October 8, 2002
I hope you will soon have an opportunity to vote on 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. In recent years there has been a growing nationwide effort to attack the conscience rights of Catholic and other health care providers. In one example cited at the House hearing on this bill, 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. 2008 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," including medical residency programs, from being forced by government bodies to provide abortions or abortion training. The new bill makes it clear that this 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. 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. Rather, current law was intended to provide full protection to entities (secular or religious) who decline to participate in abortions; but the absence of explicit statutory language has been exploited by groups that favor forced involvement in abortions, requiring clarification by Congress. Finally, S. 2008 does nothing to expand the legal scope of the word "abortion" or to authorize any private party to do so. Protection for health care providers with conscientious objections to other procedures is an issue in need of further discussion and action by Congress, but is not the subject of this bill.
By opposing this modest legislation, abortion advocates 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, 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." Please support and co-sponsor the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act.
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops