Three Republican members of Congress, along with 47 co-sponsors, have announced a legislative effort to protect conscience rights. House Representatives Diane Black (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and John Fleming, M.D. (R-LA) hosted a press conference this morning to introduce the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (NCCRA). According to a press release, the legislation is designed to protect American’s First Amendment rights and prevent the administration’s assault on religious freedom.
"We have come together to act to protect Americans' most basic rights - our rights of conscience and religious freedom," Representative Fortenberry told The Cardinal Newman Society. "The bill simply restores the basic rights in health care that were widely accepted before the implementation of the new health care law.”
The press release went on to explain:
Under the health care coverage mandate issued on August 3,2011, widely known as the HHS mandate, organizations and their managers are now facing potentially ruinous financial penalties for exercising their First Amendment rights, as protected by law. Hobby Lobby, a family business that was denied injunctive relief from the mandate and faces fines of up to $1.3 million dollars a day, unless its owners agree to fund potentially abortion-inducing drugs. If Hobby Lobby is forced to close its doors, some 25,000 jobs nationwide may disappear. The Obama Administration’s HHS mandate exemption only includes houses of worship and does not account for the thousands of religious and non-religious affiliated employers that find it a moral hazard to cover sterilization, contraception and potentially abortion-inducing drugs on their employer-based health insurance. Ultimately, the so-called “accommodation” does not protect anyone’s religious rights, because all companies and organizations will still be forced to provide insurance coverage that includes services which conflict with their religious convictions. The HCCRA would address this violation of our First Amendment rights by providing a full exemption for all those whose religious beliefs run counter to the Administration’s HHS mandate.
The release continued:
The HCCRA also protects institutions and individuals from forced or coerced participation in abortion. In recent years there have been several examples of nurses being told they must participate in abortions. There have also been efforts to require Catholic Hospitals to do abortions, and a Catholic social service provider was denied a grant to assist victims of human trafficking on the basis of their pro-life convictions. The HCCRA codifies and clarifies the appropriations provision known as the Hyde‐Weldon conscience clause. This is accomplished by adding the protections for healthcare entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion to the section of the Public Health Service Act known as the Coats Amendment. It also adds the option of judicial recourse for victims whose rights have been violated under the HCCRA, Coats, or the conscience clauses known as the Church amendments.
In addition to the three members of the House Republican caucus, those who have been affected by the HHS mandate also appeared at the press conference. They included: Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, a New York State Registered Nurse who filed suit after her freedom to serve patients according to her conscience was violated; Susan Elliott, director and professor at Biola University’s nursing department; and Christine Ketterhagen, co-owner and board member of Hercules Industries, Inc., who appeared with co-plaintiff Andy Newland, President of Hercules, and Bill Newland, Chairman of the Board.
The Catholic Association praised the legislation.
“We commend Representative Black for her leadership in seeking protection for the rights of conscience in the health care arena that have come under assault from the Obama Administration,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association. “A pluralistic and tolerant society should not force a healthcare worker to participate in abortion procedures, nor a Christian employer to provide abortion-inducing drugs for employees. Congresswoman Black’s legislation is a fair and reasonable solution to the controversy that continues to engulf the mandate.
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