WASHINGTON (October 9, 2002) -- Warning of "a growing nationwide effort to attack the conscience rights of Catholic and other health care providers," Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua urged members of the Senate to support the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 2008/H.R. 4691).
The Act was approved by the House of Representatives on September 25 and is endorsed by many pro-life, religious and medical organizations. It stands ready for Senate approval so it can be signed into law by President Bush, who strongly supports the legislation.
"Passage of S. 2008 is urgently needed," said Cardinal Bevilacqua. The Cardinal, Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the Senate on October 8.
Citing examples of the threat to freedom of conscience, Cardinal Bevilacqua noted that an Alaska court recently forced a community hospital to provide elective late-term abortions contrary to its policy and the sentiment of the community. In another case, abortion advocacy groups urged the state of New Jersey to require a Catholic health system to build an abortion clinic on its premises, to serve what they see as a right of "access" to abortion.
"S. 2008 addresses these problems...by clarifying the scope of a nondiscrimination statute (42 USC "238n) that both House and Senate overwhelmingly approved in 1996," Cardinal Bevilacqua wrote. "The current law protects "health care entities," including medical residency programs, from being forced by government bodies to provide abortions or abortion training.
The new bill makes it clear that the protection extends to the full range of health care entities, including hospitals and health plans as well as individual health professionals other than physicians. It also applies this protection to entities being told they must pay for abortions against their will."
"I hasten to add that this is all the legislation does, despite false and misleading charges made against it by abortion advocacy groups during the House debate," Cardinal Bevilacqua wrote. "It does not expand current law beyond religious health care entities to cover secular entities, because current law already extends conscience protection to both. It does not remove exceptions to conscience rights from current law, because the law currently has no exceptions."
"By opposing this modest legislation, abortion advocates have called into serious question their past claim that they favor a "right to choose" on abortion," the Cardinal said. "I hope the Senate will take to heart what was said by a board member of the Alaska hospital mentioned above at the House hearing on this bill: Hospitals and other health care providers have "a right to choose not to be involved in destroying life."
The Cardinal"s letter is available on the Web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/andasen.htm.