August 15, 2003
I am writing to urge you to support and co-sponsor the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 1397). This is a bipartisan proposal that protects a basic right, the right to choose not to participate in abortions. The House of Representatives approved this legislation in September 2002 but it has not received Senate consideration.
Swift action on S. 1397 is needed. In recent years there has been a nationwide effort to attack the conscience rights of Catholic and other health care providers. In one example cited at a House hearing in July 2002, an Alaska court forced a community hospital to provide elective late-term abortions contrary to its policy and the sentiment of the community. Abortion advocacy groups have even 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 (see "ACLU asks release of $1.5 million," Burlington County Times, July 9, 2002).
S. 1397 addresses these problems in a modest and straightforward manner, by clarifying the scope of a nondiscrimination statute (42 USC §238n) that both House and Senate overwhelmingly approved in 1996. The current law protects "health care entities," such as medical residency programs, from being forced by government bodies to provide abortions or abortion training. But the absence of explicit statutory language regarding other health care entities has been exploited by groups that favor forced involvement in abortions, and hence the need for clarification by Congress. The new bill makes it clear that this protection extends to the full range of such entities, including hospitals, health plans, and individual health professionals other than physicians. It also applies this protection to entities being pressured to pay for abortions against their will.
Abortion advocates, by opposing this modest legislation, have called into serious question their past claim that they favor a "right to choose" on abortion. I hope the Senate will take to heart what was said by a board member of the Alaska hospital mentioned above: Hospitals and other health care providers have "a right to choose not to be involved in destroying life." Please support and co-sponsor the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. The staff of our Bishops' Conference would be glad to meet with you to discuss this bill further and answer any questions you may have about it.
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life
Activities U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops