Time to speak up for conscience rights 11/25/2015

“What if you spent years training to help the sick as a nurse – only to find that to keep your job, you must take part in the killing of a defenseless five-month-old unborn child?

“What if a church in your town lived up to its teaching on healing the sick by providing its employees with excellent health coverage – but was told that is illegal, unless it pays for abortions that violate its teaching on life itself?

“What if your local Catholic charitable agency were providing excellent service for some of the most marginalized people in our society – victims of human trafficking – but lost its federal grant to secular agencies that are less qualified, because it couldn’t comply with a new government mandate to do abortion referrals?”

Richard Doerflinger from the U.S. Bishops’ Pro Life Office highlighted these disturbing scenarios in a recent article.  He then pointed out that these scenarios are not projections of a nightmare future but have actually happened recently in our country – and will keep happening, he said, “unless we stand up as citizens and demand a change in the law.”

The first scenario involved a nurse named Cathy DeCarlo, who was forced to assist in an elective late-term abortion at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on threat of being fired.  DeCarlo sued the hospital but the court dismissed her case because the federal law protecting her rights could only be enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“That agency sat on the case for three years,” Doerflinger pointed out, “then declared it resolved after the hospital changed its policy. Cathy never had her day in court, and she and other health care providers remain vulnerable.”

The second scenario is happening in California as its department of managed health care has ordered almost all health coverage statewide – even coverage provided by churches and other religious organizations – to include unlimited abortion coverage.

“California’s mandate violates a federal law known as the Weldon amendment,” Mr. Doerflinger reports, “but the federal agency assigned to enforce it has taken no action since complaints were filed over a year ago. Other states may follow California’s lead,” Doerflinger warns.

The final scenario describes an action by the Obama Administration to take away a federal grant to serve human trafficking victims from the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency and its nationwide network of Catholic subgrantees in 2011.

“Despite a congressional investigation, and calls for the government to obey its own conscience laws,” Doerflinger reports, “government pressure on pro-life social service providers continues.”

“How can these things happen, if there are laws on the books to protect conscientious objection to abortion?” Doerflinger asks.  The problem is that these laws have significant loopholes that opponents of conscience rights have learned to exploit.

“The biggest loophole,” Doerflinger points out, “is that none of these laws includes a ‘private right of action,’ allowing victims of discrimination to go to court to defend their rights. When the only enforcer against a government body’s coercive actions is that same government body, the law can become a paper tiger.”

To close these loopholes and provide a cause of action, Congress is considering a bill called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA).  This bill has been incorporated into the House of Representatives’ appropriations bill for funding the department of Health and Human Services, which must be passed by December to continue funding government programs in Fiscal Year 2016.

To get ANDA over the finish line this year, it is critical that our federal representatives hear from us.  To facilitate this grassroots action, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued an especially urgent action alert and has made it very easy for us to contact our representatives. Simply go online to www.usccb.org/conscience.  And then share this with your friends, family, parishioners and co-workers!