Bishops Back Federal Bill Protecting Pro-Life Conscience Rights

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act would provide stronger medical conscience protections against state abortion laws.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops are imploring Congress to enact stronger medical-conscience protections against state abortion laws by passing the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA).

“We want to underscore the increasingly urgent need for Congress to protect rights of conscience with regard to the taking of innocent human life,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston stated in a letter to all members of Congress.

Archbishop Lori chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Cardinal O’Malley heads the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“Government should not force hospitals, doctors, nurses and other providers to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care because they cannot in conscience participate in destroying a developing human life,” the bishops told U.S. lawmakers.

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act would strengthen the rights of those persons or institutions facing legal action over their refusal in conscience to perform abortions.

The bishops gave multiple examples of parties being coerced by authorities to perform abortions or pay for abortion coverage. Most recently, the state of California forced two Catholic colleges to include abortion coverage in employee health plans, in a move that Bishop Robert McElroy, the auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, called “coercive” and “discriminatory”; he said that it “directly targeted” Catholic universities.

In such cases, aggrieved individuals or groups may file a complaint with the Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. A legal provision known as the Weldon Amendment prohibits governmental bodies receiving federal funds from discriminating against individuals who choose not to partake in abortions out of conscience.

However, the bishops argued that this protection is not enough because it doesn’t explicitly guarantee the rights of persons to defend themselves in court. In addition, the U.S. bishops’ conference has argued that when complaints are filed with the HHS, the agency has sometimes downplayed the importance of such cases or “has been the perpetrator of the discrimination.”

For instance, a New York nurse had to wait until 2013 for her complaint to be resolved by HHS — after she had to help with a “gruesome dismemberment” of a 22-week-old baby in 2009, the bishops’ conference said.

“ANDA would make more effective and permanent the protections of the Weldon conscience amendment,” the bishops’ conference stated.

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate but never received a vote. In the House, it was attached to an appropriations bill for 2013 but was not made law, as government funding was enacted through a continuing resolution.

In discussing conscience protections in medicine, the bishops’ conference has warned that many pro-life doctors could abandon their medical practices rather than violate their consciences to obey abortion mandates, ultimately harming patients.

“If a doctor is told he must perform abortions, he is being ordered to violate his deepest convictions in order to keep practicing medicine — even though the Hippocratic Oath that has formed the basis for medical ethics for many centuries rejects abortion,” the conference said in an October informational form.

“If these medical professionals are forced out of medicine, millions of pro-life Americans will lose their right to receive care from healers who respect and share their moral convictions about the life-affirming purpose of medicine.”