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Catholics for Choice leader rips conscience provisions for Catholic institutions

November 03, 2011

At Rep. Joseph Pitts’s November 2 hearing--entitled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?”--Republicans and Democrats clashed over conscience rights. The Department of Health and Human Services has imposed “a nationwide mandate for coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs (including at least one abortion drug similar to RU-486), sterilization procedures, and education and counseling to promote these to ‘all women with reproductive capacity,’” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo recently noted.

“We have the federal Department of Health and Human Services forcing every single person in this country to pay for services that they may morally oppose,” said Rep. Pitts. “Whether one supports or opposes the healthcare law, we should universally support the notion that the federal government should be prohibited from taking coercive actions to force people to abandon their religious principles.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) opposed conscience-protection provisions as a burden on patients. “If you have moral convictions, you can keep them,” he said. “Just don’t try to impose them on everybody else.”

Testifying in favor of conscience protection were William Cox of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association, and Jane Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, was called by congressional Democrats to testifying at the hearing. “On a number of occasions the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has stated publicly that [the group] is not a Catholic organization, does not speak for the Catholic Church, and in fact promotes positions contrary to the teaching of the Church as articulated by the Holy See and the NCCB,” Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza noted in 2000. “Having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other conservative Catholic organizations are now attempting to impose their personal beliefs on all people by seeking special protection for their ‘conscience rights,’” O’Brien testified at the hearing. “They claim to represent all Catholics when, in truth, theirs is the minority view.”

O’Brien continued:

Advocating for expansive refusal clauses in healthcare delivery regulations would affect all patients -- whether those patients are Catholic or not. Seeking exemptions for religious organizations to cover essential health benefits, such as full coverage of recommended preventive services including contraception, under the Affordable Care Act will only serve to endanger many women’s access to the healthcare they need -- whether those employees share those religious beliefs or not. In reality, these exemptions would deny the right of everyone seeking comprehensive healthcare.

“When medical professionals refuse to provide legal reproductive health services, or provide timely referrals to other providers, they violate the right to conscience of the person seeking those services,” he added in words that--if interpreted at face value--would compel Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. “Expanding individual refusal clauses to include institutions and exemptions for religious institutions to deny the rights of all would sacrifice these people’s rights.”


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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 03, 2011 11:18 AM ET USA

    Well, there's nothing I admire so much as choice. How about you?

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Nov. 03, 2011 7:27 AM ET USA

    Someone needs to point out to Rep. Waxman that the only thing government ever does is impose the moral convictions of some people on everybody else. The only question is whose convictions will be imposed.