Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Catholic Hospitals to Oppose Repeal of U.S. Conscience Clause Regulations; Cite Need to Enforce Civil Rights Laws, Protect Religious Freedom

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Apr 01, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The Alliance of Catholic Health Care is asking the Obama Administration to stop efforts to repeal federal conscience clause protection for hospitals and health care workers and keep in place the existing regulation, citing the need to enforce civil rights laws and protect religious freedom.
"The conscience protections contained in federal law are a civil right for all hospitals and health care workers," said William J. Cox, president and CEO of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care. "The regulation that the Administration seeks to repeal is necessary for preserving those rights and making sure that health care workers can perform their duties without fear or intimidation."
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the "Provider Conscience Regulation" (73 Fed. Reg. 78072) not only to enforce existing federal conscience rights laws, but also to fulfill the Executive Branch's constitutional duty to ensure all laws are faithfully executed.
The regulation's purpose is to:
-- Raise awareness in the public, in the health care community, among the recipients of federal funds, and among protected individuals and institutions of their rights and responsibilities under the above statutes;
-- Ensure that federal funds do not support coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law; and
-- Establish regulatory enforcement measures to ensure compliance with the statutes.
The regulation is similar to other HHS regulations that raise awareness of and enforce other important federal civil rights laws. For example, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when an entity elects to receive any amount of federal funds, that entity certifies that it will follow all federal conditions and rules that apply to the use of those funds.
In a similar manner, the HHS "Provider Conscience Regulation" coordinates and incorporates the various statutory requirements related to conscience rights, allows for greater clarity and awareness of the statutory protections, greater ease of administration, and a uniform mechanism for investigating complaints, resulting in greater compliance with the law.
The regulation and the federal laws on which it is based are consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's acknowledgement in Roe v Wade of the right of physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers not to be discriminated against on the basis of their moral convictions against performing or facilitating abortion.
"Our members provide health care services in accordance with the religious and moral tenets of the Catholic faith," said Cox. "Central to these beliefs is a firm commitment to the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and a deep concern for the health care needs of the poor and for those in spiritual need.
"We do not impose our religious or moral beliefs on the people and families we serve," continued Cox, "but we do hold ourselves accountable, as health care providers, to Catholic ethical and moral standards."
When HHS promulgated the regulations last year, they considered the regulations necessary because certain provisions of various federal laws - the Church Amendments (42 USC 300a-7), the Coats-Snowe Amendment (42 USC 238n, the Public Health Service Act), and the Weldon Amendment (PL 110-161) - that would otherwise prevent discrimination against hospitals and health care workers were being ignored or overlooked. As a result, pressure has repeatedly been brought to bear through state legislation, licensing or certification authorities and professional boards to coerce individual and institutional health care providers into violating their consciences by forcing them, under penalty of law, to conduct, refer for or receive training in the performance of abortions.
In California, this pressure has been especially acute:
-- In April 2000, attempts were made to use the California Medical Assistance Commission (CMAC) to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortion and other reproductive services as a condition of receiving a Medi-Cal (Medicaid) contract.
-- In 1999, a bill failed on the floor of the state Assembly (AB 525) that would have required Catholic hospitals to provide or arrange for abortions or lose tens of millions of dollars in annual state assistance and impose restrictions on mergers between non-profit health care institutions if access to abortion might be affected.
-- Most recently, in 2005, the California Attorney General sued to overturn the federal Weldon Conscience Amendment on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional infringement on the State of California to enforce its own abortion statutes. The suit was dismissed on procedural grounds.
"Repealing this regulation will send a clear message that the government considers these civil rights unimportant and all but invite new instances of discrimination," said Cox. "We urge the Obama Administration to retain the 'Provider Conscience Regulation' in its current form."