Congress should incorporate two provisions that strengthen conscience protection in any proposed funding bills in the weeks ahead, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in a February 15 letter to Congress. Both provisions were part of the House draft of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill.
Archbishop Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote that he feared “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. The new approach even threatens to undermine access to quality health care, by telling providers as well as those who offer or purchase insurance that they need to drop their participation in the health care system if they want to preserve their religious and moral integrity. A restoration of full respect for one of our nation’s founding values is urgently needed.”
The first provision supported by USCCB would extend longstanding federal policy on conscience to the new mandates for private health plans created by the Affordable Care Act. The other clarifies nondiscrimination laws to improve protection of individuals and institutions that decline involvement in abortion, allowing them to seek vindication in court.
Archbishop Lori wrote that they perceive “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. And while the mandate for coverage of abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice by a female employee to decline such coverage for herself or her minor children, even if it violates her moral and religious convictions.”
Archbishop Lori said it was discouraging to find this coercive element in the latest proposed rulemaking by the Obama administration in response to widespread criticism of its original mandate. He reiterated the hope of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, who said that while the new proposal falls short of meeting the bishops’ concerns, the bishops remain committed to engaging with the administration and all branches of government to address the issue.
Full text of the letter is available online: