WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two new polls have revealed widespread discrimination against healthcare workers of faith, as well as broad public support for conscience rights laws and protections. The findings were released today by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committees on Pro-Life Activities; Religious Liberty; Domestic and Social Development; and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, as well as the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), the largest faith-based association for healthcare professionals.
The findings come in the wake of enforcement actions taken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) against the University of Vermont Medical Center, which is alleged to have coerced a nurse into participating in an abortion against her beliefs.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of Kansas City in Kansas and Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Robert J. McManus, of Worcester and Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane, of Venice, and Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop James D. Conley, of Lincoln and Chairman of the Subcommittee for Promotion and Defense of Marriage offered the following statement on the findings:
“An overwhelming majority of Americans agree: no healthcare professional should be forced to violate deeply-held beliefs in order to keep a job. The practice of medicine depends on those courageous and generous enough to serve all people—especially the poor and marginalized—with the highest ethical standards. If we exclude people of faith from the medical profession, Americans will suffer, especially those most in need.”
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 32 other organizations have signed a joint letter of support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.
The bill, which has House and Senate versions, is intended to close loopholes that ignore the conscience rights of medical professionals on abortion, according to the signed letter.
“Even many ‘pro-choice’ Americans realize that the logic of their (opponents’) position requires them to respect a choice not to be involved in abortion,” said the letter, dated Sept. 6 and addressed to senators. . . [Full text]
WASHINGTON, D.C. Objectors to abortion need stronger conscience protections in federal law, the U.S. bishops have said in a letter supporting a bill being considered by Congress.
“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.
They said the proposed Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is essential to protect health care providers’ fundamental rights and ensure that they are not “forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.” . . . [Full text]
WASHINGTON—Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to the U.S. House of Representatives, March 31, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (HR 4828).
The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”
HR 4828 has a “modest scope,” they noted. “While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice… The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”
Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”
Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government…mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the U.S. federal government preventing it from enforcing a controversial regulation that would require Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a Catholic organization, to authorize their insurance company to provide coverage for contraceptives and surgical sterilization for their employees. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also issued an emergency stay for Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision.[USA Today] Meanwhile, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote to President Obama asking that enforcement of the regulation be suspended until the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in two cases it has agreed to hear.[USCCB]
A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), alleging that the health care directives of the Conference were responsible for the failure of a Catholic hospital to properly treat a woman who was miscarrying a pregnancy at 18 weeks gestation. The incident subject of the lawsuit occurred in December, 2010 in Muskegon, Michigan. The ACLU alleges that Tamesha Means was sent home twice by Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon without appropriate medical intervention, and received treatment only when she returned a third time and actually went into labour. The suit also names Catholic Health Ministries Chairman Stanley Urban, and former chairpersons Robert Ladenburger and Mary Mollison as defendants. They are named as individuals because Catholic Health Ministries (CHM) has status under Catholic Canon Law as a “public juridic person” [Health Progress, March/April 2005] but has never been incorporated under the laws of Michigan or the United States. The ACLU contends that CHM was responsible for the enforcement of the USCCB directives.
Neither the hospital nor the treating physicians are named in the suit. As a result, the claim is not for medical malpractice or medical negligence by the physicians or hospital, but for negligence by the USCCB. However, the hospital and treating physicians would be civilly liable for their actions regardless of USCCB directives, and their competence and clinical judgment would surely be central issues in evaluating what took place. If they were not negligent, it is difficult to see how the USCCB or CHM could be held to be negligent.
The substance of the complaint was released to the media before the USCCB was served. In a response to media enquiries, the president of the USCCB insisted that the lawsuit was “baseless” and “misguided.” John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, stated that the ACLU was selectively reading the directives, and that the suit was a means to advance a partisan cause, not “to obtain redress (for Means).”
“If they were concerned about a redress of grievances for this woman and medical malpractice,” he said, the suit should have been filed in a Michigan court naming the hospital and its staff as defendants. He also pointed out the at the directives would have permitted the induction of labour in the circumstances alleged in the complaint, and likened the suit against the USCCB as suing the American Medical Association because a physician failed to follow its guidelines. [NCR]
Writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan has again stated that the Conference objects to the administration regulation requiring employers with over 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for contraception, and finds the accommodation offered by the administration unacceptable. Civil suits against the regulation continue to make their way through U.S. courts.
The Health Care Conscience Rights Act has been introduced by Congresswoman Dianne Black of Tennessee, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Congressman Doctor John Fleming of Louisiana. It is supported by fifty members of the US House of Representatives. The measure, and others like it, are supported by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Similarly, a letter sent to the House leadership in late February by 14 members of Congress, 13 of them women,asked that freedom of conscience be legally protected. They wrote, “Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom.”
Writing on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori has asked Congress to pass measures in an appropriations bill. One “clarifies current nondiscrimination laws to improve protection of individuals and institutions that decline involvement in abortion, allowing the victims of discrimination to vindicate their rights in court.” The other merges the Hyde/Weldon amendment with a 1996 law that prevents people from being forced to participate in abortion training.
“We assume no one in Congress opposes the idea that people whose civil rights have been violated have a right to go to court. So this provision should be accepted without serious controversy,” [Text of letter]