Cardinal Rigali Urges Congress To Respect Conscience Rights

Office of Media Relations 08-106
For Immediate Release
July 18, 2008

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Responding to objections to anticipated federal HHS  regulations protecting health care providers’ fundamental rights of conscience,  Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the United States  Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, today wrote to  all members of Congress defending “efforts to reaffirm and implement laws on  conscience protection.”

The New York Times on July 15 reported that it had obtained an alleged draft of regulations soon to be issued  by the Department of Health and Human Services, to clarify and enforce federal  laws on respect for the moral and religious convictions of health care personnel  in programs receiving federal funds.  Pro-abortion organizations and some  members of Congress have already attacked the as-yet-unpublished regulations,  saying they are unwarranted and could limit “access” to abortion and birth  control.

Reacting to these criticisms, Cardinal Rigali said this “should be a  matter of agreement among members who call themselves ‘pro-life’ and  ‘pro-choice’: the freedom of health care providers to serve the public without  violating their most deeply held moral and religious convictions on the sanctity  of human life.”

“Congress has passed numerous laws protecting rights of  conscience in health care, beginning in 1973,” said the Cardinal, and these laws  address sterilization and other issues in addition to abortion.  “The  critics’ surprise that conscience protection may apply beyond the specific issue  of abortion seems based on a lack of knowledge of existing federal law… If the  Administration is preparing regulations along these lines, it would simply be  performing its proper task in an area of law where that is long overdue.”

Cardinal Rigali said the charge that respect for conscience rights undermines  “access” to abortion and other procedures contradicts pro-abortion groups’  longstanding claim that only “a tiny minority of religious zealots” object to  their agenda.  In any case, he said, “patients with pro-life convictions,  including women who require a physician’s care for themselves and their unborn  children during pregnancy, deserve ‘access’ to health care professionals who do  not have contempt for their religious and moral convictions or for the lives of  their children.”

“This issue,” he said, “provides self-described ‘pro-choice’  advocates with an opportunity to demonstrate their true convictions… [I]s the  ‘pro-choice’ label a misleading mask for an agenda of actively promoting and  even imposing morally controversial procedures on those who conscientiously hold  different views?”

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