Lawmakers, medical workers speak up on conscience bill

Cathy Cenzon DeCarlo RN speaks March 5 2013 at the press conference on Religious Freedom Credit Addie Mena CNA CNA 3 5 13 Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, RN speaks March 5, 2013 at the press conference on Religious Freedom. | Addie Mena/CNA.

Members of Congress and individuals who have been forced to violate their consciences came together to stress the need for a federal law protecting religious freedom in the field of health care.

Highlighting the importance of conscience protections for all individuals, Rep. Diane Black, (R-Tenn.) explained that religious freedom means more than "going to church on Sunday."

Black spoke at a March 5 press conference in Washington D.C., following her introduction of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act the previous day. The legislation aims to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers, employers and individuals who are morally opposed to cooperation with the provision of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion.

Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R- Neb.) and John Flemming (R- La.), who are among 50 initial co-sponsors of the bill, also spoke at the press conference. 

Flemming, who previously worked as a family physician, argued that there is "no excuse for this assault on our First Amendment Rights, no excuse for this assault on our conscience protections."

He described the protections of the "freedom of religion – which is really freedom of conscience" provided by the bill. 

The proposed law, Flemming explained, "applies a long-standing policy of conscience rights" to the Affordable Care Act, particularly its mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilizations and some early abortion drugs.

In addition, the bill would protect health care workers from discrimination if they chose not to participate in procedures they find unconscionable.
It would further give medical personnel specific standing in court, enabling them to file lawsuits if they are illegally forced to undergo abortion training and assistance against their conscience.

This last provision of the legislation will protect individuals such as Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, a nurse who filed suit after she was forced to participate in the abortion of a 22-week-old pre-born infant or face termination of employment.

DeCarlo, a Filipino immigrant to the United States, said that the hospital where she worked knew that "as a faithful Catholic, I would not assist in the killing of a pre-born child," yet the state-funded hospital forced her into a position she described as "a horror film unfolding before my eyes."

"I felt violated and betrayed," she explained, "but I felt violated all over again when the courts told me that I had no right to have my day in court."

"Patients and doctors should be able to choose healthcare that heals instead of kills," DeCarlo said of her hopes for the proposed legislation.

She added that without protections to prevent similar violations in the future, "this country would no longer be the America of my dreams."

Also speaking at the press conference was Sister Jane Marie Klein, OSF, who chairs the board of Franciscan Alliance, Inc., which is one of more than 130 plaintiffs suing the current administration over the mandate.

Sr. Klein said that allowing these violations of conscience to persist would "hurt many patients most in need of help and care" and threaten the existence of many religious healthcare providers.

"We need your help in keeping our Catholic healthcare system alive," she pleaded.

Congressman Fortenberry also offered comments, saying that government should respect healthcare workers, recognizing that "the very purpose of healthcare is for healing, not to create ethical divisions."

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He also quoted President Barack Obama – whose administration is responsible for the mandate – agreeing that "we should not leave our values at the door" and should protect those values in the law.

"No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job," Fortenberry stressed.

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