The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging Catholics to lobby Congress to protect the freedom of conscience for those opposed to abortion.
The Conscience Protection Act, introduced last year by Republican Representative Diane Black of Tennessee, would prevent government entities from forcing health care providers to pay for or perform an abortion.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, the USCCB told Catholics "to pray and to act" on the matter, as the bill is considered next week by Congress.
"Nurses and other health care providers and institutions are being forced to choose between participating in abortions or leaving health care altogether. Churches and pro-life Americans are being forced to provide coverage for elective abortions—including late-term abortions—in their health care plans," stated the USCCB.
"Opponents and supporters of abortion should be able to agree that no one should be forced to participate in abortion. Congress must remedy this problem by enacting the Conscience Protection Act now as part of the FY 2018 funding bill."
Also known as H.R. 644, the Conscience Protection Act was previously introduced in March 2016, but failed to go beyond committee.
Pro-choice groups like the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the bill in a July 2016 letter, claiming that if enacted it would "restrict women's access to abortion care."
"The Conscience Protection Act would allow even more discrimination against women seeking health care by creating a new right for health care entities ... to refuse to engage in an extremely broad range of activities related to abortion care," stated the ACLU and other like-minded groups in an open letter from 2016.
"The Act would not only interfere with a woman's ability to access comprehensive health insurance coverage that enables her to make personal medical decisions with those she trusts, but it would also put a woman's health at serious risk in emergency situations."
The USCCB's statement from earlier this week is not the first time that the Catholic Church leadership has spoken out on behalf of the proposed legislation.
Last November Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty of The Southern Baptist Convention, released an opinion column arguing that if pro-choice truly support choice, they will support the Conscience Protection Act.
"Even those who disagree with us on abortion should see that respecting the right to choose not to be involved in abortion is part of being 'pro-choice,'" wrote Dolan and Moore.
"On one of our most divisive issues, we have an opportunity to unite across political, religious and regional divides to agree that those who respect the life of the unborn child have a right to act on that belief, that we are not second-class citizens."