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Pro-life lawmakers push for legislation to protect medical providers who refuse to perform abortions

A doctor at the Accident and Emergency department of the recently opened Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital on February 7, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Pro-life lawmakers renewed a push Wednesday for legislation they say would protect medical professionals who refuse to perform abortion procedures as a matter of conscience.

What would the bill do?

Authors of the Conscience Protection Act of 2017, which was introduced in January, say it would prohibit the federal government — as well as any state and local governments that receive federal funds for health services — from penalizing or discriminating against a medical professional who refuses to perform or assist an abortion procedure.

It would also require the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to investigate allegations brought by health care providers against their employers if they are penalized for refusing to be involved in an abortion.

Existing law already bars the federal government from discriminating against health care providers for refusing to participate in abortion procedures as a matter of conscience, but the only relief that provision grants to providers is the ability to file a complaint with HHS. The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 would create a private right of action, enabling victims to have their allegations heard in court.

What do proponents say?

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), told reporters at a Wednesday press conference about the bill that “health care, my friends, is about saving life.”

“It is about eradicating disease, about mitigating disabilities, not taking the lives of unborn children. At the very least, health care providers should have the right not to be coerced into facilitating abortion.”

Smith said the House previously passed the bill under a veto threat by former President Barack Obama’s administration, but that President Donald Trump would sign it into law.

Cathy DeCarlo, a New York nurse, said she was coerced by her employer into assisting a late-term abortion procedure in violation of her Catholic faith.

Through tears, DeCarlo said that in 2009, she went to assist during what she thought would be a “common procedure following a miscarriage,” but was actually an abortion at 22 weeks gestation.

When she objected, DeCarlo said, her supervisor declined to find another nurse and threatened her job and nursing license. Fearing her ability to provide for her family would be jeopardized, she obeyed her supervisor.

“I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs and I had to account for all the pieces.”

DeCarlo said she still has nightmares about that day.

“Which is why I’m here today, to ask Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act so that no other nurses or healthcare professionals are ever forced to go through what I did.”

DeCarlo, who is an immigrant from the Philippines, added, “I never thought in America I would be forced to violate my conscience in this way.”

What do opponents say?

Opponents of the bill contend that the legislation would make access to abortion more difficult.

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