.- Writing from Rome just a few days before the Papal conclave, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston called on members of Congress to support stronger religious freedom protections in health care.
“In short,” the cardinal said in a March 8 letter, “a failure to provide clear and enforceable protection for a right of conscience could undermine Americans’ access to quality health care.”
“Providers of health care, as well as those who offer or purchase insurance, should not face an unacceptable choice between preserving their religious and moral integrity or participating in our health care system,” he emphasized.
The cardinal, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, is currently in Rome, where he will soon participate in the conclave that will elect the new Pope.
In his letter, Cardinal O’Malley specifically urged members of the U.S. House of Representatives to support and pass the Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013.
Introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) on March 4, the bill is being co-sponsored by more than 60 members of the House of Representatives.
If passed, the act would ensure conscience protections for health care workers, employers and individuals under the Affordable Care Act. It would secure the religious freedom of those who object to the federal contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs.
It would also protect medical personnel from participating in abortions if they hold religious objections to doing so.
The cardinal’s letter in support of the bill follows a similar message penned in February by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. That letter also called for legal conscience protections for healthcare workers and providers.
Cardinal O’Malley explained that ensuring religious freedom in health care “is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of American society through a network of schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities.”
He continued, adding that these “institutions, which have been part of the Church’s ministry since the earliest days of the Republic, arose from religious conviction,” and therefore are not secular entities.
Conscience protections are not a partisan issue, but “are foundational to our American experiment,” he said, “and they have allowed people of diverse faiths and belief systems to make their own unique contribution to the common good for two centuries.”
“While those protections have long enjoyed bipartisan consensus, they are under greatly increased pressure today,” he said, pointing to regulations including the contraception mandate that threaten to coerce objecting individuals and organizations into violating their convictions.
The cardinal explained that in light of these threats, “legal protections which allow us to fulfill our obligation to serve others, without compromising our religious or moral convictions, are essential to the continued vitality of these ministries.”
“Resolution of this concern will benefit our working together in our country to serve those most in need,” he said.