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U.S. House Passes Bill to Protect Pro-Life Health Care Providers

Oct 2, 2002 | Abortion Non-Discrimination

By Patricia Coll
NRLC Federal Legislation Department

WASHINGTON (Oct. 2, 2002) — The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill, backed by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), to strengthen protections for health care providers who object to participation in abortions.

The House approved the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) (H.R. 4691) on September 25 by a vote of 229 to 189.

However, pro-life observers predicted that the bill would die without a vote in the Senate, where Democratic leaders already had blocked four other major pro-life bills passed by the House. The Democrats control the Senate by a one-seat majority.

H.R. 4691 strengthens existing law by providing that federal, state, and local units of government may not discriminate against hospitals, health insurers, health professionals, or any other “health care entity” because of refusal to pay for, cover, perform, or refer for abortions.

The prime sponsor of H.R. 4691 is Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fl.). The bill was pushed to the House floor by the personal intervention of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tx.). A companion bill in the Senate (S. 2008) is authored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

The bill is strongly supported by NRLC as a necessary response to a campaign by pro-abortion activist groups across the nation to coerce hospitals and other health care providers, both religiously affiliated and secular, to provide, facilitate, or pay for abortions.

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson explained that the bill “is greatly needed because officials and courts in some states are forcing health care providers to participate in abortions.”

Johnson cited several examples. The Alaska Supreme Court, at the urging of pro-abortion activists, ruled that a private community hospital must perform late second-trimester abortions despite the objections of its governing board. A certificate necessary to operate was denied to a proposed outpatient surgical center in Connecticut because it declined to perform abortions, after abortion activists stepped into the proceedings. A hospital merger in New Hampshire was undone when pro-abortion activists intervened with the state attorney general. The City Council of St. Petersburg, Florida, forced a private hospital to leave a non-profit consortium because the consortium followed a pro-life policy.

Prior to the House taking up the bill, the Bush Administration urged lawmakers to pass it. An official “Statement of Administration Policy” said, “Hospitals and health care professionals should not be forced to perform or participate in abortions. This legislation makes it clear that they may not be subjected to discrimination by the Federal government, or by any State or local government receiving Federal financial assistance, because they oppose or choose not to participate in abortions or abortion training.”

In addition, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson sent a letter to lawmakers stating that “the Administration strongly supports enactment of H.R. 4691 as consistent with long-standing policy and the underlying law.”

In 1996, Congress enacted an NRLC-backed bill (the “Coats-Snowe Amendment”) barring government discrimination against a health care training program or other “health care entity” for refusing to perform or train in the performance of abortions. However, some subsequent court decisions have interpreted that law to apply only to training programs, not to the hospitals, HMOs, and other health care providers.

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act clarifies that “health care entity” includes the full range of participants involved in providing health care, such as health care professionals, HMOs and other insurers, hospitals, and other health care facilities.

Pro-life Side Wins Preliminary Votes

In the U.S. House of Representatives, before a bill is considered, the House must first adopt a “rule” specifying which amendments are in order. The pro-life House Republican leadership brought H.R. 4691 to the floor under a “closed rule,” which was advantageous because it allowed opponents to offer only one amendment to the bill.

Pro-abortion lawmakers objected to the “closed rule,” but it was adopted, 229-194, with 18 Republicans opposing the rule and 28 Democrats supporting it. (House roll call no. 410.)

Following debate on the bill, pro-abortion lawmakers led by Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) offered a so-called “motion to recommit” which would have amended the bill so as to render it meaningless by exempting all state laws and policies, and by exempting any “medically appropriate information or services” – code words that would include abortion. This killer amendment failed, failed, 191-230. (House roll call no. 411.)

The House then passed H.R. 4691 on a vote of 229 to 189 (House roll call no. 412). The bill was supported by 192 Republicans and 37 Democrats. It was opposed by 24 Republicans and 164 Democrats. Two lawmakers voted “present”: Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, both Democrats from Ohio.

The roll calls on the hostile motion/amendment and on final passage appear in columns 15 and 16 ofthe NRLC U.S. House scorecard for 2001-2002.

Pro-Abortion Rhetoric

During the floor debate, numerous pro-abortion lawmakers attacked the bill as a sweeping attack on the “right” to abortion.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Ca.) called ANDA a “politically motivated anti-woman bill.”

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Ca.) said in a submitted statement, “This should really be entitled the First Step Toward Outlawing Abortion Act . . . Republicans in Congress continue to lead their ill-conceived, extremist crusade to stamp out this fundamental freedom.”

Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-NY) charged, “There is a domestic terrorist movement that uses violence, murder, bombings and harassment to undermine the ability of women to go to the doctor and receive constitutionally protected health care services. . . This bill rewards those terrorists.”

In contrast, pro-life lawmakers maintained that hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers have a basic right to refuse to take part in the killing of unborn children, and that government should not penalize them for following their consciences.

Pro-life representatives displayed a poster-sized enlargement of a page from the website of the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, touting that group’s “Hospital Provider Project,” which explained, “The goal of the Hospital Provider Project is to increase access to abortion services by requiring Maryland hospitals to provide abortion and other reproductive health care.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) argued that “conscience protection is a civil right. The Federal Government has the right and the duty to protect conscience by making sure that any entity that receives Federal funding does not discriminate against any person or organization just because they do not want to be involved in an abortion.”

“Those of us who have a moral view that abortion is murder, should not be forced to counsel, pay for or fund that murder,” said Rep. Mark Souder (R-In.)

Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) explained the pro-abortion resistance to ANDA “really exposes the choice side for what they really believe in, which is not choice at all; and it flies in the face of all of their superficial choice rhetoric. It exposes the real pro-abortion agenda.”

Reactions to passage

Pro-abortion groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP), and Planned Parenthood Federation of America decried passage of the legislation.

NARAL President Kate Michelman said it was “a sweeping bill with dire ramifications for a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “The so-called Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is a farce. It’s really an abortion refusal law, which attacks women’s fundamental civil and human rights. . . . If members of Congress are really concerned about discrimination, they should immediately remove all refusal clauses so women can have full access to their reproductive rights.”

Passage of the bill was applauded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which played a key role in originating and advancing the bill.

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said: “Today 192 Republicans and 37 Democrats helped ensure that health professionals will be ‘free to choose’ not to destroy innocent human life. . . . The House has said it will stand against renewed efforts by abortion advocates to force their agenda on conscientiously opposed doctors, nurses and hospitals. We urge the Senate to do the same.”

Christian Medical Association President Dr. David Stevens said, “Most Americans support the common-sense principle of this bill, that no one should be forced to violate their conscience by being coerced to take part in abortion. . . . Hospitals, like physicians, are in the business of healing. . . This bill protects those hospitals and other healthcare entities who view abortion as antithetical to their core mission and purpose.”

Fr. Michael D. Place, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said, “Simply, the passage of this act means hospitals and other health care providers have a right not to be involved in destroying life.”