Passage of the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) has been and remains a high priority of the Catholic Bishops. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress failed to enact the CPA as part of the 2018 omnibus spending bill, as we hoped. We urge you to contact Congress over their failure to act
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I am deeply disappointed that the Conscience Protection Act was not included in the 2018 omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress last week. Congress must not give up until this critical legislation is enacted to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion.
The Conscience Protection Act (CPA) will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.
The need for clarification of federal law cannot be doubted. While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice. These laws can only be enforced by complaint to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which—under the Obama administration—refused to fully enforce these laws.
For example, on June 21, 2016, the HHS Office for Civil Rights declared that the State of California may continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions—in violation of the plain text of the Weldon amendment. Violations of the Weldon amendment are also taking place in other states, such as New York, Oregon and Washington State.
Even HHS itself has discriminated against those who cannot in conscience facilitate abortions, as when in 2011 it implemented a new “strong preference” for grantees willing to refer human trafficking victims solely to health care providers who favor abortion. While the Weldon amendment to the annual Labor/HHS appropriation bill has forbidden such governmental discrimination since 2004, state officials have violated that amendment with impunity and claimed that any effort to enforce it would be subject to legal challenge.
On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights created a new Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom dedicated to protecting conscience rights and religious freedom. The next day, in his address to the March for Life, President Trump proposed a new regulation to enforce 25 existing conscience laws to protect Americans involved in HHS-funded programs. While both actions are welcome news, neither diminishes the need for the Conscience Protection Act because a future President can dissolve the new division and rescind the regulation. Permanent legislative relief is essential through enactment of the CPA.