3 November 2011

USA: Catholics for Choice submits testimony to Congress

CfC President Jon O'Brien testified that refusal clauses within the new health law threaten 'the conscience rights of every patient seeking family planning and of every provider who wishes to provide comprehensive care to their patients'.

On 2 November, Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien was invited to testify before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, to address the question, ‘Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?’

The hearing was called by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), chairman of the Subcommittee. Rep. Pitts was the sponsor of HR 358, a recently passed bill that gave unprecedented exemption rights to hospitals, allowing them to refuse to provide abortion care, even when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.

In his testimony, Jon O’Brien argued that Catholics support the recently enacted healthcare reforms and the recommendation that contraception be included in fully covered benefits for all American employees. He noted:

‘I firmly believe the requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and the slate of regulations being created to implement it, infringe on no one’s conscience, demand no one change her or his religious beliefs, discriminate against no man or woman, put no additional economic burden on the poor, interfere with no one’s medical decisions, compromise no one’s health—that is, if you consider the law without refusal clauses.’

However, he argued that the refusal clauses in the new legislation and proposed expansions concerning implementation guidelines mitigate the benefits of the reforms. ‘When burdened by refusal clauses, the new health law absolutely threatens the conscience rights of every patient seeking family planning and of every provider who wishes to provide comprehensive care to their patients.’

Even among Catholics, he said, these restrictions are unpopular: 63% of Catholic voters polled last year believe insurance should cover the costs of contraception; 65% think that if a Catholic hospital receives any government funding, it should not be allowed to use “religious beliefs” as a reason refuse to provide procedures or medications. This isn’t surprising when 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women have used a method of birth control banned by the Vatican.

Noting that the vast majority of Catholics reject the dictates of the US bishops on matters related to reproductive healthcare, O’Brien laid the blame for the attempts to restrict access to family planning at the doorstep of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and their lobbying efforts. ‘Having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the USCCB and other conservative Catholic organizations are attempting to impose their personal beliefs on all people. They claim to represent all Catholics when, in truth, theirs is the minority view,’ O’Brien argued.

During the hearing Jon O’Brien affirmed that if refusal clauses are enacted, such restrictions would ‘go far beyond their intent of protecting conscience rights for all by eliminating access to essential healthcare for many, if not most patients, especially in the area of reproductive healthcare services’, making it ‘harder for many working Americans to get the healthcare they need at a cost they can afford.’

‘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,’ O’Brien concluded.

A copy of Jon O’Brien’s written testimony can be downloaded here:

Written Testimony for the Hearing Record on ‘Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?, submitted by Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice. 2 November 2011

Catholics for Choice Urges Congress to Protect Every Person’s Conscience. Press release, 2 November 2011