January 19, 2018
WASHINGTON–Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, offered the following joint statement in response to the creation of a new Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights and other related administrative actions:
"We applaud HHS for its significant actions to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. For more than forty years—dating back to the Church amendment of 1973—Congress has enacted federal laws protecting rights of conscience in health care. We are grateful that HHS is taking seriously its charge to protect these fundamental civil rights through formation of a new division dedicated to protecting conscience rights and religious freedom. For too long, we have seen medical professionals, including pro-life nurses like Cathy DeCarlo, who have been coerced by their employers into participating in abortion. And we have seen states like California, New York, and Oregon demand that even religious organizations cover elective abortions in their health plans. These violations of federal law require a remedy from HHS.
We are pleased to see HHS's proposed regulation to enforce civil rights laws to protect Americans involved in HHS-funded programs, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments on this proposal. We also appreciate the Administration's action to rescind a 2016 guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that required states to provide Medicaid funding to family planning providers like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions.
Conscience protection should not be subject to political whims, however. Permanent legislative relief is essential. We urge Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act in order to give victims of discrimination the ability to defend their rights in court. No one should be forced to violate their deeply held convictions about the sanctity of human life."
A list of current federal laws protecting conscience rights can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Federal-Conscience-Laws.pdf