Republicans in the U.S. House were able to secure passage of a government-funding bill that de-funds the Planned Parenthood abortion business and protects conscience rights. The Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee approved their FY13 spending bill today.
During consideration, pro-life Republicans on the panel turned back two pro-abortion amendments from Democrats.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment to strike Section 537, the conscience clause related to the HHS mandate. Also, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to strike Section 536, the language cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. Both amendments failed after party-line votes with Republicans voting prolife and Democrats voting pro-abortion.
Section 537 adds a new limitation of funds amendment to prohibit funding for enforcement of any provision of the Affordable Care Act that mandates insurance coverage of items or services to which a purchaser or issuer objects on moral or religious grounds. This limitation of funds amendment also contains a private right of action so that victims can seek redress in court.
Section 536 includes language to cut off funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of American as long as they continue to perform elective abortions.
Section 538 would enact H.R. 361, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). ANDA codifies and further clarifies the protections included in the Hyde-Weldon conscience clause. It also adds a civil right of action that allows pro-life victims of discrimination to seek redress in court. It did not face any pro-abortion amendments.
Chairman Denny Rehberg, a Montana lawmaker running for the U.S. Senate, received thanks from leading pro-life advocates for his leadership on pro-life issues.
The chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded lawmakers for keeping conscience rights in the bill. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston welcomed the inclusion of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act and the policy of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, saying lawmakers ““took a first, urgently needed step toward upholding rights of conscience and religious freedom in our health care system,”” by including two key provisions in its appropriations bill.
He said the measure will “strengthen federal protections for health care providers who decline to take part in abortions, and will ensure that the Affordable Care Act allows Americans to purchase health coverage without being forced to abandon their deeply held religious and moral convictions on matters such as abortion and sterilization.”
Cardinal DiNardo expressed gratitude to subcommittee chairman Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) for his leadership in sponsoring the conscience provisions when he introduced this bill, adding, “”The Catholic community and many others concerned about religious freedom will work hard to ensure that these protections are enacted into law.””
The Labor/HHS bill must be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee, then the House of Representatives, before it can be sent to the Senate for further action.
In a July 17 letter, Cardinal DiNardo had urged the subcommittee to include both provisions in the appropriations bill. ANDA, he wrote, would codify the Hyde/Weldon amendment, a longstanding part of this appropriations bill that prevents government discrimination against health care providers who decline participation in abortion.
“Instances of discrimination against pro-life health care providers continue to emerge, and some states implementing the Affordable Care Act have begun to claim that they can force all private health plans on their exchanges to cover elective abortion as an ‘’essential health benefit,'” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “By closing loopholes and providing victims of discrimination with a ‘’private right of action’’ to defend their rights in court, Sec. 538 will provide urgently needed relief.”
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Cardinal DiNardo said the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which is sponsored by 224 House members and supported by nearly half the Senate, should be incorporated into the bill to counter “the most direct federal threat to religious freedom in recent memory” – the HHS mandate for all private health plans, even those sponsored by most religious organizations, to include sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an early abortion. He added that this provision leaves in place all existing legal protections against discriminatory withholding of health care, only allowing “an opt-out on moral or religious grounds from the new benefits mandates to be created for the first time by the Affordable Care Act itself.”