Conscience Protections for Pro-Life Medical Professionals Not in Senate Health Bill

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Conscience Protections for Pro-Life Medical Professionals Not in Senate Health Bill

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 1
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Abortion funding has received most of the coverage and notice when it comes to the pro-life concerns about the health care bills pending in Congress. While rationing and assisted suicide have also gained attention, the plight of pro-life medical professionals has not.

In a recent speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, outlined the concerns present in the Senate bill for pro-life health care workers.

He noted that, while the House bill contains language to support their conscience rights on abortion, the Senate does not have the same language.

"The House provisions, in contrast to the terribly flawed provisions in the Reid bill, contained language that would not only safeguard the rights of the unborn but also would prevent medical providers from being coerced into performing procedures that violate their conscience,” Hatch said.

Hatch discussed the amendment he proposed during the committee consideration of a version of the health care bill to protect the right of pro-life doctors and nurses.

He said his amendment "provided conscience clause protections to medical providers opposed to abortion. This language was based on the Hyde/Weldon provision contained in every Labor/HHS appropriations bill since 2004. It also was included in the House-passed bill."

Hyde-Weldon is a federal law that President George W. Bush signed into law in December 2004 that protects hospitals, health insurance companies and medical professionals who don’t want to pay for or perform abortions.

"The conscience clause protections in the final House bill for pro-life providers are not included in the Reid bill. The House adopted language codified the essence of the Weldon/Hyde conscience protections included in the annual HHS appropriations bill since 2004," Hatch continued.

The senator, who is pro-life on abortion, noted how, this summer, "the House Energy and Commerce Committee accepted these protections unanimously during consideration of its bill."

"Let me emphasize that point again. Unanimously," he continued. "That means that all members of the Committee with ideologies ranging from Chairman Henry Waxman who represents Hollywood, California, to Ranking Republican Joe Barton who represents a conservative congressional district in Texas, recognized the importance of adopting this language."

"In contrast, the Reid bill has stronger protections for abortion providers than for providers who have conscience objections to abortion," Hatch complained.

"On one hand, abortion providers may not be ‘discriminated against’ for performing any abortion anywhere; on the other hand, pro-life providers must cite a particular ‘moral or religious belief’ to prevent discrimination," he noted. "This is narrower than current law under Hyde/Weldon."

"Moreover, it does not extend the protections to pro-life health plans. In other words, a Catholic health system that requires a local hospital to stop providing abortions in order to become part of its health system could be accused of discrimination. What is wrong with this picture?" Hatch concluded.

The senator, who has already said he is planning a Stupak-type amendment to strip the abortion funding from the Senate health care bill, may also put forward an amendment to add conscience protections as well.

The first Hatch nondiscrimination amendment failed by a vote of 13-10 in committee with pro-abortion Sen. Olympia Snow, a Maine Republican, siding with Democrats on the panel to oppose the measure.

Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.

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