by Richard Doerflinger
Doerflinger is associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
As part of their long-standing pro-life effort, the nation’s Catholic bishops and the grassroots mobilizing network assisting them, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA), have urged Congress in recent years to do two things: maintain long- standing and widely supported policies against federal funding and promotion of abortion; and protect the conscience rights of those who respect human life in our health care system.
This month both goals came under attack, from two of the most extreme legislative proposals I have seen in over three decades of public policy work. Their enactment would create a “perfect storm” of policy against unborn human life, pushing pro-life convictions to the margins of public life. Both bills are advanced using titles and slogans that mask what they do.
The first is the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act,” (S. 2578). It has little to do with either women’s health or “corporate interference.” It’s been called a response to the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which upheld the religious freedom of family-owned businesses that object to covering abortifacient drugs and devices in their health plan. The bill’s supporters say they are defending women’s “access” to the contra- ceptives they want. But as leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference explained in a letter to the Senate, “the bill ranges far beyond that decision, potentially attacking all existing federal protections of conscience and religious freedom regarding health coverage mandates.”
The operate text of the bill never mentions contraception. It says that when a federal law or regulation requires inclusion of any item in healht plans across the country, that mandate will override “any other provision of federal law — including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that protected Christian families in the Hobby Lobby case. Such mandates will apply to all kinds of health plans, not just employer plans, and will override everyone’s religious freedom — including the freedom of women themselves, some of whom may not want their health plans promoting “free” late-term abortions, for example, to their minor daughters. And yet the bill is supported by 58 out of 100 U.S. senators — all 55 Democrats and three Republicans. It was blocked from coming to the Senate floor in July, but supporters may try again soon.
The other bill, which makes the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion look tame by comparison, is called the “Women’s Health Protection Act” (S. 1696). It would knock down almost every state or federal law that seeks to restrain or regulate abortion, by demanding that the law treat abortion as a routine “women’s health procedure.” The unborn would be given no greater respect than a decayed tooth or a troublesome tumor.
Is this bill committed to women’s health? Well, it says that even if a pro-life law “significantly advances. . . the health of women,” it must still be knocked down, unless “clear and convincing evidence” shows there is no way to serve women’s health that is “less restrictive” of abortion. In other words, women’s health is not the goal — maximizing and “mainstreaming” abortion is. Alarmingly, this bill has 36 sponsors and just received a committee hearing.
How can such extreme proposals receive serious attention in what some call “the greatest deliberative body in the world”? One answer is that, in a very politicized mid-term election year, legislators think this is what we constituents want. I hope we will tell them that just isn’t so. For help contacting your elected representatives, see the action alerts online at: www.nchla.org.