WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) reintroduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2021 to protect health care 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.
“Our conscience rights are one of the most fundamental aspects in our society and democracy,” Boozman said. “Protecting the ability of health care workers to decline to violate their own deeply-held religious beliefs and convictions is absolutely necessary, and I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation that safeguards that option and provides opportunities for those discriminated against to receive their due process.”
The legislation was sponsored by U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and, in addition to Boozman, was reintroduced by 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), 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 health care provider or insurance plan 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 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.
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. 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.
While the rule from the Trump administration now stands in limbo, passage of the Conscience Protection Act is critical. In the event the Biden administration chooses to revert to the actions of the Obama administration and not only ignore the law, but leave victims of discrimination with no recourse, this bill will ensure the law is followed and individuals are able to have their cases heard in court.
The bill is supported by 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 and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Boozman cosponsored introduced the Conscience Protect Act last Congress. 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.
Boozman has received an “A+” rating for his pro-life voting recording from the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List’s National Pro-Life Scorecard.
Here’s what they’re saying
“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.
“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.