U.S. Senate Democrats Take Aim at Conscience Protections

U.S. Senate Democrats Take Aim at Conscience Protections

Bill would override longstanding conscience rights provisions on abortion

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democrats yesterday sought to advance the so-called “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act” (S. 2578), a sweeping bill that, if enacted, would further empower the Obama Administration to mandate coverage of the abortion pill RU-486, surgical abortion (including late abortions), or anything else it chooses to classify as “preventive services,” overriding all existing federal laws that protect religious freedom and conscience rights. The bill, sponsored Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), failed to receive the 60 votes needed to “invoke cloture” for the Senate to take up the bill.

“All Americans should rightly be concerned that every Senate Democrat supported a bill to trample on our rights of conscience,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “This bill would roll back federal conscience protections and further empower the Obama Administration to mandate coverage of the abortion pill RU-486, elective abortion, and even late abortions.”

While the bill singles out the “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act” (RFRA) enacted by Congress in 1993, it would also override “any other provision of Federal law” that protects rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates. This means that if, in the future, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chose to add the abortion pill RU-486, or even elective abortion, including late abortions, to the list of mandated “preventive services,” those who object to providing or purchasing such coverage would have no recourse under the RFRA or “any other provision of Federal law.”

Among the federal provisions that could be superseded by S. 2578 is the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2004. The Hyde-Weldon Amendment provides that no federal, state, or local government agency or program that receives federal health and human services funds may discriminate against a health care provider because the provider refuses to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortion.

“Never has there been such a blatant and willful attack on rights of conscience,” Tobias said. “That Senate Democrats would seek to restrict our rights of conscience and roll back existing protections is outrageous.”

The bill is cast as a response to last month’s narrow Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. However, the Court’s decision, with respect only to the “preventive services” component of Obamacare, comes nowhere near to correcting the heart of the problem, which is the overly expansive authority that the Obamacare law itself provides to HHS to define “preventive services.” The other major abortion-expanding provisions of Obamacare, including the massive tax subsidies that will assist millions of Americans to purchase health plans that cover elective abortion, were not even issues in the cases just decided.

Only comprehensive legislative reform can cure the multiple abortion-expanding components of Obamacare – and such reform can only be accomplished with new leadership in the U.S. Senate and in the White House.

There is currently legislation in the Congress – the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1204 and H.R. 940) – that provides badly needed conscience protections for Americans who face an increasingly frequent use of coercive means – governmental and other – to compel participation in providing abortion and other procedures regardless of religious and moral objections. The bill would amend Obamacare to prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance. The bill would also prevent any level of government from discriminating against health care providers, including doctors, nurses, hospitals, and insurers, who decline to participate in abortions. In addition, it would empower victims to seek relief in court for violations of the federal conscience laws.

For further information on the Health Care Conscience Rights Act and Hyde-Weldon Amendment, see: http://www.nrlc.org/federal/anda/.

During the congressional debate over Obamacare, National Right to Life continuously warned against the abortion-expanding provisions of the bill. An archive of documents related to the abortion-expanding provisions of Obamacare, is available here: http://www.nrlc.org/federal/ahc/obamalaw/.

Founded in 1968, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization. Recognized as the flagship of the pro-life movement, NRLC works through legislation and education to protect innocent human life from abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

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