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Protecting freedom of conscience in health care

By 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 providers.

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 others.

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," read:

"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 answer.

Congressional candidate Marilyn Musgrave answered clearly. She'll support the religious freedom of Catholic health care. Her opponent, Stan Matsunaka, did not answer.

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.

Priests for Life
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