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Faith leaders urge Congress to pass bill protecting doctors who won’t perform abortions

A pro-life activist holds rosary beads as she prays in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March For Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Faith leaders are urging Congress to pass a bill protecting doctors and other medical professionals who won’t perform abortions due to their faith.

The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 would create additional protections for health care providers who do not perform elective abortions due to their religious beliefs and religious employers who choose not to cover elective abortion procedures in their health insurance plans.

Existing law already prevents the federal government from discriminating against health care personnel for refusing to participate in abortion procedures, but the only relief that provision grants is the ability to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 would create a private right of action so that victims could have their allegations heard in court.

Similar legislation was approved by the House last year.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has backed the legislation, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), one of the sponsors of the legislation in the House, told TheBlaze that “being an American has always meant experiencing the freedom to live by the dictates of one’s deeply held beliefs at home, at work, and in the public square.”

“But too often today, pro-life Americans are denied that same opportunity,” Black said. “With states like California and New York enforcing abortion mandates in state insurance coverage and instances of health care workers like Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo being forced to violate their beliefs on the dignity of life as a condition of keeping their job, Congress is compelled to act.”

Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, a Catholic and a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, said during a 2013 press conference that the hospital coerced her into assisting during a late-term abortion procedure by threatening her job and her nursing license.

In 2014, the state of California ordered that all health insurance plans cover elective abortions, without exceptions for religious employers. New York issued a similar mandate.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Congress asking them to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.

In the letter, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, wrote that the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is “essential legislation” that would protect the fundamental rights of health care providers.

“The need for clarification of federal law cannot be doubted,” the letter states:

While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice. These laws can only be enforced by complaint to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which— despite repeated violations—has refused to fully enforce these laws.

The letter also states that the legislation would “ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

Black expressed gratitude for the USCCB's support for the bill.

“I am proud to sponsor this critical legislation protecting pro-life Americans from penalty or discrimination for simply living out their beliefs, and I thank the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for helping mobilize support for this effort,” she said.

Travis Wussow, the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel at the ERLC told TheBlaze that the organization also supports the bill.

Wussow said that when medical professionals made complaints about being forced to participate in abortions or when California, the Obama administration did not enforce the existing law. He added that although the pro-life Tom Price has been confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services, “there’s no guarantee we’ll have pro-life forces [always] occupying the White House or even HHS.”

“What this bill does is provide an avenue for the everyday people who are affected by the states refusing to follow federal law to take their issues to court and let the courts resolve it,” he said.

Opponents of the bill argue that it allows employers to impose their pro-life views on their employees.

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