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Congressional Briefing Reveals the Real Story behind Attempts to Expand Refusal Clauses in Healthcare Delivery

December 6, 2011

Members of Congress and their staff will this afternoon hear from a diverse group of faith-based organizations about what is really at stake in the battle over refusal or conscience clauses in healthcare delivery.

Religiously affiliated businesses are increasingly seeking to restrict their employees’ access to reproductive healthcare services, regardless of their employees’ beliefs or healthcare needs. Religious advocates who support the conscience rights of these employees will address the inequities inherent in several current and pending proposals.

The briefing, “Whose Conscience Matters? When Health Care Exemptions Fail Patients and Health Care Professionals,” will take place in the Congressional Meeting Room South at the US Capitol Visitor Center at 4:00 pm.

This briefing will discuss pending regulatory and legislative proposals that claim to enact “conscience clause protections” in healthcare coverage and delivery; highlight the stories of patients, beneficiaries, employees and healthcare providers left behind in the process; and help Congressional staff understand and engage the progressive faith voice in the debate over religious exemptions in healthcare.

Amy Cotton, legislative associate at the National Council of Jewish Women, will say in her remarks, “Ensuring that every woman has the ability to make reproductive healthcare decisions based on her own needs, beliefs and faith traditions is a moral imperative. We have seen a surge in legislative measures that seek to deny women this right by enacting barriers to care—through outright refusals or bans on coverage for certain health services—without providing adequate safeguards that protect women’s health or their rights as moral agents. While we support policies that ensure the religious liberty of individual providers and patients are respected in the workplace or health system, these proposed refusal clauses and discriminatory coverage bans on reproductive healthcare would wrongly impose one religious view on everyone.”

One of the main proponents of an expansive refusal clause is the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops. However, as will be noted by Sara Hutchinson, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice, the bishops’ interference in public policy matters does not take into account the church’s full teachings on conscience. “Catholic teachings on conscience require due deference to the conscience of others in making decisions—the employer should not be allowed to dismiss the conscience of the employee seeking coverage.”

Miri Cypers, senior policy and advocacy specialist at Jewish Women International, intends to say, “At JWI, we believe women deserve to be able to make private health decisions according to the dictates of their own faith and conscience. We strongly oppose legislation and policies that infringe upon women’s ability to access a full range of contraceptive services and urge Congress and the administration to resist attempts to undermine women’s health and well-being.”

Nicolette Paterson, the director of public policy of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, will say, “As a coalition of religious organizations that honor individual conscience, we are committed to protecting the rights of all regarding decisions about reproduction. Patients have the right to legal healthcare services and their access to these services must not be affected by physicians who opt out of providing them. Healthcare providers should also not be prohibited from performing services that are legal and necessary.”

Sara Hutchinson will conclude her remarks by stating, “Protecting the freedom of conscience for all Americans no matter what their beliefs may be—for the atheist, for the employee of a Catholic institution, for the sexual assault victim who seeks care at a Catholic hospital—is indeed the job of the government. Expanding individual refusal clauses to include institutions, as well as exemptions for religious institutions to deny the rights of all, would sacrifice these people’s rights. Public policy should be implemented to further the common good and to enable people to exercise their conscience-based healthcare decisions. Protecting individual conscience and ensuring access to affordable, quality care is not just an ideal; it is a basic tenet of our society and it is the right thing to do.”

The briefing is organized and hosted by: Catholics for ChoiceJewish Women International, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Religious Institute.