WASHINGTON — The chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and
religious freedom committees have asked U.S. Catholics to contact
members of Congress and urge them to enact the Conscience Protection Act
as part of the funding bill for fiscal year 2018.
Congress faces a
March 23 deadline to approve an omnibus appropriations measure that
likely would fund the government through the fiscal year ending Sept.
30. Lawmakers will consider whether to include the Conscience Protection
Act of 2017 in the bill.
“Increasing and fierce attacks on
conscience rights regarding abortion cry out for an immediate remedy,”
stated Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the bishops’
Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of
Louisville, Ky., chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty.
joint statement March 6, they urged Catholics to flood Congress with
emails and calls asking for enactment of the measure and “to pray for
this outcome.” They expected Congress to take action the week of March
Catholics were encouraged to reach their members of Congress
in one of two ways: calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202)
224-3121 and asking to be connected with their representative or
senator; or sending them an email message via the Human Life Action
website — www.stlouisreview.com/jVz.
and other health care providers and institutions are being forced to
choose between participating in abortions or leaving health care
altogether,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz stated. “Churches and
pro-life Americans are being forced to provide coverage for elective
abortions — including late-term abortions — in their health care plans.”
one should be forced to choose between following the dictates of their
conscience and losing their job,” said Karen Nolkemper, executive
director of the St. Louis archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate. “Despite
federal laws on the books to protect them, men and women are still
being coerced to participate in abortions. We hope Catholics in the
Archdiocese of St. Louis will respond to this call by urging our federal
representatives to support better enforcement of these laws.”
Weldon Amendment, included in the annual appropriation for the
Department of Health and Human Services since 2005, already allows
health care providers as well as insurance plans to refuse to provide
abortions, pay for them or refer women to abortion clinics.
Conscience Protection Act is aimed at protecting individual physicians,
nurses or other health care professionals who refuse to assist in
abortions when asked to do so by their employers. It takes the core
policy of Weldon — protecting those who decline to perform, pay for,
refer for, or provide coverage for abortion — and writes it into
“Opponents and supporters of abortion should be
able to agree that no one should be forced to participate in abortion,”
Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz stated. “Congress must remedy this
problem by enacting the Conscience Protection Act now as part of the
fiscal year 2018 funding bill.”
The measure was introduced in the
House by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.,
and in the Senate by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. The House passed an
omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 that includes the
language of the Conscience Protection Act but the Senate didn’t pass an
In January, the civil rights office of the
federal Department of Health and Human Services put in place new
policies to protect conscience rights and religious freedom,” a move
that won praise from Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz.
But they also said a legislative solution was needed.
protection should not be subject to political whims, however. Permanent
legislative relief is essential,” they wrote in a statement Jan. 19.
They urged action on the Conscience Protection Act to give victims of
discrimination “the ability to defend their rights in court.”
“No one should be forced to violate their deeply held convictions about the sanctity of human life,” they said.