans’ conscience rights under the First Amendment.
“The so-called HHS mandate opt-out is not really an opt-out,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of the coalition member Students for Life of America.
She stressed that the First Amendment’s religious-freedom protections must apply to all people, not only those to whom the Obama administration has decided to give exemptions.
“We must enact comprehensive conscience protections immediately to ensure our rights are upheld,” she said.
Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, added that “Congress is the last line of defense for religious liberty, and they need to pass strong conscience legislation today.”
The Call to Conscience initiative follows a national postcard campaign launched by the U.S. bishops’ conference encouraging Catholic parishioners to write their legislators urging conscience protections.
In a Feb. 15 letter to Congress, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said, “I fear that the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives.”
He indicated that there has been “a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power.”