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Cardinal calls for passage of conscience-protection provisions

Catholic World News - July 19, 2012

Two conscience-protection provisions--the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act and the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act--have been included in the current draft of the House budget for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Labor.

“The Catholic community and many others concerned about religious freedom will work hard to ensure that these protections are enacted into law,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act codifies and strengthens the Hyde/Weldon amendment, which is designed to protect pro-life healthcare providers against discrimination.

“The effectiveness of Hyde/Weldon has been compromised by several factors,” Cardinal DiNardo said in a letter to members of the House of Representatives. “It can only be enforced by lodging a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, which in recent years has given a low priority to such claims and sometimes has itself been the perpetrator of discrimination. Hyde/Weldon’s only stated penalty for violations is the denial of all Labor/HHS funds to a state or other governmental entity, which has been criticized as both implausible and subject to legal challenge.”

“Instances of discrimination against pro-life health care providers continue to emerge, and some states implementing the Affordable Care Act have begun to claim that they can force all private health plans on their exchanges to cover elective abortion as an ‘essential health benefit,’” he continued.

Cardinal DiNardo added that the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act would “counter a policy that poses the most direct federal threat to religious freedom in recent memory”--the HHS mandate.

“While Congress in recent years has laudably sought to maximize access to health coverage, it has ignored a major obstacle to such access,” he said. “Neither individuals nor organizations can fully or willingly pursue active participation in our health care system if doing so requires them to abandon their most deeply held beliefs and convictions about right and wrong. Our government has a long history of respecting rights of conscience in health care, and the time is long overdue to reaffirm this laudable tradition in the face of today’s growing threats.”

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