April 03, 2009
Very important message about conscience rights protections
By Father Thomas Berg *

By Father Thomas Berg *

Dear Friends,

This is a message of utmost importance about protecting the conscience rights of our health care practitioners.  Please read this message.  It is important that you submit a comment to Health and Human Services (HHS) by April 9 to help protect conscience rights.   

In previous columns, I have talked about the importance of conscience rights and why regulations proposed and then implemented by the Bush administration were so necessary.
In sum, increasing threats against the conscience rights of health care providers prompted the Bush administration to implement the federal rule that would ensure compliance with existing federal statutes that protect conscience rights.  

The outcry from radical abortion-rights activists, who claimed that protecting conscience rights would limit some elective healthcare options (such as abortion, sterilization or contraception) prompted the Obama administration to propose a new rule that would rescind - overturn - this federal protection for healthcare workers.  

Since the new rule simply ensures compliance with existing statutes, overturning it is a signal act towards weakening or eliminating the actual conscience protection statues themselves.  

Ironically, this effort is being made under the banner of "choice."  But eliminating, weakening or failing to protect conscience rights makes it more likely that healthcare workers may be compelled to either violate their consciences, or leave the healthcare field altogether.  In other words, it threatens a healthcare professional's ability to choose and make medical determinations in complete freedom of conscience as is required by the profession itself.  

The effort also threatens the patients' freedom  to choose providers who share their values; unless conscience rights are protected, patients will find it increasingly difficult to find a physician who they trust on issues that are important to them.  

Finally, the effort to weaken or eliminate conscience protections discourages talented professionals and students from continuing or pursuing a career in the healthcare field, further challenging an already strained healthcare system.  

Lest anyone doubt that eliminating conscience protections will reduce care options for patients rather than enlarge them, they only need to consider statistics from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: nearly a third of all women live in rural areas without a single ob/gyn.  Driving some doctors out of practice by failing to protect their conscience rights, or discouraging others from entering the field, will only make matters much worse.  

Citizens are able to submit a comment to HHS about the proposed rule, and it only takes a few minutes.  Please, I implore you to send a comment to HHS to register your opinion about the importance of conscience protections.  You can use information from above, and your comment can be as short or as long as you wish, as long as it is relevant to the proposal to rescind the conscience protections rule.

Thank you for taking the time to register your comment with HHS.  It is important for all of us that no one's conscience rights are eliminated.

God bless you,

Fr. Thomas Berg

Information on submitting a comment is below.  For additional information, please see our website at www.westchesterinstitute.net, or visit www.freedom2care.org.
ADDRESSES: In commenting, please refer to "Rescission Proposal." To better manage the comment process, we will not accept comments by facsimile (FAX) transmission.
You may submit comments in one of four ways (no duplicates, please):

1. Electronically. You may submit electronic comments on this regulation to
http://www.Regulations.gov or via email to [email protected].  To submit
electronic comments to http://www.Regulations.gov, go to the Web site and click on the link "Comment or Submission" and enter the keywords "Rescission Proposal."
[Attachments should be in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, or Excel; however, we prefer Microsoft Word.]

2. By regular mail. You may mail written comments (one original and two copies) to the following address only: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey
Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 716G, Washington, DC 20201.

3. By express or overnight mail. You may send written comments (one original and two copies) to the following address only: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 716G, Washington, DC 20201.

4. By hand or courier. If you prefer, you may deliver (by hand or courier) your written comments (one original and two copies) before the close of the comment period to the following address: Room 716G, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20201. (Because access to the interior of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building is not readily available to persons without federal government identification, commenters are encouraged to leave their comments in the mail drop slots located in the main lobby of the building. A stamp-in clock is available for persons wishing to retain proof of filing by stamping in and retaining an extra copy of the documents being filed.)

Inspection of Public Comments: All comments received before the close of the  comment period are available for viewing by the public, including any personally identifiable or confidential business information that is included in a comment. We post all comments received before the close of the comment period on the following Web site as soon as possible after they have been received:  http://www.Regulations.gov. Click on the link "Comment or Submission" on that Web site to view public comments.

Comments received timely will also be available for public inspection as they are received, generally beginning approximately 3 weeks after publication of a  document, at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20201, Monday through Friday of each week from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m


Father Thomas Berg is a priest in the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie).

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