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"At the very heart of human freedom is the right to religious freedom, since it deals with man’s most fundamental relationship: his relationship with God." - Pope John Paul II, Address to Diplomats, January 2005

Religious Liberty at USCCB

Urge Congress to Enact the Conscience Protection Act

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November 28, 2017

Now is the time to contact your members of Congress and advocate for the protection of life and freedom of conscience. 

The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644) has been included in appropriations legislation that must pass this year to keep the government operating. The Conscience Protection Act is common-sense legislation that will clarify federal law and ensure that those who provide health care and health coverage can do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.

Last year, on July 13, the House passed an identical bill of the same name (S. 304), but it was never enacted into law. Therefore, we must continue to advocate for conscience protection for those who choose not to participate in abortion and remain hopeful that with a change in the White House our efforts will meet with success this year.

Please take a moment to let your representatives in Congress know that we expect them to protect our most cherished liberties.

Background

The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court. 

The need for clarification of federal law cannot be doubted.  While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice.  These laws can only be enforced by complaint to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which— despite repeated violations—has refused to fully enforce these laws. 

For example, on June 21, 2016, the HHS Office for Civil Rights declared that the State of California may continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions—in violation of the plain text of the Weldon amendment.  Violations of the Weldon amendment are also taking place in other states, such as New York and Washington.

Even HHS itself has discriminated against those who cannot in conscience facilitate abortions, as when in 2011 it implemented a new “strong preference” for grantees willing to refer human trafficking victims solely to health care providers who favor abortion.  While the Weldon amendment to the annual Labor/HHS appropriation bill has forbidden such governmental discrimination since 2004, state officials have violated that amendment with impunity and claimed that any effort to enforce it would be subject to legal challenge.

Due to the difficulty in getting legislation like the CPA through the Senate, efforts are focused on getting the CPA attached to must-pass appropriations legislation. On July 19, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations bill, which included the language of the Conscience Protection Act. On September 14, 2017, the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644) was included in omnibus appropriations legislation, H.R. 3354, Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, 2018 which was approved by the House. The Senate should be urged to include CPA in the final funding legislation of the year jointly approved by House and Senate.”

USCCB Conscience Protection Act