A Win for Conscience in the House

Barb Wire

America’s heart is still beating, even in a culture of death. Yesterday showed the strength of pro-life movement when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Conscience Protection Act which was sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and was drafted by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) to stop government discrimination against pro-life Americans who object to being forced to participate in abortion. Only one day after the Republican Party’s platform committee adopted a plank protecting conscience rights, the House of Representatives stepped in to do the same. This bill was simple in that it would make permanent an annual appropriations rider called the Weldon Amendment which bars federal funds, including funds to states, if the government discriminates against those who object to participating in abortion. It adds a private right of action to allow victims of such discrimination a chance to go to court.

Why is this needed? Lawlessness and government discrimination against pro-lifers, that’s why. Since the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has dragged its feet handling complains of such anti-life discrimination, and recently decided to reinterpret the law as an excuse not to enforce it, this legislation is necessary to enable victims of government discrimination over their pro-life views (including churches, doctors, and nurses) to pursue legal action against the state for violating their consciences. The Conscience Protection Act (CPA) is about basic fairness for everyone. The House passed the bill in a historic debate and vote, with all of the GOP leadership, including Speaker Ryan (R-Wisc.), Leader McCarthy (R-Calif.), Whip Scalise (R-La.), and Chairman of the House Republican Conference Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) speaking on the floor, a rarity for any legislation.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 245 to 182. It shows the increased divide among the two political parties not only on life, but on conscience, given that only one Republican (Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.)) voted Nay, and only three brave Democrats voted Aye (Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)).

Rep. Fleming, as a pro-life doctor and Rep. Black, a pro-life nurse, understand the importance of ensuring that people like them are not forced by the government to participate in abortion. It happened to pro-life nurse Cathy DeCarlos a few years ago in New York. Two years ago California implemented an abortion coverage mandate, which voided pro-life health care plans, including health care plans for churches like Pastor Jim Garlow’s of Skyline Church. They and others filed complaints with the HHS office of civil rights — only for them to reinterpret the law in order to dismiss the complaints.

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This is a clear violation of thePresident Obama. Therefore, CPA would give pastors and these churches and other pro-life health care entities in California the ability to seek judicial relief. This administration’s efforts are a direct threat to the American people’s freedom to believe and live according to those beliefs. Now that the Conscience Protection Act has passed the House, we are one step closer to ensuring that if the federal government and states discriminate against pro-life health care providers — and even churches — which object to abortion, they can sue to obtain relief.

The Senate needs to act and follow the House’s example and pass this legislation and force President Obama to decide whether the freedom to believe still has a place in American society. This is important even if the president decides to veto it. It would send a strong message that pro-lifers are defending the conscience rights of Americans. Even those who disagree over abortion should agree that the government should not punish people, churches, or health care professionals for their pro-life stance.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

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