HHS Mandate Controversy Continues – Cardinal Supports Conscience Provisions in Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities praised lawmakers for including two conscience provisions in the House version of the 2013 appropriations bill for the federal departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

“Our government has a long history of respecting rights of conscience in health care, and the time is long overdue to reaffirm this laudable tradition in the face of today’s growing threats,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo.

Cardinal DiNardo said the provision – called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which had 124 co-sponsors from both parties – “will reaffirm the basic principle that no health care entity should be forced by government to perform, participate in or pay for abortions.”

The other provision is the Respect for Right of Conscience Act, which Cardinal DiNardo said would “counter a policy that poses the most direct federal threat to religious freedom in recent memory,” a reference to the “HHS mandate” requiring most religious organizations to include sterilizations and contraceptive coverage – including those that could cause early abortions – in their health care plans.

Cardinal DiNardo said inclusion of the act “will provide urgently needed relief” by codifying the Hyde-Weldon amendment, which has been part of Labor-HHS appropriations packages since 2004, and will enhance “its enforceability” by closing loopholes and providing victims of discrimination with a “private right of action” to defend their rights in court.

Currently, Hyde-Weldon “can only be enforced by lodging a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, which in recent years has given a low priority to such claims and sometimes has itself been the perpetrator of discrimination,” Cardinal DiNardo said.