The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 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.
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— despite repeated violations—has 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, which provides that governmental bodies receiving federal funding may not discriminate against a health care entity that “does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” Violations of the Weldon amendment are also taking place in other states, such as New York and Washington.
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.
For an HLA Action Alert urging Congress to support the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 and work to ensure it is enacted into law as part of Fiscal Year 2018 funding legislation see: humanlifeaction.org/action-alert/urge-congress-enact-conscience-protection-act-2017 .
On January 24, 2017, Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644). The measure has 105 other cosponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
H.R. 644 is identical to the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which passed the House in the previous Congress on a bi-partisan vote.
Committee: On July 19, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor/HHS bill (H.R. 3358) which included the text of the Conscience Protection Act.
On February 3, 2017, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (S. 301) in the Senate. The measure has 24 cosponsors and was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
On May 4, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order on Free Speech and Religious Liberty. For more details, see “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty: Executive Order” elsewhere in this Legislative Report.
• In letters to the House and Senate, Cardinal Dolan, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty urged support for H.R. 644 and S. 301 saying:
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.
… The Conscience Protection Act 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.
… When government instead mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.
Also see USCCB Fact Sheets:
• "Cases Showing the Need for the Conscience Protection Act" at: humanlifeaction.org/sites/default/files/Cases-Showing-the-Need-for-the-Conscience-Protection-Act.pdf
• “The Need for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 - Questions and Answers,” at: humanlifeaction.org/sites/default/files/The-Need-for-the-Conscience-Protection-Act.pdf.
• “Conscience Protection on Abortion: No Threat to Life,” at: humanlifeaction.org/sites/default/files/Federal-Conscience-Protection-on-Abortion-No-Threat-to-Life_2.pdf.