Monday, September 30, 2013

Bishops push for conscience protections in government funding



Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 / 01:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops have written to lawmakers insisting on the importance of including religious liberty protections and the conscience rights of health care workers as part of government funding negotiations.

“Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of U.S. society through schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities,” wrote Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a Sept. 26 letter.

The bishops wrote regarding the federal contraception mandate – issued by the Department of Health and Human Services – which requires employers to provide employee health coverage for sterilization and contraception, as well as drugs which can cause early abortions.

While the mandate has a narrow exemption for religious employers, many Catholic institutions do not meet the government's criteria. More than 200 plaintiffs across the country have filed lawsuits challenging the mandate, and some legal analysts believe the Supreme Court will take up the case in the coming months.

Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Lori – who head the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee and religious liberty committee, respectively – reminded the nation’s lawmakers that the bishops “strongly support universal access to health care.” However, they said, “such access is threatened by Congress' continued failure to protect the right of conscience.”

They applauded the provisions of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.).

Key elements of this bill should be incorporated into “must-pass” legislation as Congress considers a continuing resolution to prevent a government shut-down, the bishops said.

Their letter comes amid pressing discussions over the funding of the federal government, which will run out at the end of Sept. 30. If an agreement is not reached between Democrats and Republicans, non-essential government services will cease at the end of the day Monday.

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