There’s even more furor and confusion than usual in Washington, as the House, Senate and White House struggle over the passage of budget bills, raising the national debt limit, funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and government shut-downs. But something important is being overlooked — the continuing threats to the conscience rights of individuals and institutions in the Affordable Care Act and the regulations that are implementing it (including the HHS contraception/abortifacient mandate).
In a normal, functioning governmental system, important public policy measures are introduced as individual bills, public input is obtained through hearings, and the measure is openly debated by legislators. Since we no longer appear to have such a system of government, important policy issues are tacked onto spending bills, and our government leaders rely on confrontational strategies and parliamentary gamesmanship to bend others to their will.
Lost in all of this is that crucial constitutional and natural rights are being threatened, and legislative action is needed to provide necessary protection for those rights.
One such proposal is to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate. The Administration has already granted numerous waivers, delays, exemptions, and grace periods for various provisions of the Affordable Care Act. What we would like to see is for Congress to vote to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate for one full year, which would give the Supreme Court time to decide some of the cases challenging the mandate. In essence, all we are asking is that Congress put the controversy on hold, out of respect for the seriousness of the constitutional rights at stake.
The House has already passed a continuing budget resolution that included that provision, but the Senate has rejected it. We hope that a more conciliatory, reasonable approach will prevail, and that this common-sense measure would be accepted.
We also hope that genuine conscience protection legislation would be considered by Congress. For example, the USCCB is advocating with Congress to include the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (which would provide broad protection for religious liberty among health care workers and institutions). The bishops have also been pressing for legislation to address the specific conscience problems presented by the HHS mandate.
The situation in Washington is extremely frustrating, and it is difficult to see a solution to the partisan gridlock. All we are asking is for some breakthrough of reasonableness, so that precious liberties aren’t lost in the process.
That shouldn’t be too much to ask.