Barletta Backs Conscience Protections for Individuals Who Oppose Abortion

Jul 13, 2016
Press Release
Bill Codifies Protections in “Weldon Amendment” Not Being Enforced by HHS

WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) today voted in favor of legislation that prevents federal agencies, or any state or local government receiving federal funds, from discriminating against individuals or institutions objecting to participating in abortions.  The protections, originally created by the “Weldon Amendment” in 2004, until recently have been enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The need for codification arose when the Obama Administration declined to enforce the conscience protections in some cases, most notably in California, which required all insurance plans in the state to cover abortions, including those offered by churches, Catholic agencies, and other non-profit social service groups.  The bill, S. 304, the Conscience Protection Act, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 245-to-182.  It now must return to the Senate for its consideration.

“The protections against the violation of deeply-held moral or religious objections to abortion have been in place for more than a decade, but now they are clearly under assault by the Obama Administration,” said Barletta, who co-sponsored similar legislation (H.R. 940).  “People who do not want to participate in abortions should not be forced to, and they should not face discrimination if they object.”

Authored by Rep. Diane Black (TN-6), the legislation also adds a new private right of action which allows those who believe their rights of conscience are being violated access to the courts for relief, rather than being wholly dependent on HHS enforcement.  The law is designed to protect the freedom of hospitals, insurance companies, employers, social service agencies, nurses, doctors, and medical residents to choose not to perform, refer for, or provide coverage for elective abortion without fear of losing their jobs, federal contracts, or any other punitive measure.  The bill contains protections that would safeguard the lives of women who require abortions in emergency medical situations.

Since 2004, the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, has been incorporated into the funding bills for the Department of Labor and HHS, with enforcement responsibilities residing with the HHS Office of Civil Rights.  However, in 2014, the state of California decided to require all insurance plans offered in the state to cover abortion without restriction. This violated the Weldon amendment and forced employers like churches, social service non-profits groups, Catholic agencies, and health systems to offer health insurance that paid for elective abortion, violating their deeply-held convictions.  Complaints were filed with HHS and members of Congress raised those concerns with HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.  In June of 2016, HHS released a letter concluding that no rights had been violated by California’s actions, despite the clear intent and language of the Weldon Amendment.

“This law is only necessary because the Obama Administration has willfully violated the legal rights of people to object to participating in abortions if they have objections on moral or religious grounds,” Barletta said.  “The full might of the federal government should not be used to force people to provide abortions against their will.”