By Catholic News Service
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore have urged the House and Senate to past the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.

They called it “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers … to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

The two prelates made the plea in a joint letter dated Feb. 8 and released Feb. 10 by the USCCB.

Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop Lori is chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

In the Senate, the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is known as S. 301, and in the other chamber it is H.R. 644. The companion bills would provide legal protection to doctors, nurses, hospitals and all health care providers who choose not to provide abortions as part of their health care practice.

In the House, Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska introduced the measure Jan. 24. Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma sponsored it in the Senate Feb. 3 and it now has at least 16 co-sponsors.

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.

Last June, they said, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights declared that the state of California could “continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions — in violation of the plain text of the Weldon Amendment.” Weldon was enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of institutions and individuals.

“The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”