This week Congress is going to vote on what posterity may someday look back upon as one of the most important votes in the history of our country.
Here’s why it’s needed urgently.
Back in the day—when we had a republican form of government—once Congress passed a bill and the President signed it into law, one knew what to expect with respect to the matters covered by the legislation.
So when the law said to government “thou shalt not,” government pretty much did not.
Not so now. Not so where abortion is involved.
In 2004, Congress passed the Weldon Amendment (part of that year’s HHS Appropriations Bill), which then-President Bush signed into law. It has been readopted by every Congress since 2005.
The Weldon Amendment provides that no HHS funds “may be made available to a federal agency or program, or to a state or local government, if such an agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer to abortions.”
In other words, it is the freedom of conscience law.
“Health care entity,” in the meaning of the act, includes individual nurses and doctors, hospitals, HMO’s, insurance plans, or “any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan.”
It was meant to cover every possible healthcare application of federal funds.
Was meant to.
Today, it seems that the guarantee of freedom of conscience is not worth the paper on which it is written.
In 2014, California started violating the Weldon Amendment by forcing all health insurance plans in the state to cover any and all abortions. Religious employers in California objected, and appealed to Washington. Two years later, on June 21, HHS decided that coercion is okay in this case. Here’s Rep. Chris Smith’s June 23 press release:
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — “Yesterday in a meeting with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Joceyln Samuels, I and my pro-life colleagues expressed our strong disagreement with the Administration’s outrageous misinterpretation of the Weldon Amendment,” said Rep. Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus.
“In a more than hour long discussion, HHS doubled down on its decision to unilaterally rewrite the law – the Weldon Amendment – to allow California to continue to discriminate against pro-life plans. California has been violating the Weldon Amendment for nearly two years with impunity – forcing churches that purchase health plans to cover abortion. It is outright discrimination to force a health plan to cease to exist because it doesn’t include abortion.”
This is discrimination against people who hold views different from HHS—discrimination against people whom Congress has clearly intended it wants to protect.
Essentially, Obama’s HHS has decided that it doesn’t like what Congress has done, so it has allowed California to continue to coerce institutions to fund abortion or lose government funding. Well, the words of any law can be interpreted in different ways, so perhaps HHS lawyers didn’t quite understand Congress’s intent.
That is why Congress is rushing to hold a vote on the Conscience Protection Act before adjournment for the political conventions.
Congress wants to make its intent even more clear.
The principle at stake is very simple: Government should not force healthcare providers to go out of business because they will not be party to an abortion. A Catholic college’s healthcare plan should not have to pay for abortion. A medical student should not have to agree to perform abortions in order to stay in medical school.
People threatened with discrimination because of conscience need a right of action to defend themselves.
That’s what the Conscience Protection Act will provide.
That’s what Congress will vote on this week.