Canon lawyer Philip Gray prays before giving a presentation on moral conscience June 22 during the Festival for Freedom held at Notre Dame Retreat Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.
A panel in the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a good step toward upholding conscience rights and religious freedom in health care.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor and Health and Human Services inserted conscience protections in its appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. The full House and the Senate should enact the provisions, and we call on President Obama to sign them into law.
The provisions are not meant to scuttle health care reform or make any politician look bad. They simply would allow an opt-out on moral or religious grounds from the new benefits mandates to be created by the Affordable Care Act.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the proposed provisions, which will strengthen federal protections for health care providers who decline to provide or refer out for abortions, and will ensure that the Affordable Care Act allows Americans to purchase health coverage without being forced to cast aside moral convictions on matters like abortion and sterilization.
These provisions are far from radical. They merely codify long-standing law that bars government discrimination against health care providers who decline participation in abortion. The protections help achieve what most Catholics want — much better access to health care for all Americans, but no coercion or collaboration in procedures the church teaches are immoral.
This legislation is desperately needed. Some states are beginning to claim they can force private health plans in their exchanges to cover elective abortion. Only but the most strident of abortion supporters would agree with those states. The protections are something on which almost everyone can agree.