Update on American HHS controversy

As a result of continuing concerns about the HHS preventive service mandate, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars have signed an open letter to the Obama administration entitled Standing Together for Religious Freedom. The letter calls on the Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights  and religious freedom.

Nonetheless, Georgetown University, a Catholic institution, has announced that it considers the Obama administration’s revised contraceptive mandate acceptable. The president of Georgetown stated that the new regulation provides “the opportunity to reconcile our religious identity and our commitment to providing access to affordable healthcare.”   Similarly, the Catholic Health Care Association states that it is satisfied that its members will not have to  “contract, provide, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage.” The Association includes over 600 hospitals and 1400 other health facilities in every American state and in Washington, D.C. [NCR]

A federal court granted a preliminary injunction to Hobby Lobby.  The business is operated by its owners in accordance with their Christian convictions.  The Green family does not object to contraception, but rejects the IUD and morning-after pill because of concern about embryocidal effects.  The court ruled that the injunction was warranted because of “substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.” [Becket Fund]  In contrast, a federal appeals court has rejected the appeal of Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation against a lower court ruling that held they must comply with the regulation.  In a 2- 1 decision, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a corporation cannot be said to share an owner’s religious convictions. [Lancasteronline]






Ireland: Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Protection of Conscience Provision

The  Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 became law in July, 2013The protection of conscience provision is provided here in full within an abbreviated presentation of the entire act.  Paraphrased parts of the bill are in italics.  Mouseover the red text to see government comments that were provided in the “heads of bill” relevant to the text.  Links to other information relevant to the law are in the first column to the right.

Proposed Rwandan law would legalize abortion, make conscientious objection illegal

 Law Governing Reproductive Health

Sean Murphy*

After its approval by the Standing Committee on Social Affairs,  Rwandan Member of Parliament Ignatienne Nyirarukundo has brought a proposed Rwandan reproductive health law before the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies for consideration.  The bill is reported to have been initiated five years ago, and is apparently an improved version of a bill that was criticized for violating human rights, contradicting the Rwandan Constitution, and for being so badly translated that its provisions were sometimes given different meanings in different languages.  That bill was rejected by the Rwandan senate.

Nonetheless, the English text of the present bill3 continues to suffer from defects like incoherence and inconsistency that may be the product of poor translation.  In addition, it  include provisions that are likely to be controversial for various reasons. [Full text]


Abortion in “rural” British Columbia

 Researchers include city of 85,000 as part of “rural” B.C.

 Sean Murphy*


Two recent research papers based on a 2011 survey of physicians providing abortion in British Columbia assert that “rural abortion services are disappearing in Canada.”  However, what the papers contribute to an understanding of the “barriers” to abortion services in rural British Columbia is doubtful, for two reasons.  First: the analytical structure proposed (the urban-rural dichotomy as defined by the authors) is inadequate.  Second: the authors ignore the significance of an important variable: the nature of the facilities or institutions where abortions are performed.  Concerns expressed about “access” to abortion are frequently accompanied by demands that freedom of conscience for health care workers should be suppressed.  Given the weaknesses noted above, the authors would have been hard-pressed to justify such a suggestion.  To their credit, they do not do so.
[Full Text]

Dignity, death, and dilemmas: A study of Washington hospices and physician-assisted death

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Jul 3. pii: S0885-3924(13)00270-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.02.024. [Epub ahead of print]

CS Campbell, MA Black


The legalization of physician-assisted death in states such as Washington and Oregon has presented defining ethical issues for hospice programs because up to 90% of terminally ill patients who use the state-regulated procedure to end their lives are enrolled in hospice care. The authors recently partnered with the Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Organization to examine the policies developed by individual hospice programs on program and staff participation in the Washington Death with Dignity Act. This article sets a national and local context for the discussion of hospice involvement in physician-assisted death, summarizes the content of hospice policies in Washington State, and presents an analysis of these findings. The study reveals meaningful differences among hospice programs about the integrity and identity of hospice and hospice care, leading to different policies, values, understandings of the medical procedure, and caregiving practices. In particular, the authors found differences 1) in the language used by hospices to refer to the Washington statute that reflect differences among national organizations, 2) the values that hospice programs draw on to support their policies, 3) dilemmas created by requests by patients for hospice staff to be present at a patient’s death, and 4) five primary levels of noninvolvement and participation by hospice programs in requests from patients for physician-assisted death. This analysis concludes with a framework of questions for developing a comprehensive hospice policy on involvement in physician-assisted death and to assist national, state, local, and personal reflection. [Full text]

What Is Religious Freedom?

Originally appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, NJ

Reproduced with permission

Robert P. George*

In its fullest and most robust sense, religion is the human person’s being in right relation to the divine. All of us have a duty, in conscience, to seek the truth and to honor the freedom of all men and women everywhere to do the same.

When the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, it recognized that religious liberty and the freedom of conscience are in the front rank of the essential human rights whose protection, in every country, merits the solicitude of the United States in its foreign policy. Therefore, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I became chair yesterday, was created by the act to monitor the state of these precious rights around the world.

But why is religious freedom so essential? Why does it merit such heightened concern by citizens and policymakers alike? In order to answer those questions, we should begin with a still more basic question. What is religion? [Full text]

Philippines Supreme Court hearings on the Reproductive Health Law

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has resumed a hearing into the constitutionality of the controversial Reproductive Health law (the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012) .  The operation of the law was suspended by the Court pending the outcome of litigation against it.  Luisito Liban, a lawyer representing some of those opposed to the bill, told the court that his clients were “speaking on behalf of true Catholics” who do not use contraceptives.   He also criticized the section of the law that requires objecting physicians to refer patients for morally contested services. [GMA (Philippines); ABS-CBN News (Philippines)]

Seattle Times issues warning: Catholic hospitals won’t provide assisted suicide, abortion

An editorial in the Seattle Times has expressed support for the decision of Jay Inslee of Washington State to direct the state health department to update its rules about health care provider ownership, facilities and services.  The problem, in the Times view, is that about 1/3 of the state’s hospital beds are now in Catholic institutions, which refuse to provide abortion or assisted suicide, and that Catholic influence in the state is increasing.  By the year’s end, according to the editorial, Catholic facilities may control half the hospital beds.  “Concerns center on the possibility of patients losing access or referrals to the full range of legal reproductive and end-of-life services banned by religious doctrine.”

Abortion & Conscience

  • Michael Sean Winters* | . . . We are called to conform ourselves to the moral law and so form our consciences that this conformity is understood, properly, as a genuine liberation, a freeing of one’s capacity to choose so that we choose the good. In short, our exercise of conscience is not just a legal claim of immunity. . .
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