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Battle for Conscience Protection Isn't Over

12/9/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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U.S. Bishops' Aide on New Bill's Future Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 9, 2004 (Zenit) - Health care providers who are unwilling to participate in abortion now have protection under federal law, thanks to a bill that just passed through Congress.

But a public policy analyst with the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities warns that the fight is not over.

Maureen Bailey shared with us how pro-abortion groups and legislators are challenging the new measure and introducing a bill to repeal it next spring -- and what the Church is doing to protect conscience rights.

Q: Congress recently approved a conscience-protection amendment. What precisely does the amendment do?

Bailey: Congress approved the Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment -- named for its co-sponsors, congressmen Henry Hyde and Dr. Dave Weldon -- to the omnibus appropriations bill. The president is expected to sign this bill at any moment.

The amendment very simply prohibits the federal government, and state and local governments that receive federal financial assistance, from discriminating against health care entities because the entities decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

The amendment defines "health care entity" to include "an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan or any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan."

Q: What have pro-abortion groups said about the amendment?

Bailey: These groups and their allies in Congress have been attacking the amendment, claiming it has far-reaching effects. For example, they say the amendment would prohibit health care providers from talking about abortion.

A pro-abortion member of the House of Representatives claimed that the amendment would allow a physician to refuse to complete a miscarriage, even if the woman's death will result. Others have claimed that the amendment is an attack on Roe v. Wade.

Q: What is the truth about these charges?

Bailey: First, while Roe clearly needs to be reversed, this is not the amendment to do it. In fact, the amendment is entirely consistent with Roe. In Roe, the [U.S. Supreme] Court created a negative abortion liberty, a right against governmental interference in abortion. It did not create a positive right of access to have the government fund or facilitate abortion.

And subsequent Supreme Court decisions have clearly upheld the right of the state to decide not to pay for or provide personnel for abortion.

Second, conscience laws are on the books in 47 states. Only one of these provides a "life" exception, but in no state has there been a case of a woman dying because of an asserted conscience-right.

In any case, the claim that the amendment would allow a physician to refuse to complete a miscarriage is absurd. It protects physicians and other health care providers who choose not to kill unborn children. Completing a miscarriage involves removing a child who has already died.

And finally, under the amendment, no one is prohibited from talking about abortion. The amendment protects health care providers who are unwilling to participate in abortion. It does not affect the "rights" of willing providers -- the ones who are performing the 1.3 million abortions each year in the United States.

One fascinating aspect of this debate has been hearing the side that is supposedly "pro-choice" denying choice to those who want to choose life.

Q: What was the impetus for this legislation?

Bailey: There is a concerted national effort to overturn, or exploit loopholes in, existing conscience protections.

Pro-abortion groups -- including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the National Women's Law Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights -- are working to abolish or circumvent existing conscience protections and impose new mandates where no such protection exists.

For example, the ACLU of New Jersey intervened in a hospital merger in an attempt to force a Catholic hospital to build an abortion clinic.

In Florida, after a community hospital joined a cost-sharing consortium with a Catholic system and ceased performing abortions, it was sued by the city of St. Petersburg, which leased land to the hospital. Soon the ACLU sued both the city and the hospital. Under the pressure of the lawsuits, the hospital left the cost-saving consortium.

Q: Are these attacks on conscience rights limited to Catholic hospitals and mergers?

Bailey: No; in fact, the vast majority of hospitals, public and private, whether religious or not, do not participate in abortions. These hospitals, too, have ...

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