Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – U.S. Sen. James Lankford is leading, in the upper chamber of Congress, the push for a new federal law reestablishing legal protections to individuals and institutions who object to abortion.
The action comes after two years of activity by the Obama Administration shifting enforcement of previous underlying provisions in federal law.
Deemed the “Conscience Protection Act of 2016,” the measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 13, on a vote of 245-182. All members of the Sooner State’s House delegation supported the measure: U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Moore, Frank Lucas of Cheyenne, James Bridenstine of Tulsa, and MarkWayne Mullin of Westville. U.S. Rep. Steve Russell of Oklahoma City was not present for the vote but along with Bridenstine is a co-sponsor of the measure, and has supported conscience protections in prior votes.
In a statement released hours after the House vote, Sen. Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “The Conscience Protection Act protects the ability of health care providers to provide medical care without violating their deepest held values. Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should not force anyone to provide coverage. The House has made an important step to ensure every American has the ability to defend their religious or moral beliefs without fear of discrimination, now it is time for the Senate to also vote.”
Lankford pushed a similar measure in 2015, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, sponsored the Conscience Protection Act, which U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, drafted. Black is a nurse; Fleming is a medical doctor.
In a July 15 commentary, columnist Tony Perkins reported, “This bill was simple in that it would make permanent an annual appropriations rider called the Weldon Amendment which bars federal funds, including funds to states, if the government discriminates against those who object to participating in abortion. It adds a private right of action to allow victims of such discrimination a chance to go to court.”
The proposal cleared the lower chamber of Congress on a largely partisan vote. Only one Republican, Richard Hanna of New York, opposed the measure. Three Democrats supported it: Henry Cuellar of Texas, Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
Also in July, the Republican National Convention approved a party platform reaffirming support for prior legal interpretations protecting freedom of concience.
The partisan split on the issue stands in marked contrast to votes in Congress in the 1970s which explicity protected freedom of conscience for Americans who object to abortion on moral grounds.
In the original Roe vs. Wade decision that fashioned what are now called abortion rights, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that rights of conscience for pro-lifers deserved recognition.
After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to force Catholic-affiliated hospitals to provide abortions, Congress passed the Church Amendments (372-1 in the House and 92-1 in the Senate).
Supporting the Church Amendments, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts said federal law should incorporate “full protection to the religious freedom of physicians and others.”