House Hearing Focuses on Conscience Issues in Obamacare

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 1, 2011   |   6:07PM   |   Washington, DC

A House committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the lack of conscience protections in Obamacare, the national health care law pro-life groups opposed because it fails to protect pro-life medical workers or ban abortion funding.

The Subcommittee on Health has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday entitled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?” Some of the participants on the witness list include William Cox of Alliance of Catholic Health Care, David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association, and Jane G. Belford of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. On the pro-abortion side, Democrats have invited Jon O’Brien, the president of “Catholics for Choice.”

In a November 1 letter to subcommittee chairman Rep. Joseph Pitts, the Pennsylvania Republican who is the chairman of the panel, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the pro-life office of the nation’s Catholic bishops, said he looks forward to the hearing. In the letter, Cardinal DiNardo says Congress should strengthen conscience protections for health care providers and ensure that health care reform measures do not impede religious liberty.

He said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) “excluded longstanding protections for conscience rights on abortion, by failing to apply the annual Hyde/Weldon amendment to the billions of dollars newly appropriated by the Act.”

“And it created new open-ended mandates for ‘essential health benefits’ and ‘preventive services’ to be included in almost all private health plans, without any provision for individuals or institutions that may have a moral or religious objection to particular items or procedures,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo added that the preventive service mandate has been exploited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force almost all private insurers to cover contraceptives—including some that can cause early abortions—and sterilizations. This mandate comes with a religious exemption that narrowly defines religious employers as those who employ and serve members of their own religion for the purpose of teaching religious doctrine.

“Jesus and the apostles would not be ‘religious enough’ under such a test, as they served and healed people of different religions,” wrote Cardinal DiNardo. “Catholic organizations committed to their moral and religious teaching will have no choice but to stop providing health care and other services to the needy who are not Catholic, or stop providing health coverage to their own employees.  This is an intolerable dilemma, and either choice will mean reduced access to health care.”

Cardinal DiNardo said it was troubling that this reduction in care would occur merely as a result of mandated contraception.

“Is the drive to maximize contraceptive coverage, even among those who do not want it, such an urgent national priority that it transcends concerns about religious liberty, our nation’s ‘First Freedom,’ as well as concerns about women’s health and about access to basic health care for men and women alike?” he asked.

The Catholic leader pointed out that an advertisement has appeared in Politico, The Hill, Roll Call and CQ Today signed by 22 leaders of Catholic organizations objecting to the “preventive services” mandate.

In October, the House voted for the Protect Life Act, to stop abortion funding in Obamacare.

Members voted 251-172 for the pro-life legislation, with 236 Republicans and 15 Democrats supporting the bill and 170 Democrats and two Republicans voting against it. (See how your member voted here).

H.R. 358, Protect Life Act, makes it clear that no funds authorized or appropriated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), including tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, may be used to pay for abortion or abortion coverage. It specifies that individual people or state or local governments must purchase a separate elective abortion rider or insurance coverage that includes elective abortion but only as long as that is done with private funds and not monies authorized by Obamacare.

The bill also specifies that insurance issuers may offer health plans that include elective abortion and may offer separate elective abortion riders, so long as they ensure PPACA funds are not used for premiums or administrative costs. The bill also clarifies that issuers who offer elective abortion coverage must also offer a qualified health benefits plan that is identical except that it does not cover elective abortion.

The pro-life measure also ensures that state laws “protecting conscience rights, restricting or prohibiting abortion or coverage or funding of abortion, or establishing procedural requirements on abortion” are not abrogated by Obamacare. It also makes it so any state or local governments receiving funding under Obamacare may not subject any health care entity to discrimination or require any health plan to subject any entity to discrimination on the basis that it refuses to undergo abortion training, refuses to require abortion training, refuses to perform or pay for abortions, or refuses to provide abortion referrals.