‘Breakthrough’ effort to secure conscience rights in HHS mandate fight
With the Aug. 1, 2013, deadline for compliance with the contraception mandate looming ahead, U.S. legislators are scrambling to secure conscience protections for employers who oppose the law on moral or religious grounds.
While Church-affiliated institutions have been promised a one-year extension before they must document their compliance, private for-profit businesses must provide that proof as soon as their new health plan is rolled out.
With time running out, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Service and Education introduced beefed-up conscience protections in his subcommittee’s 2013 appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Richard Doerflinger, the chief lobbyist on life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described the House Subcommittee Appropriations bill as a “breakthrough” because the language from the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is included right in the spending bill and not in an amendment.
“I think we have an excellent chance of keeping the conscience language in the House bill. The real challenge will be for the Senate to accept it. But the Senate cannot simply filibuster the appropriations bill if they want HHS funded for the upcoming year. One way or the other there will be a vote,” he told the Register, while expressing some uncertainty about the timeline.
It will likely be a tough sell in the Senate, where an amendment with conscience provisions recently failed to gain approval in a close vote. But Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, applauded the decision to insert two key conscience provisions in the House spending bill. [More]