Washington Misses Opportunity to Protect the Freedom to Serve

December 23, 2015 By Public Affairs Office

Thebishops of the United States are gravely disappointed that the 2016 omnibusfunding bill did not include the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). While the omnibus bill certainly addressesother critical issues, the modest reform that ANDA represents -- to makefederal conscience laws on abortion workable and enforceable -- was an urgentlegislative priority in these final months of the year.

ManyCatholic and other institutions, including those that provide health care andother human services to the poor and vulnerable, have joined in our support ofANDA. Without ANDA, these caringorganizations face legal threats to their very existence, as they lack clearand enforceable protection for their freedom to serve the needy in accord withtheir deepest moral convictions on respect for human life. Such threats to conscience also pose a threatto the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society--the poor and the sick,as well as the unborn.

I am deeply concerned that a foundationalprinciple that has received long-standing, bipartisan support in the past hassuddenly become partisan. No one shouldbe forced by the government to actively participate in what they believe to bethe taking of an innocent life. This is not about "access" to abortion. Theprinciple at stake is whether people of faith and others who oppose abortionand abortion coverage should be compelled to participate in them. Federal lawhas long supported the rights of conscientious objection, and even in recentyears, President Obama and many members of Congress have publicly declaredtheir support for these existing laws. ANDA merely sought to give them a moreconsistent means of enforcement.

Despitethis, ANDA was caught in the partisan polarization gripping Washington. Tothose who supported ANDA, we offer our gratitude and applaud your commitment tomaintaining our national consensus in support of conscience protection. To those who opposed ANDA, we urge you, inthe strongest possible terms, to reconsider your position, which stands inopposition to even the modest enforcement of a venerable principle that isrooted in the constitution and has long enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.

Wejoin Pope Francis in "call[ing] for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation,which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the UnitedStates," a cooperation that must be undertaken "with respect for ourdifferences and our convictions of conscience." [Address to Congress, Sept.24, 2015] We call upon our elected officialsto rise above partisan divisions and to renew their support for this most basicright. ANDA should be enacted as soon as possible. Without it, current federalconscience laws are, now for the first time, being enforced erratically or notat all in places such as California.

Themission of the Church in the public square is to witness to the dignity ofevery human life and advocate for the freedom to act in accord with one's moraland religious convictions in defense of those lives, no matter how young orvulnerable. We will continue to reach out to the White House and Congressionalleaders untiringly until proper protections are guaranteed.

Keywords:Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President, USCCB, U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops, ANDA, conscience, pro-life, religious liberty

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