Cardinal Francis George has issued a video message asking Catholics to tell the Obama Administration to retain a conscience protection rule for pro-life health care workers. Its preservation is vital to keep the government from “moving our country from democracy to despotism,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation, implemented in the final months of the George W. Bush presidency, made explicit the existing legal protections for medical workers and institutions who object to cooperating in abortions.
On Feb. 27, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that it was reviewing a proposal to lift or modify the HHS rule.
Cardinal George, who is Archbishop of Chicago and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), addressed the proposed change in a two and a half-minute video. Giving an overview of the issue, he said the rule is “one part of the range of legal protections" for health care workers who object to being involved in “abortion and other killing procedures” that contradict their faith.
He connected the HHS rule to respect for religious liberty and the freedom of personal conscience, both of which ensure “our basic freedom from government oppression.”
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops “as Catholic bishops and American citizens,” the cardinal expressed deep concern that removing the rule would be “the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”
“No government should come between an individual person and God—that's what America is supposed to be about,” he commented. “This is the true common ground for us as Americans.”
This being the case, the cardinal said, it is necessary to have legal protection for freedom of conscience and of religion, including “freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves.”
He noted that conscientious objection is already recognized for war protesters and for doctors who do not wish to be involved in administering the death penalty.
“Why shouldn't our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother's womb?” Cardinal George asked. “People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures—a living member of the human family is killed—that's what it's all about—and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality.”
“I ask you please to let the government know that you want conscience protections to remain strongly in place. In particular, let the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington know that you stand for the protection of conscience, especially now for those who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society,” he concluded, giving his thanks and his blessing.
The U.S. bishops’ conscience protection site provides additional information and resources as well as a link for concerned Catholics and others to express their views to the HHS. The site reports the submission deadline for comments is April 9.