By Lisa Zengarini
US Bishops have “strongly commended” the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for taking corrective action against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) and the State of California for violating federal conscience laws on abortion.
According to the OCR, UVMMC violated the Church Amendment enacted by the Congress in 1973, by forcing a nurse to participate in an elective abortion against her religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Amendment provides that health care personnel employed by certain federally funded programs and facilities may not be required to perform or assist in the performance of sterilization or abortion services to which they object based on their religious or moral beliefs. The OCR is also taking enforcement action against the State of California for violating the Weldon Amendment by state insurance and health care laws which require health plans to cover elective abortions. Most employers, including even some churches, are unable to obtain self-funded health plans that exclude this coverage. The 2004 Amendment however prohibits federal agencies and programs and state and local governments that receive money under the bill from discriminating against individuals, health care facilities, insurance plans, and other entities because they refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
In a statement released on Decembre 17, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, expressed strong support to the action: “These bi-partisan laws recognize that it is an abhorrent violation of conscience rights to force someone to perform, pay for, or otherwise participate in an abortion against their beliefs”, the statement reads . “Sadly, violations of these laws have increased in recent years, so we are deeply grateful to OCR for taking these strong and just actions to enforce the law, the two prelates add, expressing hope that “today’s actions to enforce these crucial federal conscience laws will be sustained until the violators come into compliance”.
Religious liberty and freedom of conscience have been at the core of the debate between the Obama Administration’s and the US Church since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in 2010. The Bishops have always maintained that any health care reform should be consistent with the Church’s teaching against abortion, contraception and euthanasia and have taken a strong stand for conscientious objection on religious and moral grounds.