WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Rep.
Chris Smith, the New Jersey Republican who co-chairs the Bipartisan
Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, made another push Nov. 8 for passage of the
Conscience Protection Act.
The measure amends the
Public Health Service Act to allow lawsuits from health care providers who
believe they have been discriminated against, or lost their jobs, because they
refused to participate in abortions.
The House version is H.R.
644 and included in the appropriations package that won House passage in
September. The Senate bill, S. 301, is identical to the House version.
Supporters hope to see
final adoption as part of the appropriations bill for the 2018 fiscal year.
Smith, at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, said President Donald Trump
has promised to sign it.
He observed that while
there are other conscience-protection statutes, "we've had eight years of
absolute non-enforcement under the Obama administration."
The new legislation has
the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which, along with 32
other organizations, sent a letter in September to senators and representatives
urging them to vote for it.
protecting conscientious objection to abortion have been approved for decades
by Congresses and presidents of both parties," the letter said. "Even many
'pro-choice' Americans realize that the logic of their position requires them
to respect a choice not to be involved in abortion.
"Yet, with violations of
federal conscience laws occurring in California, New York, Washington, Alaska,
Illinois, and most recently Oregon, it is increasingly clear that the current
laws offer far less protection in practice than in theory," it said.
"Supporters and opponents
of abortion alike should be able to agree on promoting the common good by protecting the right of conscience of all providers,"
the letter added.
Jeanne Mancini, president
of March for Life, also issued a statement of support. "What we are
talking about here is the most basic of human protections and freedoms. It is
un-American for someone to be forced to go against what they know in their
conscience is wrong."
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee,
who introduced the current House version of the act, called the legislation a
"compassionate, reasonable and modest bill."
The Weldon Amendment,
included in the annual appropriation for the Department of Health and Human
Services since 2005, already allows health care providers as well as insurance
plans to refuse to provide abortions, pay for them or refer women to abortion
The Conscience Protection
Act is aimed at protecting individual physicians, nurses or other health care
professionals who refuse to assist in abortions when asked to do so by their employers.
According to the wording of the bill, it protects various entities, including applicants
to or participants in training programs for the health professions who refuse
to participate in an abortion.
The American Civil
Liberties Union is among the opponents, saying the bill "would facilitate
discrimination against women seeking abortion care while purporting to protect
But Sen. James Lankford,
R-Oklahoma, sponsor of the Senate version, said it is not about religious
belief specifically. Instead, he said it was for "millions of Americans
who believe (a child in the womb) is not just a ball of tissue."
speaking were three nurses, Cathy DeCarlo, Fe Vinoya and Sandra Mendoza, who
have been subject to coercion by their employers to participate in abortions.
said it was "an honor and privilege to join these 'nurses of conscience' who
believe that abortion kills children and harms women and stood up for their
beliefs at the risk of great personal sacrifice and injury -- loss of job,
demotion, or other forms of retaliation."
DeCarlo, who used to work
at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said she had been assured in 2004 that she
would "never have to compromise my conscience." In 2009, she was
compelled to participate in an abortion of a 22-week-old fetus, "then I
had to account for all the pieces. I never thought in America I'd be forced to
violate my conscience in this way."
Fe Vinoya, who formerly
worked at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, added, "I became a
nurse to help people, not to do harm."
Mendoza, who used to work
at the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois, said: "I hope
we can all agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of employment on
account of their faith and commitment to protecting life."
several pro-life organizations were at the news conference, including Mancini; Greg
Schleppenbach, associate director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life
Activities; Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom; Andrew
Guernsey, legislative assistant for government affairs at the Family Research
Council; and Tim Saccoccia, public policy coordinator with the Knights of Columbus
Office of Public Policy.