White House: Biden has ‘difference of opinion’ from Catholics concerned about Equality Act

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The White House on Tuesday said that President Joe Biden “has a difference of opinion” from Catholics concerned that the Equality Act would trample conscience rights.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Owen Jensen of EWTN News Nightly asked what Biden would say to Catholics concerned about conscience rights in health care.

“What does the President, who we know is Catholic, say to Catholic doctors, Catholic institutions, who are fearful that if the Equality Act passes, it has the potential to trample on their conscience rights,” Jensen asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“What does the President say to those people who are concerned about that?” Jensen added. 

In response, Psaki declined to answer Jensen’s questions directly. She said that President Biden “has a difference of opinion” from those concerned about the Equality Act, and that he “respects their difference of opinion.”

Psaki added that Biden “has been a supporter of the Equality Act, and he also is a practicing Catholic and attends church nearly every week.” 

Catholics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have been raising concerns about the Equality Act for months.

The legislation would extend federal civil rights protections to cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The USCCB has warned that the bill would require Americans of all faiths to assent to issues such as same-sex marriage and transgender ideology – or risk adverse action by the federal government.

Legal experts have said that the bill would require women-only spaces – such as bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and shelters – to be available to biological males identifying as transgender females. Pro-life groups have also warned that by outlawing “pregnancy discrimination,” the legislation could recognize a right to an abortion.

Biden has promised to sign the Equality Act during the first 100 days of his administration. 

The USCCB has said that the bill did not include sufficient protections for religious freedom, and could be used to “punish” religious groups opposed to transgender ideology and the redefinition of marriage.

The conference has also warned that the bill would trample on the conscience rights of health care workers. Under the bill, doctors, nurses, and other staff could be forced to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions upon request, legal experts have said.

Psaki has previously refused to comment on conscience protections for medical professionals. Last month, she dismissed Jensen’s questions on the Equality Act and the rights of doctors to refuse to perform gender-transitioning procedures and abortions.

“Pro-life groups right now are very concerned about the phrase ‘pregnancy discrimination’ in the Equality Act,” Jensen said. “That it would force doctors to perform abortions, even if it violates their conscience. There are also concerns the bill would force doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries and sterilizations, again, even if it violates their conscience.”

“What does the president, President Biden, say about those concerns?” he asked Psaki.

The press secretary replied that Biden “has been a long supporter of Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. She said nothing about conscience protections.

When Jensen followed up by asking about Biden’s position on “conscience concerns,” Psaki simply repeated her previous statement.

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In one of his first executive actions, Biden in January signed an executive order stating that his administration’s policy would interpret sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some legal experts told CNA at the time that this action would produce a “tidal wave” of consequences, requiring single-sex bathrooms or women’s sports to be available to people on the basis of their gender identity and not their biological sex.

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