WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) reintroduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2021 to protect healthcare providers, including health insurance plans from government discrimination if they decline to participate in abortions. The Conscience Protection Act also provides a private right of action for victims of discrimination.
“No one should have to check their faith or moral convictions at the door when they enter their workplace. Unfortunately, many health care workers don’t have the legal protection to decline to participate in abortions. Today’s bill provides doctors, nurses, and other health care workers permanent protection from being discriminated against by employers if they choose to follow their conscience and do not wish to perform, participate in, or provide an abortion,” said Lankford. “No health care worker should be forced to choose between their jobs and their conscience. It shouldn’t be controversial. Many entered health care to protect life; they should not be forced to take a life to keep their jobs.”
Lankford was joined by several of his colleagues to re-introduce the bill, including Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Jim Inhofe, (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Scott (R-SC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Risch (R-ID), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Boozman (R-AR), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), John Hoeven (R-ND), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
Currently, if a healthcare provider, including insurance plans, refuses to provide abortions, the only recourse is to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In 2014 California required that health plans must cover abortions, which forced religious employers to offer plans that violate their religious beliefs. In December 2014 under the Obama Administration, HHS opened an investigation, and in spite of then-current laws protecting conscience rights, in June 2016, HHS declared that California could force all its health plans to cover elective abortions, which President Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary has advocated for and enforced as Attorney General of California.
Under the Trump Administration, took several actions to enforce current law and protect conscience: (1) created the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, (2) partnered with the Department of Justice to notice and enforce conscience violations in Vermont and California, resulting in the disallowance of $200 million per quarter from the state due to Attorney General Becerra’s refusal to comply with the law, and (3) issued the final rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights In Health Care” to enforce existing statutory protections, which Lankford supported. Unfortunately, a federal court vacated the conscience rule in November 2019. Litigation on the final rule continues at the Second Circuit in New York v. HHS. Seventy-eight Members of Congress filed an amicus brief led by Senator Lankford in the case.
While the rule from the Trump Administration now stands in limbo, passage of the Conscience Protection Act is critical. We cannot wait to see if the Biden administration will choose to follow the law or whether they will revert to the actions of the Obama administration and not only ignore the law, but leave victims of discrimination with no recourse. We must ensure the law is followed and that individuals are able to have their case heard in court.
The bill is supported by Oklahoma Faith Leaders, Oklahomans For Life, Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, Crossroads Clinic of OKC & Guthrie, Pregnancy Center of Woodward and Gateway Express Testing of Yukon as well as the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Concerned Women for America, Ethics and Public Policy Center, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Family Research Council, Freedom2Care, Heritage Action, March for Life, National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and First Liberty.
Lankford introduced the Conscience Protect Act in January 2019. Congress has enacted multiple laws to protect conscience rights for individuals who have a religious or moral objection to participating in abortion services. Most notably, these include the Church Amendments, the Coats/Snowe amendment, and the Weldon amendment, which has been included in annual appropriations bills since 2004. Courts have declined to find these laws to provide a “private right of action” thereby leaving victims of discrimination unable to defend their conscience rights in court.
Lankford received an “A+” rating for his pro-life voting recording, including his work on the Conscience Protection Act, from the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List’s National Pro-Life Scorecard.
Here’s what they’re saying
“Oklahomans For Life strongly supports Senator James Lankford’s Conscience Protection Act. Killing unborn babies by abortion, newborns with disabilities by infanticide, or the vulnerable elderly by euthanasia are flagrant violations of the fundamental right to life. Forcing others to be complicit in such lethal acts is a further trampling of human and civil rights. Protecting the freedom to follow one’s ethical, moral, or religious values is absolutely essential in a civilized nation,” said Tony Lauinger, State Chairman, Oklahomans For Life.
“I’m encouraged by Sen. Lankford’s efforts and the efforts of many in Congress to protect the freedom of millions of Catholics and other faithful to practice their faith without compromise in the workplace. People of faith should be able to work in their chosen field of industry free from coercion and violations of religious convictions,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archdioceses of Oklahoma City.
“No healthcare professional should have to compromise their deeply-held beliefs in order to administer care. The recent HHS conscience rules were clarifying, but legislation is needed to establish stability in this area of the federal law. We support the Conscience Protection Act because it would provide people their day in court if their conscience rights have been violated,” said Russell Moore, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
“There has never been a better time for Congress to provide conscience protections for healthcare professionals who practice Hippocratic medicine according to their God-given conscience,” said, Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA, (Ethics) Senior VP Bioethics and Public Policy, Christian Medical & Dental Associations.
“Despite bipartisan Congressional action in previous decades to protect conscience freedom in healthcare, health professionals have long lacked and desperately needed the ability to actually obtain justice in court after experiencing loss of career, privileges or certification based on their ethical stances. National polling shows that faith-based health professionals, many of whom serve uninsured and underserved patients, commit to caring for every patient but that they cannot practice medicine apart from conscience protections. So conscience protections actually serve to increase access to healthcare for some of our most marginalized citizens. We are grateful to Senator Lankford and cosponsors of this legislation for recognizing the need to uphold this fundamental American freedom and to protect those served by life-affirming health professionals,” stated, Jonathan Imbody, Director, Freedom2Care.
“The Conscience Protection Act is vital legislation to ensure that no American can be punished or penalized for being pro-life. As we work to build an America where every child’s life is protected in law, the least we can do in the meantime is ensure that no one be coerced into supporting lethal violence committed on an unborn child. Kudos to Senator Lankford and his colleagues for their leadership on this issue,” said Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., President, Ethics and Public Policy Center.
“We thank Senator Lankford for fighting to protect life and conscience, which are under attack like never before,” said SBA List VP of Government Affairs Marilyn Musgrave. “American health care providers of faith and conscience should not be forced to be complicit in the destruction of human life whether it is through coerced participation in abortion or in the distribution of dangerous chemical abortion drugs that pose great risk to women as well as their unborn child.”
“We commend Senator Lankford for his leadership in protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals and Americans alike who are morally opposed to abortion. Now more than ever, laws like this not only need to be maintained but strengthened to ensure that those whose consciences are being violated have a way to seek redress. We encourage senators to support this legislation, as well as oppose any cabinet nominees who seek to undermine conscience rights in America,” said, Connor Semelsberger, Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity at Family Research Council.
“As President Biden continues to nominate ardent abortion supporters, like Xavier Becerra, to key cabinet positions, it is more important than ever to protect health care providers from being forced to violate their conscience and participate in the abortion process. We commend Senator Lankford for introducing this bill and standing for the most vulnerable and for Americans’ closely held beliefs,” said Garrett Bess, Vice President of Government Relations and Communications, Heritage Action for America.
“We thank Senator Lankford, who has been a strong advocate of life and protecting religious freedom, for his leadership in introducing the Conscience Protection Act. This important legislation would ensure that no one is coerced to participate in abortions or to provide abortion coverage. Importantly, the bill empowers those who are affected to file private lawsuits in federal courts – without the need for intervention by the pro-abortion Biden administration,” said Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life.
“Can anyone doubt the urgent need for legislation like the Conscience Protection Act at a time when we are seeing cancel culture spread to every area of our lives? When we have the President of the United States promising to reinstate policies to go after religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor and others? It is far past time we reaffirm the principles of our founding which included a deep respect for the rights of conscience. I am thankful for Senator Lankford and his colleagues supporting this critical legislation. They are standing for the American values that make freedom flourish,” said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.