April 29, 2009

Catholic Conference welcomes state senate resolution opposing federal efforts to eliminate conscience regulation

LANSING (MCC) Earlier this year the Obama administration announced plans to rescind a recently implemented regulation that provides conscience protections for individual and institutional health care providers, and today the Michigan Catholic Conference welcomed a state Senate resolution expressing the body's opposition to the administration's plan.

"Democrats and Republicans who voted to support today's resolution are to be praised for lending their voices to a critical policy matter that affects every individual who works in and benefits from the services provided by our health care professionals and institutions," said MCC Vice President for Public Policy Paul Long.

According to Senate Resolution 43: "The recent move by the Obama administration to rescind the conscience clause regulations jeopardizes the right of a health care professional to follow his or her personal or religious convictions. This regulation was carefully designed to safeguard against forced violations of conscience in federally funded health care programs." The resolution goes on to state: "If conscientiously opposed individuals and institutions were forced to make a choice between performing abortions and facing punishment, they will still not perform abortions but, instead, face the punishment – whether this means loss of a job, loss of participation in a government program, or even civil or criminal penalties. This results in the provider being punished for heeding the voice of conscience."

In 2008 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed, then later implemented, a regulation enforcing three longstanding federal laws that protect individual and institutional health care providers from being forced to participate in procedures to which they have a moral or religious objection. The first law was enacted by Congress in 1973, called the Church amendment, which helps to ensure that health care personnel with moral or religious objections to abortion, sterilization or other medical or research activities are not discriminated against.

The second law, called the Coats/Snowe amendment, was enacted in 1996 and forbids federal agencies, and state or local governments receiving federal funds, to discriminate against health care providers and health training programs because they do not provide abortions or abortion training. Third is the Weldon amendment, which has been included in the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill every year since 2004, and forbids federal funding for government bodies which discriminate against health care providers and insurers that are not involved in abortion.

In March of this year, under the new administration, the Department of Health and Human Services began the process of rescinding the federal conscience regulation that was implemented in December 2008 to safeguard the above-mentioned laws. The public was given until April 9 to provide comment on the proposal and a final decision on the rescission of the regulation has yet to be made. Several hundred messages were sent from the Michigan Catholic Conference's grassroots advocacy tool, the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network, in opposition to the proposed rescission. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also invited public comments through its sister organization, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, and posted several videos on YouTube featuring doctors and nurses from across the country opposed to the proposal.

Threats to conscience protection have been greatly increasing in recent years as states such as New York and California have considered laws to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions and other "services" against Catholic teaching. In Michigan, legislation that would have specifically prohibited individuals from invoking their conscience rights in the delivery of prescription medication passed out of committee last session.

"Despite the presence of federal laws, the conscience protection regulation implemented last year is necessary because some elected officials, supported by various advocacy groups, are taking radical steps to actually prohibit health care providers and individuals from invoking their right to conscience," said Long. "The presence of the conscience regulations helps to protect those workers who do not want to be forced into performing a medical procedure they find morally objectionable."

Senate Resolution 43, which passed the chamber 23-12, is sponsored by Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo) and will be transmitted to the Office of the President of the United States, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and members of the Michigan congressional delegation.

Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

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