Catholic Bishops: Use CR to Force Showdown with Obama over Abortion Mandates

By Lauretta Brown | November 20, 2014 | 5:33 PM EST

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – Advocating a tactic similar to the one that Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Session of Alabama are advocating for fighting President Obama's unilateral action on immigration, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is urging Congress to include language in "must-pass funding legislation" that would prevent people from being forced to act against their religious beliefs in buying or providing health insurance plans that cover abortion.

IF such language is including in a "must-pass funding legislation"--i.e. the upcoming CR that must be passed by Dec. 11 to keep the government funded--President Obama would need to choose between signing the bill, and protecting people from being forced to buy insurance plans covering abortion, or veto the bill and shut down the government.

The bishops sent a letter Monday asking Congress to incorporate “without delay” in must-pass legislation the protections of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) into must-pass legislation, such as the continuing resolution.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, chair of USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who is chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The bishops cited recent demands by California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) that “all health plans under its jurisdiction include elective abortions, including late-term abortions,” with no religious or moral exemptions allowed.

They brought up the emergence of similar proposals in Washington and other states, emphasizing “the increasingly urgent need for Congress to protect rights of conscience with regard to the taking of innocent human life.”

The California DMHC’s demands violate existing federal law, they noted, citing the longstanding Weldon Amendment, approved by Congress every year since 2004, which “forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds from discriminating against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage.”

However, the bishops pointed out that the Weldon Amendment lacks an effective means of enforcement and has been subject to legal challenges as “its only stated penalty is the withdrawal of all Labor/HHS funds from a governmental body - a penalty California officials believe is subject to legal challenge and is too sweeping to ever be invoked.”

“The solution to this problem is legislation already approved by the House as long ago as 2002, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA),” the bishops conclude.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori (AP)

ANDA “would give the Weldon amendment a firmer legal basis,” since it “merges Weldon with an older law against forced involvement in abortion training, and allows victims of discrimination a private right of action,” they argued.

The lame-duck session of Congress must pass legislation by Dec. 11 to keep the government funded because the current CR expires on that date.

Since all spending bills originate in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could, if he chose to do so, incorporate the language the bishops suggest into any funding bill the House passes.

If the next CR is a short-term one, funding the government only into early next year when the Republicans will take control of the Senate, new-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be in a position to work with Speaker Boehner in following through on the on the bishops' request.

But whether the GOP leadership actually does so remains to be seen.

CNSNews.com asked Boehner the following question by e-mail: “On November 17th Cardinal Sean O'Malley and Archbishop William Lori sent a letter to Congress requesting to incorporate the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) into must-pass funding legislation to give the Weldon Amendment a firmer legal basis and improve federal laws protecting conscience rights on abortion. Will you incorporate ANDA into must-pass legislation as the Bishops ask?”

Speaker Boehner did not respond.

CNSNews.com then asked McConnell the same question.

“The appropriators have the letter,” McConnell spokesperson Don Stewart responded by e-mail, later adding, “Sen. [Harry] Reid still controls the Senate until January, and we don’t have the ability to do that on our own. But the appropriators are reviewing.”

In September 2013, Archbishop Lori and Cardinal O’Malley asked the House to add language from the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HR 940) to “the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government” that would nullify the Obamacare sterilization contraception abortifacient mandate and protect the conscience rights of health-care workers.

House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

However, the Republican-controlled House under Boehner passed the CR without the language the bishops requested, thereby fully funding Obamacare without the religious exemptions they requested.

CNSNews.com asked the USCCB by e-mail if Archbishop Lori and Cardinal O'Malley still “stand by the request they had in their September 26, 2013 letter to Congress in which they urged Congress to incorporate the policy of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act into must-pass legislation.”

Richard M. Doerflinger, the secretariat of pro-life activities for the USCCB, responded that “legislation that has been introduced separately (many times, beginning in 2002) as the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is also a large part of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HR 940).

"There is special urgency to addressing that part of HR 940 as soon as possible, as California has already begun demanding that many religious organizations including churches cover unlimited elective abortions for all their employees.

“The other issue in HR 940, addressing the HHS contraceptive mandate, is likely to come up in the new Congress as part of a broader discussion of the Affordable Care Act, and is also working its way through the federal courts,” he added.

“We will continue to work on both these issues, which have sometimes been introduced as parts of one bill and sometimes as separate proposals depending on circumstances.”