Conscience rights: Urge Congress to protect religious liberty in health care Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, May. 02, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Over 56,000 people joined me in contacting their members of Congress about the importance of protecting conscience rights in health care. We were responding to an appeal from the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA).

The NCHLA is urging us to continue to fight for conscience protection under the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Challenging provisions of Affordable Care Act

Catholic dioceses, as well as Catholic and other religious nonprofit organizations and businesses, have filed lawsuits challenging the mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a statement reported by Catholic News Service (CNS) that the goal of these litigants is “nothing less than securing the freedom of the Church to continue to obey the Lord’s command — and, in turn, to serve the common good — by providing charitable ministries in health care, education, and service to the poor, all without compromising Catholic beliefs.”

The mandate requires employers to cover contraceptives, abortion drugs, and sterilization procedures in their health plans. The lawsuits challenging it have been filed on grounds that the exemption for those who object to it for moral or religious reasons should be expanded.

Revised rules don’t go far enough

Archbishop Lori described new proposed rules released in February of this year governing the contraceptive mandate and the definition of a religious employer as “a small, incremental step” that is welcomed but fails to address “most of the serious problems with the definition and mandate.”

The new proposal would widen the exemption for religious organizations by removing three conditions that defined religious employers — as groups whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, who primarily employ persons of the same faith, and who serve those of the same faith. The fourth criterion remains: what is a nonprofit organization under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code. No exemption will be given to individual employees or for-profit secular employers opposed to such coverage.

The day Archbishop Lori’s statement was released was the last day of the 60-day public comment period on the proposed rules. They are expected to be finalized this summer and institutions must provide coverage by August.

Definition too narrow

The Catholic Health Association (CHA), Knights of Columbus, and the Washington Archdiocese were among those who filed comments objecting to the new rules, according to a CNS story.

The CHA took issue with the “narrow definition” of religious employers established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noting that Catholic hospitals and health care organizations as well as other religious institutional employers do not meet this definition of religious employer and their health plans are therefore not exempt from the contraceptive coverage mandate.

The association urged for an “expanded definition of religious employer” as the “simplest way to protect religious organizations with objections to providing contraceptive coverage” calling this a “far simpler solution to the problem” that would “avoid lingering and serious difficulties.”

What concerned citizens can do

It is vital that we rededicate our efforts to passing the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940). The U.S. House of Representatives again should be urged to include H.R. 940 in upcoming “must-pass” legislation.

The NCHLA reminds us that even if you have already contacted your representative in support of H.R. 940, please do it again. The HHS mandate will begin to be enforced on August 1. Congress must decide whether to address this problem through must-pass legislation before that deadline.

Please act today to protect conscience rights and religious liberty. Go to to find out how to contact your member of Congress on this important issue.