.- Two congressmen on Tuesday responded to President Barack Obama’s commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, calling on him to honor pro-life consciences by rejecting the possible cancellation of federal conscience protection rules for pro-life medical workers.
Speaking at a Washington, D.C. press conference and also sending a letter to the President, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) noted President Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech remark that he wanted to “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.” Expressing their agreement on the need for a conscience clause, the representatives’ letter asked that President Obama end the White House Office of Management and Budget’s review of the Department of Health and Human Services’ conscience protection rules enacted by the Bush administration. They also asked him to “completely forgo” their rescindment.
“In addition, we urge you to commit to defending conscience protections in future rulemaking that affects both individual and institutional health care providers,” they wrote to the president.
“We should reduce the number of abortions by continuing the restrictions on abortion funding… We urge you to use all the tools at your disposable to keep conscience protections in place and reduce the number of abortions in the United States,” Reps. Sensenbrenner and Smith continued.
“If this Administration wants to be the Administration of choice, then all people need to have their choices protected,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said at the press conference. “The religious and moral views of health care workers should be respected. Workers should have the right to refuse to participate in an abortion procedure without the fear of losing their job or being discriminated against.”
“We’re simply asking President Obama to ensure that his deeds match his words,” said Rep. Smith, who co-chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus.
He added that President Obama could “honor the conscience” of pro-life workers simply by stopping efforts to rescind what Rep. Smith called the “fundamental right” to refuse to participate in procedures they find “morally reprehensible.”
“Protecting conscience is the truly pro-choice position and respects the diversity of opinion in our society as well as the sanctity of life,” he continued.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) also attended the press conference.
The conscience protection rules implement existing federal laws by requiring hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools to sign written certifications as a prerequisite to receiving Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding. The rules also forbid state and local governments which receive federal grants from discriminating against pro-life hospitals and other institutions.
A December 2008 HHS announcement said the rules would “increase awareness of and compliance with” federal laws. The rules also designated the HHS Office for Civil Rights as an entity to receive violation complaints.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported the conscience protection regulations, citing in a Sept. 12, 2008 letter the “growing hostility on the part of some professional organizations and advocacy groups to rights of conscience in health care” and describing other “undisguised hostility to conscience rights.”