Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Strategy to Abolish Right of Conscience

Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington
October, 2002
Reproduced with permission

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, *

Nearly a year ago, in our Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life (November 2001), the Catholic bishops of the United States renewed our call to each and every Catholic to join in an unparalleled effort to protect human life. Why was this "precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability" necessary? Certainly, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and we bishops consistently address the wide spectrum of issues that touch on the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. Likewise, our Catholic parishes, social service agencies, schools, organizations and individuals work tirelessly to respect, protect, love and serve life - every human life.

Our reaffirmation was necessary, in part, because of the increasingly pervasive, and sometimes subtle, threats to human life "arising from the widespread recourse to abortion, from public policies that allow, encourage, and even fund abortion, and from a growing effort to promote the taking of human life through euthanasia.

"Pervasive threats to human life abound. On the eve of Respect Life Month 2002, I want to share with you my deep concern about a growing threat to human life that could have grave implications for the church: the campaign by abortion advocates to deny Catholic health care providers their fundamental human right of conscience to refuse to take part in morally evil actions such as abortion and euthanasia. Today abortion rights activists are implementing a subtle and incremental strategy to abolish the well-recognized right of conscience of the church, religious organizations, health care professionals and hospitals that are currently protected by law. For example, they have embarked on a campaign to mandate the coverage of contraception in all employer benefit plans for prescription drugs, claiming that contraceptives are "basic health care." A number of states have adopted contraceptive mandates, most with inadequate protection of conscience, or none at all.

Abortion activists have also enlisted the support of state and local governments in discriminating against pro-life health care providers. They have intervened in "certificate of need" proceedings to defeat health care facilities that object to abortion. They have engaged state attorneys general to apply theories of law to prevent mergers involving hospitals with pro-life policies, and they have sought to end public financing of Catholic hospitals. Increasingly, too, abortion activists and others are stepping up their efforts to require abortion training for all medical residents.

Should pro-abortion forces succeed in their campaign to abolish the right of conscience of Catholic health care providers, they will be responsible for shutting down the Catholic health care ministry in this country.

We cannot - and must not - allow that to happen!

To counteract such efforts, existing conscience protections must be strengthened. Because attempts to undermine conscience rights are advancing as mandates for morally objectionable procedures, comprehensive conscience laws are needed to protect churches, religious organizations and hospitals from being forced to pay for and participate in these procedures. The laws should be comprehensive also in terms of protecting the full range of health care providers: hospitals, physicians, nurses, nursing students, medical students and nurses' aides.

I encourage you to become aware of threats to the right of conscience in Washington state, and to work actively to support conscience rights at the state, local and federal levels. We should also support community hospitals and health centers with pro-life policies. We should lobby on behalf of stronger state and federal conscience laws, and write letters to our state and federal representatives, asking them to respect our religious freedom.

Abortion advocates have as one of their top priorities the destruction of free choice on abortion and other morally objectionable procedures. They want not a diverse and pluralistic health care system, but a system that is unanimous in furthering the destruction of life as a basic aspect of health care. Real freedom and pluralism - as well as the sanctity of human life - will be among the casualties if they succeed.