Congressmen to Obama: Stop Efforts to Rescind Conscience Protection Will Reduce Abortions

Washington, May 19 - In response to President Obama's commencement address last Sunday at the University of Notre Dame, today Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Congressman Chris Smith(R-NJ),, co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, held a press conference in Washington, D.C. and sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to publicly forgo rescinding the Bush Administration conscience protection regulation.

In the letter Sensenbrenner and Smith write, "You indicated that you wanted to 'honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.' Given our agreement in regard to a conscience clause, we respectfully request that you put an end to your Administration's review of the Bush Administration rule that enforces existing conscience protection laws and completely forgo the rescinding of this rule. In addition, we urge you to commit to defending conscience protections in future rulemaking that affects both individual and institutional health care providers."

The letter goes on to state that, "We should reduce the number of abortions by continuing the restrictions on abortion funding... We urge you to use all the tools at your disposable to keep conscience protections in place and reduce the number of abortions in the United States."

Congressman Sensenbrenner and Congressman Smith are heartened to share common ground with the President on the issue of conscience and want to work toward a better solution that protects life and the rights of health care employees.

"If this Administration wants to be the Administration of choice, then all people need to have their choices protected," Sensenbrenner said. "The religious and moral views of health care workers should be respected. Workers should have the right to refuse to participate in an abortion procedure without the fear of losing their job or being discriminated against."

"We're simply asking President Obama to ensure that his deeds match his words," said Rep. Chris Smith, co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus. "This past weekend President Obama said that he believes we should 'honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion," Smith noted. "To make that happen, Mr. President," Smith added, "simply stop all your efforts, and those of your Administration, to rescind the current conscience regulations that protect the fundamental right to prolife healthcare workers--and Catholic Hospitals--to refuse to participate in procedures that they find morally reprehensible. Protecting conscience is the truly pro-choice position and respects the diversity of opinion in our society as well as the sanctity of life."

In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and health care aides who refuse to take part in medical procedures in which they have religious or moral objections. The rule implemented existing conscience protection laws that ensure medical professionals cannot be denied employment because they do not want to provide abortions. Although federal law has long forbidden discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform abortions or provide referrals for them, the regulation required institutions that get federal funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights, promoted education within the medical community regarding their rights, and provided an avenue of recourse in the event of discrimination through the Office of Civil Rights within HHS.

It was at the end of February, when the Obama Administration announced that it began "reviewing" the regulations implementing conscience laws, the first step toward rescinding the rule altogether. At that time, as part of a bipartisan effort, Sensenbrenner and Smith joined in a statement expressing their concern about the President's review of the clause.




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