Protecting freedom of conscience in health care
Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
October 23, 2002
This is an unusual election year for two reasons.
First, as The Denver Post reported on Oct. 20, tight races in Colorado may
decide which political party controls both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
"If you're a Colorado voter," one political analyst told the Post, "you have a
disproportionate impact on this election."
Second, Catholics have a very clear, very specific piece of pending federal
legislation by which we can measure every congressional candidate.
In September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Abortion
Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). This is a modest but urgent piece of legislation
designed to protect the conscience rights of Catholic and other health-care
Pro-abortion groups have fought for many years to force Catholic and other
individuals and organizations to violate their consciences and provide morally
unacceptable medications and procedures. In practice, pro-abortion activists
tend to be "pro-choice" as long as the choice is abortion. But many of them are
happily pro-coercion when it comes to the religious and moral convictions of
State by state, "pro-choice" activists have studied, probed and attacked
Catholic health care for years. They continue to do so. As Cardinal Anthony
Bevilacqua wrote recently, "Abortion advocacy groups have even urged the state
of New Jersey to require a Catholic health system to build an abortion clinic on
its premises, to serve what they see as a right of 'access' to abortion."
The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act legislation now pending would prevent
this. That's why ANDA is so important.
As Cardinal Bevilacqua points out, ANDA "makes it clear that (federally
guaranteed freedom of conscience) protection extends to the full range of
health-care entities, including hospitals and health plans as well as individual
health professionals other than physicians. It also applies this protection to
entities being told they must pay for abortions against their will."
That sounds reasonable and necessary, doesn't it?
Well, not if you're "pro-choice." Predictably, pro-abortion groups have
fought the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act with a fog of misleading arguments.
And thanks to that fog, ANDA is now stalled in the pro-abortion-controlled
Senate. It may be debated again after Nov. 5, or it may be killed through
deliberate inaction. If ANDA dies this year, the legislation will be
reintroduced next year — with an entirely new Congress. Whether that Congress is
friendly or hostile is up to us as voters.
The issue at the heart of the ANDA debate — freedom of conscience for both
Catholic and non-Catholic health-care providers — will not go away. Unless
they're stopped, pro-abortion groups will continue to bend the Constitution and
attack health-care providers until Catholics and other people of conscience are
forced out of this vital public ministry. It's no exaggeration to say that, in
the long run, the survival of Catholic health care is at risk. This is why the
U.S. bishops and Catholic health-care professionals regard ANDA as so urgent.
You and I need to reflect on this issue seriously before we vote on Nov. 5.
Recently the Colorado Catholic Conference sent out an issues survey to all
Colorado federal candidates. One of the questions, labeled "Religious Freedom,"
"Would you support or oppose legislation to protect the religious freedom of
hospitals and health-care professionals to refuse to perform procedures or
administer medications that violate their conscience?"
Congressional candidate Bob Beauprez answered clearly. He'll support the
religious freedom of Catholic health care. His opponent, Mike Feeley, did not
Congressional candidate Marilyn Musgrave answered clearly. She'll support the
religious freedom of Catholic health care. Her opponent, Stan Matsunaka, did not
Incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard answered clearly. He'll support the religious
freedom of Catholic health care. His opponent, Tom Strickland, did not answer.
So I'd like to publicly invite Mr. Feeley, Mr. Matsunaka and Mr. Strickland
(and any other candidate who hasn't answered) to reconsider and respond: Faced
in Congress with the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act or similar legislation, how
would you vote?
Mr. Feeley, Mr. Matsunaka and Mr. Strickland: Do you "support or oppose
legislation to protect the religious freedom of hospitals and health-care
professionals to refuse to perform procedures or administer medications that
violate their consciences?"
These are simple questions. They're also jugular. They also have nothing to
do with party affiliation. While Catholics and other good men and women sleep,
their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience is being attacked. Any
candidate — Republican or Democrat — unwilling to protect that freedom through
practical legislation like ANDA is unworthy of Catholic support.
Contact your candidates. Ask how they think on this issue. The candidates who
oppose ANDA won't get my vote.