United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Influential in Passage of Let Women Die Act 2011


Catholics today expressed anger about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ role in promoting support for the so-called “Protect Life Act” (HR 358), a bill that will endanger women’s lives across the US with an extreme ban on abortion coverage while expanding permission for health professionals to refuse to provide reproductive healthcare services, even in life-threatening situations. The US bishops have been actively lobbying policymakers and pushing conservative Catholics to do the same in an effort to see the bill passed.

The Catholic bishops’ actions show an unhealthy obsession with sexual issues. They appear to be hell-bent on wasting real and political capital on dictating to all Americans what their sexual choices should be. In their campaign to impose their will on others, they are willing to stoop to new lows.

The arguments that the USCCB has made are not scientifically, medically or legally sound. The bishops, having failed to convince the majority of Catholics on issues related to reproductive health and sexuality, are attempting to use Congress to impose their personal beliefs on all Americans. The bishops should stop forcing their personal beliefs on others and allow women and their doctors to make healthcare decisions. It’s time for us to respect the consciences of all and support people’s right to make their own decisions about their lives and health.

HR 358 will eliminate access to abortion care for many individuals. The legislation would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans regulated by the Affordable Care Act if the plan covers even one federally subsidized customer. Additionally, HR 358 would bar abortion coverage for women enrolled in federally-funded health programs, preventing them from buying this coverage in state-based exchanges with their own funds. 

Even more concerning, HR 358 will also place many women who need reproductive healthcare in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations. The bill expands and makes permanent an unbalanced policy that allows health workers, hospitals, HMOs and health insurance plans to refuse to provide and refer for abortion care, while providing no protection to the patient seeking care nor for the health professional who wishes to provide that care. Worse, this bill would even permit hospitals to deny emergency abortion care to women in life-threatening situations.

In order to make their case, the bishops have used rhetoric that not only misrepresents the beliefs of Catholics—the majority of whom (84 percent) support access to abortion when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life—but they have also made false claims in an attempt to codify their views into law.

According to the bishops, without this bill Catholic hospitals will be forced to perform abortions. This is not true. The bishops want to ensure that anyone who works in any capacity in the Catholic healthcare system can refuse to provide abortion care, even when a woman’s life is in danger. This is wrong. Using federal law to condone the current practice in Catholic health systems of denying emergency abortion care to women is also wrong. The bill expands current refusal clauses, blatantly disrespecting the conscience of patients who seek treatment in healthcare facilities. Though claiming to protect the conscience rights of health professionals, these refusal rights would actually put patients in peril and expose women seeking care to unnecessary risks to their lives and health.

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