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was hard to believe it when it happened. Especially since it occurred
in Alaska, a bastion of freedom where perhaps more than anywhere else
"freedom" is another word for "American." And certainly
another word for "Alaskan"!
But in 1997, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a small community hospital
in Palmer, Alaska, was required to perform late-term abortions, overruling
the hospitals board of directors which had voted to bar abortions.
The hospital, located in a neat farming town in sight of the snow-capped
Chugach Mountains, was not religious and thus, the court ruled, could
not invoke freedom of conscience.
But now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other pro-life groups
have won a strategic battle with the November 20, 2004, Congressional
vote to approve a $388 billion spending bill that includes a rider protecting
the right of conscience.
Passage of the Hyde-Weldon Amendment is a major pushback against a well-organized
abortion rights campaign to force abortion coverage or abortions on all
health care entities as a womans "right" which supercedes
any moral objections, Catholic officials said.
"Under this campaign, they call it a right of access. What they say
is if a health care provider does not provide abortion, they are denying
access," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokeswoman, the Pro-Life Secretariat
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"There are 1.3 million abortions that happen every year by willing
abortion providers. We are not suffering from a shortage of abortions
in this country," Ruse said.
In addition to the Valley Hospital case, there are a number of laws and
administrative rules barring institutions and people from opposing abortion.
In California all hospital sales are subject to approval by the attorney
general and any sale must not restrict the use of the property, effectively
stopping any abortion limits.
In New Mexico, the state attorney general and Gov. Bill Richardson in
May blocked the lease agreement of a Las Cruces community hospital, Memorial
Medical Center, until an anti-abortion clause was removedeven though
both the hospital and Province Health Care oppose elective abortion.
In New Jersey, there was a failed effort to force a Catholic hospital
to build an abortion clinic on its grounds which was only turned aside
because the judge ruled there was enough access to abortion in the area,
a bishops policy analyst said.
The Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment to the Health and Human
Services section of the appropriations bill says state and local governments
that receive federal funds may not discriminate against health care providers
and companies that refuse to perform abortions, pay for abortions, provide
coverage for abortions or make abortion referrals. The bill goes to President
George W. Bush for his signature.
The amendment protects doctors and other health care professionals, hospitals,
HMOs, and health insurance plans, among others, the National Right to
Life Committee said.
University of San Francisco Professor Raymond Dennehy predicts the voteeven
before the new Congress is sworn inis a sign of better days to come.
"I think we have representatives now who are going to be standing
up for the rights of the unborn and for the doctrinal integrity of our
religious institutions," said Denney, author of Anti-Abortionist
at Large: How to Argue Intelligently about Abortion and Live to Tell About
It (Ignatius Press).
The appropriations bill rider takes the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act
and attaches it to the spending bill, which means it will be up for review
each year with the spending bill, similar to the Hyde Amendment which
bars Medicaid abortions.
Pro-abortion groups decried the measure. The NARAL Pro-Choice America
termed the amendment "a major new restriction." Planned Parenthood
President Gloria Feldt called it discriminatory and said it infringed
on state and local government rights. "It allows any health care
provider or institution, religious or otherwise, to refuse to provide
a much-needed reproductive health care service," Feldt said.
More than forty states have passed conscience clauses at the same time
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL, Catholics
for a Free Choice and the Alan Guttmacher Institute are working for "right
of access." The ACLU sponsors a Reproductive Freedom Project. It
includes a report and kit aimed at requiring all hospitals, including
Catholic hospitals, to provide abortion. NARAL has the Abortion Access
"They dont recognize the existence of a valid conscience in
anyone who disagrees with them," said Richard Doerflinger, director
of the bishops national prolife office. "Its amazing
they continue to call themselves pro-choice."
USCCB's "Abortion Non-Discrimination/Conscience Rights"
Anti-Abortionist at Large: How to Argue Intelligently about Abortion and
Live to Tell About It by Raymond Dennehy
Approaches to Abortion by Peter Kreeft
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight.com.
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