The US House of Representatives passed a key pro-life bill on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 245-182. The Conscience Protection Act, or S. 304, was sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, and co-sponsored by Reps. John Fleming, R-LA, and Diane Black, R-TN. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Senator John Thune, R-SD.
The Conscience Protection Act would reinforce the Weldon Amendment, which blocks states from getting federal money if they discriminate against individuals or healthcare providers who refuse to perform abortions. The Conscience Protection Act would also give individuals and organizations who have been discriminated against the ability to sue the federal government in civil court.
The Conscience Protection Act is a response to a recent situation in California in which the Obama Administration ruled against two Catholic universities that objected to a state law requiring them to offer abortion coverage in their health insurance plans. Three California churches are also suing the state for requiring insurers to more fully cover abortion services. Alliance Defending Freedom requested that the Department of Health and Human Services block federal funds to California under the Weldon Amendment, but HHS refused.
“The administration’s refusal to enforce [the Weldon Amendment] continues its pattern of enforcing laws it wants to enforce, refusing to enforce others, and inventing new interpretations of others out of whole cloth,” said Casey Mattox, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn says the bill was inspired by the story of pro-life nurse Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo. Cenzon-Decarlo was forced by the hospital she worked for to assist in performing an abortion on a 22-week preborn baby. She pleaded with her employers to excuse her from the duty, but they threatened her job and her nursing license if she did not take part in the abortion. It took the federal government over three years to resolve Cenzon-Decarlo’s complaint against the hospital.
Speaking on the House floor, Blackburn noted that “Congress has a long history of providing strong bipartisan conscience and freedom protections consistent with our founding principles and the Constitution.”
Speaker Ryan also spoke from the floor in favor of the bill:
“I think we can all agree that in this country no one should be forced to perform an abortion. Look, I know we disagree about when life begins. I know we disagree about what government should do about it. And however strongly I hold my beliefs, I also know my friends on the other side of the issue feel just as strongly. I respect those disagreements. But whoever you are, whatever you believe, I think this is one thing that we all should agree on. No one should be forced to violate their conscience. At least of all by the federal government…
This bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way. This bill does not change any medical standards or contracts. It does not change any laws regarding emergency treatment. All it does is protect a person’s conscience in allowing this trend to continue. If we keep going down this path in this country, we will only erode our first amendment rights further. It will continue to push people of faith into the sidelines of society.
That is not the kind of country we want to live in. Not any of us. There’s nothing more fulfilling than living out your faith. We want all people of all faiths to live freely in our country. But we can live out our faith only if our government respects our faith.”
The Conscience Protection Act is unlikely to become law, as the White House has already issued a veto threat.