Cardinal Justin Rigali has written a letter to all members of the U.S. Congress defending conscience protections for pro-life health care workers. According to the cardinal, due to a lack of executive action some institutions may be violating conscience protection laws “without even knowing it.”
Cardinal Rigali, who is Archbishop of Philadelphia and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, wrote the July 18 letter in response to a New York Times article about a draft proposal requiring that any program run or funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must certify that it will not refuse to hire nurses and other healthcare workers who object to abortion and abortifacient contraceptives.
News of the proposal prompted criticism from abortion rights supporters. On Friday Sen. Hillary Clinton said the draft was a "gratuitous, unnecessary insult" to women.
While noting that he was not specifically responding to the reported proposal, Cardinal Rigali said some of the proposal’s critics had made “sweeping” charges that did not acknowledge the legal tradition of freedom of conscience in health care. He said legal conscience protections in health care are not new, having been in force since at least the 1973 “Church amendment.”
However, Cardinal Rigali argued, conscience-protection statues have not been clarified or enforced through regulations. “Relatively few policy makers or health care personnel are even aware that these laws exist… some institutions may be violating the law without even knowing it,” he wrote.
Referring to the 2007 decision of the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which issued an opinion stating that pro-life physicians must provide abortion referrals, he said the college had to be reminded by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that federal conscience protection laws have directed against such requirements.
“It seems the statutory policy is clear and needed, and at the same time is relatively unknown, misunderstood, and unenforced,” the cardinal wrote, saying that implementing such statues is a “proper task” of the federal executive branch.
Cardinal Rigali said critics of the reported draft revealed a reversal in pro-abortion groups’ rhetoric. Despite having insisted that abortion and its related services are “basic” aspects of health care that are opposed only by a tiny minority, the cardinal argued, pro-abortion groups now claim that conscientious objection to such procedures is “so pervasive in the health care professions that policies protecting conscience rights will eliminate access to them.”
“Obviously these two claims cancel each other out,” the cardinal asserted, adding that patients with pro-life convictions deserve access to health care professionals who “do not have contempt for their religious and moral convictions or for the lives of their children.”
Self-described “pro-choice” advocates, he said, must address whether they agree that abortion is a “moral concern” or at least whether they hold that “freedom of choice” must belong to everyone, including those with deep moral concerns about abortion.
He concluded his letter with a rhetorical question: “Or is the ‘pro-choice’ label a misleading mask for an agenda of actively promoting and even imposing morally controversial positions on those who conscientiously hold different views?”