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Time for Citizen Action: Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013 Deserves Full Support

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Nothing short of a full exemption for both non-profit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense. In recent years, the Administration has committed unprecedented attacks against the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, all under the guise of 'access to health care.' Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On March 4, 2013, HR 940, referred to as The Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013 was introduced by Congresswoman Dianne Black of Tennessee, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Congressman Doctor John Fleming of Louisiana. It is supported by fifty members of the US House of Representatives. 

Its purpose is:  "To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to protect rights of conscience with regard to requirements for coverage of specific items and services, to amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit certain abortion-related discrimination in governmental activities, and for other purposes." You can read the full text of the legislation here.

The three main sponsors held a press Conference on March 5, 2013. Congressman Fortenberry stated, "We have come together to act to protect Americans' most basic rights - our rights of conscience and religious freedom. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act simply restores the basic rights in health care that were widely accepted before the implementation of the new health care law. As the president said at last year's National Prayer Breakfast, we cannot leave our values at the door. This legislation will protect the time-honored tradition of respecting conscience rights in health care."

Congresswoman Black stated, "Under the Obama Administration, we have seen an unprecedented growth in the size and scope of government. The administration has leveraged its expansion of government to trample on the religious freedom of private individuals, hospitals, non-profits, businesses, churches and universities - forcing many Americans to make an impossible choice: either defy your religious convictions or break the law and face financially-crippling legal penalties. As a nurse for more than 40 years, I am proud to introduce the Health Care Conscience Rights Act to protect religious freedom, disempower Obamacare, and stop the administration's assault on Americans' First Amendment rights." 

Congressman Fleming stated, "As a family physician, who has treated thousands of patients during more than 30 years of practicing medicine, the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship is invaluable. Health care workers are dedicated to caring for their patients, and the religious freedom of these health care workers, and providers alike, must be protected.

No individual should be forced or coerced to perform an abortion. Likewise, neither non-profit nor for-profit businesses, universities or other health care providers should be required to cover drugs that can lead to the destruction of human life. This legislation protects the First Amendment rights of the American health care community by allowing them to refuse to participate in procedures that violate their deeply held beliefs."

On February 27, 2013, thirteen women who are members of Congress supporting this legislative effort sent a letter to the leadership of the House of Representatives. They set forth several of the more egregious violations of conscience and the fundamental right to religious liberty occasioned by the Affordable care Act as applied through the now infamous HHS mandate.They wrote,

"This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action. Nothing short of a full exemption for both non-profit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense. In recent years, the Administration has committed unprecedented attacks against the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, all under the guise of 'access to health care.' Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom."

They are absolutely correct!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly supports efforts to cure the threats to the fundamental right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience involved in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as it stands. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Maryland, a courageous champion of life, marriage, family and freedom, chairs the Bishops efforts. He welcomed the legislation in a letter which can be read in its entirety here.

The Archbishop supported the effort and commended its sponsors stating, "I am grateful to Congresswoman Black and other sponsors for their leadership today. I welcome the Health Care Conscience Rights Act and call for its swift passage into law. While federal laws are on the books protecting conscience rights in health care, this Act would make such protection truly effective. This overdue measure is especially needed in light of new challenges to conscience rights arising from the federal health care reform act."

Over one hundred lawsuits have been filed by not for profit and for profit organizations, churches, mission outreaches and businesses. We urge our readers to stand in solidarity with the millions who are mobilizing around this vital defense of Religious Liberty, conscience and authentic human freedom.  

This can be done by standing with a growing number of citizen coalitions which are mobilizing in this great response to defend freedom. In our opinion, there is a need for even more efforts to serve the true common good in the months ahead. We will be making an announcement after the celebration of Easter concerning our own plan to join this growing movement.

The Birth Certificate of our Nation, the Declaration of Independence, affirmed the existence of inalienable rights and self evident truths. Those Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness are endowed by our Creator and not conferred by a Federal Government. They cannot - they must not - be taken away by a Federal Government which fails to recognize fundamental human rights such as the Rights to Life and Religious Freedom. Religious Liberty is at the heart of the very understanding of the Right to Liberty in the Western tradition. It has long been called the first freedom for good reason.

Without legislation such as the Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013, the HHS Mandate will require employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, to cover sterilization, abortion inducing drugs, and contraception in their health care plans or face the boot of fines and penalties. The fines and penalties will have the practical result of closing many of the Church's outreaches, ministries and institutions of care and compassion.  The HHS Mandate injures the Church and religious institutions. It injures businesses which are run by men and women of conscience. It injures American society. It harms the common good.

The Federal Government of the United States is trying to force us to act against deeply held religious convictions and to violate conscience. The claim that such an edict is an unjust law is rooted in the western understanding of the nature of law itself. That is the foundation upon which the American founders grounded their insistence that there are inalienable rights, endowed upon us all by a Creator, which cannot be taken away by any civil government.

It is time for citizen action. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013 has been introduced and deserves full support. 

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