Catholic Archbishop Supports Health Care Conscience Rights Act

A Maryland Catholic leader has voiced support for a recently introduced bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would protect "conscience rights" for religious organizations.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who serves as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, welcomed the legislation, titled H.R. 940.

"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," said Lori in a statement.

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"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."

Introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) on Monday, H.R. 940 seeks to amend the Affordable Care Act so as to protect entities like Catholic organizations that may have moral objections to providing coverage for contraception and abortifacients.

"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," reads H.R. 940's summary.

Referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, H.R. 940 has 50 cosponsors; all but one of them, Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, are Republican.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization the Susan B. Anthony List, also released a statement in support of the proposed legislation.

"On behalf of all Americans of conscience, we applaud Representative Black for her bold leadership in defense of our most basic freedoms," said Dannenfelser.

"The so-called accommodations recently announced to the HHS Mandate do nothing to address the concerns of non-religious entities and employers who do not wish to be complicit in the destruction of life through abortion-inducing drugs."

While several pro-life and conservative groups voice their support for H.R. 940, proposed legislation meant to provide such exemptions have found opposition from a large coalition of pro-choice groups.

Spearheaded by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, nearly 40 organizations sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Tuesday decrying "any language that will weaken the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage provision in any continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations measure."

"Including language in a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations measure to restrict women's access to birth control would be bad policy and is contrary to our shared goals of improving women's health," reads the letter.

"We respectfully urge you to reject efforts to politicize the appropriations process for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 and oppose riders that are harmful to women's health."

Meanwhile, 88 religious, pro-life and conservative leaders are asking House Republican leaders to include religious freedom protections in the bill that will fund the government for the rest of 2013. Though they support HCCRA, they recognize that it will likely not be voted on in the Senate or signed by the president and thus want language protecting conscience rights included in the FY2013 Continuing Resolution, which they consider a must-pass piece of legislation.

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