Congress urged to pass conscience protections for health care providers

WASHINGTON  |   Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore have urged the House and Senate to past the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.

They called it “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.”

The two prelates made the plea in a joint letter dated Feb. 8 and released Feb. 10 by the USCCB. Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop Lori is chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

In the Senate, the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is known as S. 301, and in the other chamber it is H.R. 644. The companion bills would provide legal protection to doctors, nurses, hospitals and all health care providers who choose not to provide abortions as part of their health care practice.

In the House, Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska introduced the measure Jan. 24. Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma sponsored it in the Senate Feb. 3 and it now has at least 16 co-sponsors.

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.

Last June, they said, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights declared that the state of California could “continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions — in violation of the plain text of the Weldon Amendment.” Weldon was enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of institutions and individuals.

“The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

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Health care is not a business, but a service to life, pope says

VATICAN CITY  |  A nation’s health care system cannot be run simply as a business because human lives are at stake, Pope Francis said.

“If there is a sector in which the ‘throwaway culture’ demonstrates its most painful consequences, it is the health care sector,” the pope told patients, medical professionals, pastors and volunteers attending a meeting sponsored by the Italian bishops’ national office for health care ministry.

Anticipating the celebration Feb. 12 of the World Day of the Sick and marking the 20th anniversary of the bishops’ office, the pope said Catholics obviously give thanks for the advances in medicine and technology that have enabled doctors to cure or provide better care for the sick.

He also praised medical personnel who carry out their work as “ministers of life and participants in the affectionate love of God the creator. Each day their hands touch the suffering body of Christ, and this is a great honor and a great responsibility,” he said.

But, the pope said, any public policy or private initiative regarding health care that does not make the dignity of the human person its central concern “engenders attitudes that can even lead to exploitation of the misfortune of others. And this is very serious.”

“Indiscriminately adopting a business model in health care, instead of optimizing resources,” he said, risks treating some of the sick as disposable. “Optimizing resources means using them in an ethical way, with solidarity, and not penalizing the most fragile.”

Protecting human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death means that “money alone cannot guide political and administrative choices” in health care, he said. And the increasing lack of health care “among the poorest segments of the population, due to lack of access to care, must leave no one indifferent.”

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