WASHINGTON— The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor/HHS “took a first, urgently needed step toward upholding rights of conscience and religious freedom in our health care system,” by including two key provisions in its appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, according to the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston welcomed the inclusion of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA, HR 361) and the policy of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR1179) in the appropriations bill, July 18, saying it will “strengthen federal protections for health care providers who decline to take part in abortions, and will ensure that the Affordable Care Act allows Americans to purchase health coverage without being forced to abandon their deeply held religious and moral convictions on matters such as abortion and sterilization.”
Cardinal DiNardo expressed gratitude to subcommittee chairman Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) for his leadership in sponsoring the conscience provisions when he introduced this bill, adding, “The Catholic community and many others concerned about religious freedom will work hard to ensure that these protections are enacted into law.” The Labor/HHS bill must be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee, then the House of Representatives, before it can be sent to the Senate for further action.
In a July 17 letter, Cardinal DiNardo had urged the subcommittee to include both provisions in the appropriations bill. ANDA, he wrote, would codify the Hyde/Weldon amendment, a longstanding part of this appropriations bill that prevents government discrimination against health care providers who decline participation in abortion.
“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,’” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “By closing loopholes and providing victims of discrimination with a ‘private right of action’ to defend their rights in court, Sec. 538 will provide urgently needed relief.”
Cardinal DiNardo said the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which is sponsored by 224 House members and supported by nearly half the Senate, should be incorporated into the bill to counter “the most direct federal threat to religious freedom in recent memory”– the HHS mandate for all private health plans, even those sponsored by most religious organizations, to include sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an early abortion. He added that this provision leaves in place all existing legal protections against discriminatory withholding of health care, only allowing “an opt-out on moral or religious grounds from the new benefits mandates to be created for the first time by the Affordable Care Act itself.”