The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking in public comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has praised proposed regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care professionals and institutions. Charging that some organizations are showing “undisguised hostility” to the rights of conscience, the USCCB encouraged the government to proceed with the proposals.
The regulations are based on existing federal statutes, some of which were enacted decades ago.
“We strongly commend the Secretary for publishing these proposed regulations,” the USCCB wrote. “For over three decades… Congress has sought to ensure that health care institutions and professionals will not have to choose between abandoning medicine and violating their conscience.”
The bishops’ conference said such regulations were especially needed in light of state and local government pressure on health care professionals and institutions to perform abortions, as well as “growing hostility on the part of some professional organizations and advocacy groups to rights of conscience in health care.”
The USCCB’s September 12 letter cited several such incidents of advocate groups’ pressure, characterizing them as showing “undisguised hostility to conscience rights.”
According to the USCCB letter, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in a November 2007 opinion, asserted that it is unethical for obstetricians and gynecologists to decline to provide or refer patients for abortion or sterilization. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has developed a bill that would require all hospitals to perform abortions, arguing the law “should not permit an institution’s religious strictures to interfere with the public’s access to reproductive health care.”
The group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health claims that the right of a patient to “timely and comprehensive reproductive healthcare” must “always prevail” over a health care provider’s rights of conscience, while NARAL Pro-Choice America claims such conscience protections are “dangerous for women’s health.”
Citing the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the USCCB letter said that unjust laws pose “dramatic problems of conscience for morally upright people” and that when they are required to cooperate in morally evil acts they must refuse.
Such a moral duty, the pontifical council asserted, is a “basic civil right” that civil law is obligated to protect and recognize.
Asking the HHS to make conscience protection regulations as robust as possible, the USCCB suggested that the definition of abortion include “any drug, procedure, or other act that the objector reasonably believes may take the life of a human being in utero at any time between conception (fertilization) and natural birth.”
The bishops’ letter also suggested several technical changes to the proposal.