WASHINGTON — Congress should support a bill (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) that will close gaps in protection of conscience rights in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), especially in light of the threat to conscience rights posed by a new mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in a September 7 letter to Congress.

“I urge you to support and co-sponsor the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, to help preserve respect in federal law for the freedom to follow the dictates of one’s conscience,” wrote Cardinal DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Cardinal DiNardo noted that passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is more urgent now that HHS has mandated that all private insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization.
The HHS rule has an “incredibly narrow” exemption for religious employers which “protects almost no one,” since organizations that employ or serve people of another religion would not qualify.

“For example, a Catholic institution serving the poor and needy would have to fire its non-Catholic staff, refuse life-affirming care to non-Catholic people in need, and devote itself instead to ‘the inculcation of religious values’ to qualify for the exemption,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “Individuals, insurers, and the sponsors of non-employee health plans (e.g., student health plans in Catholic schools) would have no exemption at all. This effort to corral religion exclusively into the sanctuaries of houses of worship betrays a complete ignorance of the role of religion in American life, and of Congress’s long tradition of far more helpful laws on religious freedom.”

“Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families, their employees or those most in need,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

The full text of Cardinal DiNardo’s letter is available below as well as action steps that everyone can take to send your message to HHS:

Cardinal DiNardos Letter to U.S. House of Representatives.pdf Cardinal DiNardo's Letter to U.S. House of Representatives.pdf (78.89 KB, 2011-09-17 14:29)

Nationwide Bulletin on Conscience Rights.pdf Nationwide Bulletin on Conscience Rights.pdf (32.00 KB, 2011-09-17 14:26)