Congress Approves Broad Shield to Protect Pro-Life Health Care Providers.
The new law, known as the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, will become effective when President Bush receives and signs a massive federal spending bill in which the pro-life provision is contained. That is expected to happen by December 8.
The Hyde-Weldon Amendment provides that no federal, state, or local government agency or program that receives federal health and human services funds may discriminate against a health care provider because the provider refuses to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.
This protection covers any "health care professional," as well as hospitals, HMOs, health insurance plans, and "any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan."
Enactment of the new law will culminate a four-year effort by National Right to Life and a coalition of other groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Health Association, and the Family Research Council.
"This law is necessary because of a systematic, nationwide campaign by pro-abortion pressure groups to use state and local government agencies to force a broad range of health care providers to participate in abortions," said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.
Johnson said that existing federal and state laws dealing with the "conscience" rights of doctors and nurses have often proven insufficient to protect hospitals and other health care providers when they are faced with pro-abortion coercion by state officials and courts.
He cited an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that a private community hospital must perform late second-trimester abortions, despite the objections of its governing board. In other examples, a certificate necessary to operate was denied to a proposed outpatient surgical center in Connecticut because it declined to perform abortions; a hospital merger in New Hampshire was undone when pro-abortion activists intervened with the state attorney general; and the city council of St. Petersburg, Florida, forced a private hospital to leave a non-profit consortium over an abortion policy question.
The imminent enactment of the law was praised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which played a leading role in originating and advancing such a law.
"We applaud Congress' recognition that hospitals and other health care providers should have a right to choose not to be involved in destroying life," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, an official in the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. "The threat of discrimination is not theoretical, it is real. Already, hospitals in Alaska, New Jersey, and New Mexico have been discriminated against because of their pro-life policies."
Regarding the protests from opponents of the amendment, Ruse commented, "The champions of 'choice' worked to deny the choice of health care providers to choose not to perform abortion. Here's more evidence that 'pro-choice' really does mean 'pro-abortion.'"
During the 107th Congress (2001-02), NRLC backed the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA), a bill to prohibit any level of government from discriminating against health care providers who do not wish to participate in abortion. On September 25, 2002, the House of Representatives passed ANDA by a vote of 229 to 189. But the Senate never took up the bill, and it died at the end of the 107th Congress.
This year, Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Il.) proposed adding similar language to the annual Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill. Since 1976, that yearly funding bill has carried the famous "Hyde Amendment," which prohibits federal funding of nearly all abortions.
In July, at Rep. Hyde's request, a pro-life member of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Dave Weldon (R-Fl.), offered the amendment during committee deliberations on the HHS appropriations bill. After considerable debate, the committee rejected a hostile amendment offered by pro-abortion Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), and approved the Hyde-Weldon Amendment.
When the HHS bill came to the House floor in September, pro-abortion lawmakers had the right to force a vote on whether to remove the Hyde-Weldon provision - - but they did not do so, apparently recognizing that they would lose.
Nevertheless, numerous pro-abortion lawmakers attacked the measure as a sweeping attack on the "right" to abortion.
(A September 7 letter sent by National Right to Life to U.S. House members explaining the need for the Hyde-Weldon Amendment is posted at http://www.nrlc. org/Federal/ANDA/Index.html)
The Senate recessed in October without taking up the HHS appropriations bill. It was set aside, along with many other funding bills, to be resolved in a brief "lame duck" session after the November 2 national election.
When the "lame duck" session convened on November 16, a conference committee made up of members of the House and Senate appropriations committees began hammering out the final details of an omnibus spending bill that would encompass the HHS measure and others.
House and Senate Republican leaders made it clear to the conference committee members that they wanted the Hyde-Weldon Amendment to be retained in the omnibus bill.
In addition, on November 17 the White House sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young encouraging retention of the amendment in the omnibus funding bill. The letter said that the Administration "strongly supports language added by the House to ensure that health care providers are not discriminated against because they do not provide, pay for, or cover abortions."
Following those interventions, the conference committee reported out a final bill that included the Hyde-Weldon Amendment. This omnibus bill was then sent to the House and Senate for final approval.
Pro-abortion advocacy groups and their congressional allies protested loudly when they realized that the conference committee had retained the Hyde-Weldon provision.
In a November 19 letter, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), and eight other pro-abortion female senators, wrote, "This will mean that medical providers in hospitals and clinics across the country will likely be victims of demonstrations and intimidation as this provision allows that they be forbidden from providing abortion care to women who need it, and also to deny women referrals to another provider. It will interfere with the authority of Attorneys General to reject, approve or impose terms on the sale or transfer of assets by nonprofit health entities as under current law."
However, after the conference committee ended, the omnibus bill was no longer subject to further amendment, and its enactment was necessary to fund most government agencies, leaving the pro-abortion lawmakers with few options. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) threatened to debate the bill at length, which could have delayed the final adjournment of Congress for a few days. To prevent this, party leaders gave Boxer a promise that the Senate will vote before April 30, 2005, on a separate bill that would repeal the Hyde-Weldon law.
NRLC's Johnson said, "The vote on Senator Boxer's repealer bill is of little consequence. We hope that the Senate rejects the repeal bill, but even if it passes the Senate, it will not win the support of the House or the President."
Johnson added, "We commend the congressional Republican leadership, especially Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, for their successful efforts to win enactment of this very important new pro-life law."
In a press release issued on November 19, NARAL called the provision "a major new restriction" and added, "This measure is the third major piece of the anti-choice agenda the Bush crowd has gotten through in 12 months."
(This was an apparent reference to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, signed by President Bush on November 5, 2003, and April 1, 2004, respectively.)
In response, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said, "If they consider giving a hospital the freedom to not perform an abortion to be 'a major new restriction' then it is clear there is no limit to their promotion of abortion, including using the force of law to require pro-life hospitals to kill unborn children."
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a November 22 release: "This amendment not only intrudes on private, personal medical decision making, but it also intrudes on state and local government rights. This sweeping federal refusal clause will allow the whims of a corporate entity to trump the conscience and very real medical needs of women nationwide."
But Congressman Weldon, who is himself a medical doctor,commented, "This policy simply states that health care entities should not be forced to provide elective abortions, a practice to which a majority of health care providers object and which they will not perform as a matter of conscience."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also applauded enactment of the law, noting, "This is a monumental victory in the fight for life. Without this provision pro-life hospitals could be forced to participate in the unconscionable killing of innocent human life. Protecting the choice to not perform abortions is a huge win for right to life supporters and the pro-life medical community."
For further information on the Hyde-Weldon Amendment and other documents relating to the rights of health care providers to not participate in abortion, see the NRLC website section on Abortion Non-Discrimination at http://www.nrlc.org/Federal/ANDA/Index.html. In addition, the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops includes a section that includes a number of excellent factsheets and articles regarding the need for a national non-discrimination law to protect the conscience rights of health care providers, at http://www. usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/andaindex.htm
The Hyde-Weldon Amendment
(1) None of the funds made available in this Act [the federal Health and Human Services appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2005] may be made available to a Federal agency or program, or to a State or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. (2) In this subsection, the term "health care entity" includes an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan.