House Republicans and Democrats are urging Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and GOP leadership to attach legal protections for pro-life health care workers who are forced to provide abortions to a must-pass omnibus bill.
Leadership has 14 days to whip representatives behind an appropriations bill that will keep the government funded through 2018. Members are notorious for using must-pass legislation to add on last-minute features they favor or use the hard deadline to force leadership’s hands on a policy issue.
Democrats shut down the government once this year in an effort to secure legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for 800,000 young illegal immigrants. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others in party leadership are looking to come to an agreement this go round without too much trouble.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky shut down the government for a second time in early February to protest a Republican budget deal that increased spending by some $300 billion over the next two years.
Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee views the upcoming omnibus as the vehicle to address a cause she holds near and dear: Ensuring there are legal protections for pro-life health care workers who are forced to perform abortions or are fired because they refuse.
Black, along with a group of 107 Republican and Democratic members, sent a letter Thursday afternoon to Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise asking them to include her bill–the Conscience Protection Act (CPA)–in the upcoming spending bill.
“The Conscience protections act protects those who are health care workers who do not want to violate their rights of conscience in participating in an abortion—the destruction of life,” Black told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Our conscience should be protected in the First Amendment. These workers are being told, ‘you are going to do what we tell you to do or you will lose your job.'”
Health and Human Services (HHS) currently has a rule on the books, known as the Conscience Protections for Health Care Providers, that acts as a safeguard for workers who refuse to “perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds.” Specifically, The Walden Amendment protects workers from discrimination on the basis of religious aversion to performing abortions.
Black says that amendment isn’t being enforced and, as a result, workers are losing their jobs for simply following their religious beliefs. She, along with other pro-life advocates, met with HHS under the Obama administration to ask if those protections still stand.
“Right now, it is sad and sought that the Welden Amendment protects those workers, but we found out under the Obama Health and Human Services that it does not. The previous administration, I met with them to see how they made that decision. They said, “the Welden Amendment is not strong enough to protect them,” Black told TheDCNF.
She has yet to meet with leadership or hear anything back, but she is hopeful that they have a good shot at getting this through.
“I will say that top leadership are all people who are pro-life and I would say constitutionalists. They do believe that the First Amendment does give us the ability to have the rights of conscience,” Black said.
The representative has also yet to discuss the HHS rule with newly seated HHS Secretary Alex Azar, but feels that even if the agency gave some assurances, she wants to see legal protections and thinks now is the time to do it.
“Even if I were to get some kind of assurance that HHS would help those who have had their rights of conscience violate and let go, or in some way penalized on their job. Who knows what some future administration would do? This is the time. We’ve been through this with this past president and it is time to codify it into law.”
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