A revealing history Print
By Archbishop William Lori   
Thursday, 21 February 2013

President Clinton signed into law an appropriations provision instructing the District of Columbia to exempt those with moral or religious objections if it wished to approve a contraceptive mandate for its citizens. Both of these provisions have been renewed by Congress every year since they were first enacted.  Senator Moynihan’s bipartisan health care reform bill of 1994, as well, included an opt-out from coverage of “abortion or other services” for those with a moral or religious objection. Reaching farther back, to Congress’s first major law on conscience rights in health care, the Church amendment of 1973 was designed to shield both individual and institutional health care providers from forced involvement in abortion or sterilization, and was amended the following year to protect conscientious objection to other health services generally.
It can hardly be said that all these Presidents and Congresses, of both parties, had been waging a war on women.  I have seen no evidence that such laws, showing respect for Americans’ conscientious beliefs, have done any harm to women or to their advancement in society. What seems to be at issue instead is a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power.
And while the mandate for coverage of abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice by a female employee to decline such coverage for herself or her minor children, even if it violates her moral and religious convictions.
It is most discouraging that this coercive element remains unchanged in the new notice of proposed rulemaking the Obama administration issued this month in response to widespread criticism of its original mandate. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the United States 
Conference of Catholic Bishops, has pointed out how the new proposal falls short of meeting the hopes and expectations of many concerned about religious freedom – and he has said the Nation’s bishops remain committed to “engaging with the Administration, and all branches and levels of government,” to address this issue.


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