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

Service, not Servitude

Attack on freedom of conscience in US House of Representatives

Congressional Record: November 20, 2004 (House)
Page H10087-H10096
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

Sean Murphy*


The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act  passed the House of Representatives on 25 September, 2002 and was first introduced in the Senate as S.2008 in March, 2002.  It was re-introduced, with additional sponsors, in July, 2003, but failed to progress.  It was added by congressmen Henry Hyde and Dave Weldon as an amendment to an omnibus spending bill, which passed the House of Representatives in November, 2004.

The amendment was attacked by the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. The text of her statements appears in the left column.  Project commentary appears to the right.

Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey defended the amendment.  

Nancy Pelosi
House Minority (Democratic) Leader

Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the Weldon amendment, an extraordinary sneak attack on women's rights . . .

Project Commentary

Ms. Pelosi's attack on protection for health care workers who choose not to participate in abortion is no less extraordinary, coming, as it does, from someone who purports to value freedom of choice.

. . . and a disgraceful display of ideology over health.

Why is protection of freedom of conscience in health care a "disgraceful display of ideology," while an attempt to suppress it is not?

This amendment is a radical change in policy that the House has not passed this session and that the Senate has never considered, debated, or voted on. Republicans slipped it into the appropriations in the dark of night when they thought no one was looking. It is entirely outside the scope of this omnibus spending bill, yet it is part of a must-pass bill at the insistence of House Republican leaders.

It is disturbing to read that ensuring freedom of conscience is "a radical change in policy" on the part of legislators, even if the speaker is referring only to herself and her supporters.

This language makes a mockery of Roe v. Wade. Under this provision, a woman will not know where her right to choose will be honored or where it will be denied.

The ruling in Roe v. Wade did not require any health care worker or institution to perform or provide abortion.  The simple expedient of giving appropriate and continuing public notice will ensure that women who choose to do so will be able to avoid institutions or organizations that object to abortion.

This was first advertised to me as an expansion of the conscience clause which we all respect,→

The amendment will discourage local authorities from suppressing freedom of conscience.  Opposing the amendment is a strange way to demonstrate "respect" for "the conscience clause.

[A]s a person who served . . . on the Labor-HHS committee . . . I knew full well the importance of the conscience clause to Catholic doctors or other faith doctors, but particular mention was always made of Catholic doctors. It was said to me that this was merely an expansion of that from the doctors to the hospitals, Catholic hospitals. But, I say to my colleagues, it is so very much more than that. We all respect a conscience clause, but this goes well beyond that.

The measure does go beyond protection of Catholic doctors and hospitals, but it is not clear why Ms. Pelosi finds this objectionable.  A legislator ought to have respect for the freedom of conscience of people of all faiths.

If a hospital, a health insurance company, or a doctor opposes Roe v. Wade, they could simply ignore it. They could simply ignore it.

Roe v. Wade did not demand that hospitals, insurance companies or doctors provide abortions. They do nothing improper if they ignore a ruling that has nothing to do with them.

This is the law of the land; a constitutional right could simply be ignored.

As already noted, Roe v. Wade does not require health care workers to participate in abortion; this cannot be said to be "the law of the land."  Freedom of conscience is also a constitutional right.  As the next speaker explains, it is not just being ignored; it is being attacked.

The Weldon amendment is essentially a domestic gag rule, restricting access to abortion counseling, referral, and information.

The amendment does not affect health care workers who wish to do any of these things.  It simply discourages local authorities from trying to force conscientious objectors to participate in them.

Health care companies should not be able to prevent doctors from giving medically necessary information.

Agreed.  And health care companies and local authorities should not be able to force doctors to facilitate what they consider to be morally abhorrent acts.

This language, again, makes a mockery of existing State and local laws, including many State constitutions.

Local and state laws and state constitutions that suppress conscientious objection among health care workers make a mockery of an essential and time-honoured tenet of democratic freedom.  

Under the Weldon amendment, any law or regulation currently on the books to protect access to reproductive health services is at risk.

This is true only to the extent that a law or regulation attempts to suppress freedom of conscience among health care workers.  The amendment does not affect any non-coercive law or regulation that secures access to "reproductive health services."

The term "discrimination" in this amendment is so vague that it could be used against any Federal,  State, or local government effort to provide reproductive health services.

The amendment introduces nothing new about the meaning of "discrimination."  The term is already used in the statute affected by the amendment, and in countless others. 

Moreover, nothing in the amendment will interfere with Federal, State or local efforts to provide "reproductive health services."  It discourages only the coercion and conscription of conscientious objectors.

This language makes a mockery of Title X. The Title X family planning program provides much-needed reproductive health services that reach millions of low-income, uninsured individuals; and it really is sad  because we all want to reduce the number of abortions in our country. That is a goal that we all share, and reproductive family planning is one way to do that.

Title X initiatives, including provision of abortion and abortifacient drugs, can continue.  However, it will not be possible to use Title X to force objecting health care workers to facilitate abortion. 

But under this amendment, clinics could participate in Title X programs without providing a full range of reproductive health services.

Exactly as noted above, clinics, including those offering abortion, will continue to participate in Title X programmes.  However, the amendment will make it more difficult to force clinics to provide abortions if they do not wish to do so.

Federal dollars should not be used to deny the federally protected right to choose. Let me repeat that. Federal dollars should not be used to deny the federally protected right to choose.

Agreed. Federal dollars should not be used to deny constitutionally protected freedom of conscience.  The amendment ensures that the 'right to choose' will be protected, not only among Pelosi and her supporters, but among those who disagree with them.

Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but Republicans are gutting it step by step. 

Applied to this amendment, the claim is extravagant.  Once more, Roe v.Wade did not demand that hospitals, insurance companies or doctors provide abortions.

The Weldon amendment will have a major and harmful impact on women's health.

Women's health does not depend only or primarily upon provision of abortion.  The amendment discourages coercion of conscientious objectors, but not the provision of abortion.

This sweeping new exemption from current laws and regulations  should not be the law of the land, and it certainly should not be a part of the omnibus appropriations bill.

If current laws and regulations do, in fact, suppress freedom of conscience among health care workers, this amendment should be supported by those respectful of that freedom.  If Pelosi and her supporters believe that citizens should be compelled to participate in what they consider to be morally abhorrent acts, she should say so openly, and she should explain why others should be compelled to live their lives according to her personal moral judgement.

The Republican assault on women's rights must be stopped. I urge my colleagues to oppose the Weldon amendment.

Women remain free to seek abortions from health care professionals willing to provide them.  The amendment changes nothing in that regard. 

See response by Congressman Smith and ACLJ Brief.