President Obama in a speech at Notre Dame in 2009 said, “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.”
And yet, as Democrats prepare for their convention in Philadelphia in a few weeks, party leaders are acting in direct contrast to this statement by including in their national platform a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old bipartisan amendment to ban federal dollars from paying for abortions directly.
Not only is the Hyde Amendment sound policy, polling also suggests it overwhelmingly represents the will of the American people. A recent Marist poll found 68 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion, including 51 percent of respondents who identified as pro-choice.
Similar to the Hyde Amendment, the Weldon Amendment protects the individual consciences of all Americans by prohibiting federal, state, and local governments from discriminating against health care entities that decline to provide, perform, or refer a patient for an abortion. This provision has been attached to annual appropriations bills and signed into law since 1976.
Recently, however, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services refused to enforce this law. OCR has allowed the State of California to require elective abortion coverage in all health insurance plans under their authority. This means churches and universities that object to abortion are being forced to cover abortion through the insurance plans they offer to employees. New York has followed suit, implementing a similar abortion mandate. The federal government has neglected its responsibility, denying these victims any relief from this injustice.
America is built on the liberty to choose one’s own beliefs. Why, then, is the “pro-choice" agenda trampling on the right of men and women to choose not to perform or be complicit in an abortion? “Choice” means the absence of coercion. This is hypocrisy in the worst form. A person’s views on abortion should be respected, not punished.
Congress has a long history of providing bipartisan freedom and conscience protections. It’s a cornerstone of our governing document – the Constitution – which is built upon individual rights and liberties. But, where Americans are being forced by the government to act against their deeply held beliefs, Congress must act to protect their rights.
Currently, the only recourse against this discrimination is to file a complaint with OCR. In light of its extremely slow response to straightforward complaints or its outright refusal to execute the law, something had to be done. The House this week passed the Conscience Protection Act, a bill I proudly co-sponsored.
This bill stops the federal government, and any state or local government that receives Federal funds from penalizing, retaliating against, or otherwise discriminating against a health care provider on the basis that the provider does not participate in abortion.
Further, this bill provides a civil right to action for those discriminated against, including physicians, health professionals, hospitals, health systems, insurance issuers, insurance plans, and administrators of health plans, among others. They deserve a choice. They deserve their day in court.
So, the president is right. We should honor the conscience of those who don’t agree with abortion.
Conscience protections are important for all of us. We enjoy the freedom to differ in opinion from one another. But, whatever view you may hold on this, or any other issue, I think we can all agree the government should not make our choices for us.
Republican Vicky Hartzler represents Missouri's Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She serves on the House Select Investigative Panel for Infant Lives and co-chairs the House Values Action Team.