WASHINGTON (February 23, 2005)– In a letter to the U.S. Senate, leaders of three Catholic organizations have urged an overwhelming vote against rescinding the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment. This amendment protects the rights of health care providers from governmental discrimination because they decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
The Hyde/Weldon amendment, approved last December as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, is an "important safeguard for rights of conscience," the leaders said. But it will be under renewed attack, they cautioned, when Senator Barbara Boxer offers a motion to rescind the law before the end of April.
"This matter of conscience rights should be an area of common ground among Senators who disagree on the issue of abortion itself," the letter said. "Surely, if 'pro-choice' has any meaning, it encompasses protection for a choice not to be involved in abortion against one's will."
The letter was signed by Msgr. William P. Fay, General Secretary, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Sister Carol Keehan, DC, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Catholic Health Association of the United States; and Steven White, MD, President, Catholic Medical Association.
The leaders noted that the appropriateness of laws protecting conscientious objection to abortion was acknowledged in the Supreme Court's Doe v. Bolton decision, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, and that the right of conscience is recognized by the laws of forty-seven states and in many federal laws.
Since 1996 a federal law has protected "health care entities," including individual physicians and medical residents as well as residency programs, from discrimination at the hands of federal, state or local, government when they decline to provide or refer for abortions or abortion training. Some have suggested, however, that this law covers only the entities it explicitly mentions, and only in the context of the training program.
"These supposed loopholes in current law have underscored the need for a more inclusive national policy protecting all health care providers who choose not to participate in abortions," the letter continued. "Closing these irrational loopholes is what the Hyde/Weldon amendment does--and despite exaggerated charges by opponents, that is all it does.
"Current law…already allows individual and institutional health care providers to freely choose to provide abortions, and the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment does not alter this reality. All the amendment does is help 'level the playing field' for those who decline to provide abortions," the letter said.
"If you hold a pro-life position, this will be an easy vote. If you see yourself as 'pro-choice,' this is an opportunity to affirm that your commitment to 'choice' includes respect for everyone's choices on abortion. We hope for an overwhelming Senate vote against rescinding the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment."
NOTE: The full letter will be posted at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/hydeweldonletter2.pdf