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Members of Congress Press Sebelius on Moral Conscience Law

Members of Congress questioned the proposed plan by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to repeal regulations that allow health care workers to opt out of medical procedures for moral conscience reasons.

In a recent letter signed by 46 members of Congress, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was asked to explain why her department is seeking to repeal conscience protections for health care workers. House members cited two cases where medical workers were put in situations where they were being forced to go against their moral and religious conscience.

"Both of these situations are precisely the type of discrimination against health care providers that federal and conscience statutes were meant to redress," the letter chided.

The lawmakers expressed strong support for moral conscience regulations and state strong opposition for "any action that would undermine or eliminate the responsibility of HHS to enforce conscience laws that have been enacted by Congress for nearly four decades."

One of the two cases cited in the letter was that of registered New York nurse Catherina DeCarlo. DeCarlo alleged that she was forced by Mt. Sinai Hospital to participate in the abortion of an unborn baby against her moral and religious conscience.

The other case was that of two nursing students who were being required to sign a letter committing to assisting in abortions in order to be considered for Vanderbilt University's obstetrical and gynecological care program.

Alliance Defense Fund served as legal counsel in both cases.

"Medical professionals should not be punished for holding to their beliefs, and they should not be forced to perform abortions against their conscience," commented Matt Bowman, ADF legal counsel.

Vanderbilt University amended its application process soon after the ADF filed a complaint. In the case of DeCarlo, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of her federal lawsuit. She is currently awaiting an ongoing investigation by HHS as the means to defend her federally protected rights while her New York state lawsuit continues.

Bowman said the group has filed a motion to intervene in the federal investigation because the Department of Justice is dragging its feet because the current administration wants to dismantle the regulations that would investigate violations of the moral conscience law for pro-life medical workers commonly known as the Church Amendment.

The Congressional letter found that the HHS Department is seeking to implement regulations that would counter the Church Amendment "as early as January 31, 2011 and no later than March 1, 2011."

The Christian Post contacted the HHS department for comments on the letter, but was unable to reach department officials before the close of the business day.

The letter demands that Sebelius answer questions regarding the nature of its plans. The letter pointedly asks the secretary if the HHS intends to modify or rescind the December 2008 regulations implementing the conscience laws.

The letter also asks if the HHS has been verifying if federally-funded health care providers have been in compliance with the conscience laws.

The letter was issued Friday and signed by House members including Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Bill Shuster (R- Pa.). The HHS Secretary is asked to provide answers by next Monday.

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