During President Trump’s campaign, he promised that his administration would uphold the conscience rights of pro-life health care workers who don’t want to participate in abortions. On the eve of the annual pro-life March for Life, the administration took steps to end the war on conscience rights, announcing a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
This is particularly significant for the state of Oregon in light of Governor Kate Brown’s recent signature on a bill (HB 3391) which forces insurance companies to cover abortions. Given Brown’s disregard of federal law in signing the bill, there is reason to doubt that Oregon health care workers’ conscience objections will be respected.
“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom. That promise is being kept today,” announced acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan. OCR Chief Roger Severino explained, “Unfortunately, these protections have been underenforced in the past. Today, we are back in business.”
Not surprisingly, outgoing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards called Trump’s move “shameful” and “dangerous policy.”
In 1973, following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, the U.S. Congress passed a law protecting healthcare workers’ conscience rights (only two members opposed). President George W. Bush issued conscience protections for pro-life doctors and other medical workers. The passage of Obama’s 2010 health care bill, the Affordable Care Act, resulted in the mandate requiring businesses to offer abortion insurance coverage. Employers, pharmacists, schools, and churches filed suits challenging the mandate. Judges on all levels dealt blow after blow to the mandate, including two rebukes by the Supreme Court.
Trump’s recent actions are now reversing the Obama administration policies. Since January 2018, more than 300 health workers have registered complaints to the HHS about their religious or conscience rights being violated by a state, their employer, or a health care provider. Representative Diane Black (R-TN) relates the story about nurse Cathy DeCarlo, who described her experience of being forced to participate in an abortion at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs and I had to account for all the pieces. I still have nightmares about that day.”
A poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted in July 2016, showed that, by nearly 20 points (57 to 37), Americans believe that medical professionals and organizations should be able to opt out of abortion procedures and coverage. Knights of Columbus CEO Carlson Anderson explained, “Consistent with our First Amendment guarantees, the American people believe that no person or organization should be compelled to help perform or cover abortion. It is important that our elected officials continue to protect these important rights, and no American every be forced to be involved in abortion against their conscience or religious beliefs.”
Congress has the ability to pass legislation to protect medical professionals, a bill called the Conscience Protection Act (CPA). The act would strengthen federal conscience protections for health care providers, prohibit any level of government from discriminating against health care providers, and empower victims to seek relief in court for violations of the law. Despite efforts by pro-lifers, the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) was not included in the March 2018 “omnibus” appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Senate.
[See the Action Alert on page 6 to find out how you can support the Conscience Protection Act. Please take action today!]