Official says Obama’s “Robust” Conscience Protection Promise is Phony

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Even though President Barack Obama promised a “robust” conscience clause protecting health care workers, a former official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says his $635 billion off-budget reserve fund includes principles that will deny health providers the freedom to choose not to kill unborn babies through abortion.

Writing for The Washington Times, Mary Claire Kendall, a special assistant to the assistant secretary for health at the HHS from 1989-93 says the president’s words diverge from his deeds on the critical issue of conscience protection.

“Promises of ‘robust’ conscience protections notwithstanding, the president’s $635 billion off-budget reserve fund for remaking American health care includes eight principles that deny both consumers’ freedom to choose their health care provider and health care providers’ freedom to choose not to kill unborn babies through abortion,” Ms. Kendall writes.

She goes on to explain that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) tried to insert conscience protection into the budget in February but the amendment was defeated 56 to 41 mostly along party lines. Sen. Coburn reintroduced the amendment on July 13 but it was once again voted down along party lines. 

Ms. Kendall says the excuse being given for the vote against conscience protection is that current law – the Hyde Amendment – already forbids federal funding of abortion, thereby protecting consciences. However, this Amendment has to be renewed every year.

“Given the current climate, this is a tenuous protection at best,” Ms. Kendall writes.

She goes on to predict: “Make no mistake, if Congress does not deal honestly with this issue, it has the potential to derail health care reform.”

Health care reform, as it is currently being proposed, will enact abortion-on-demand nationally. Therefore, without a conscience clause, it will force Catholic and other faith-based health care facilities who wish to remain true to their mission, to shut down, thus depriving the poorest of critical health care, Ms. Kendall writes.

She warns against the “worst possible outcome” – the idea of fast-tracking the current health care reform bills through Congress via a method known as “reconciliation” which will shut down all opposition and allow a simple majority vote. If this happens, abortion-on-demand will be enacted nationally, forcing many religious institutions out of business and leaving millions without care.

“Far better to work through this very difficult issue — which is every bit as difficult, if not more, than bridging the differences over health care reform strategy — than to shove through ‘phony’ conscience protections just to get a bill.”

The president’s doublespeak on issues so critical to people of faith is causing a wave of new criticism.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue issued a press release last week saying relations between President Barack Obama and Catholics are at a critical juncture.

“Exactly two weeks ago today . . . the president pledged to support ‘robust’ conscience-clause protections for health care workers. This was in keeping with the pledge he made at Notre Dame in May. ‘Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,’ he told the graduates, ‘and draft a sensible conscience clause….’ This begs the question: Why are his surrogates in the Democratic party pushing to kill conscience rights? To be exact, yesterday the Democrats killed an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn to provide conscience-rights protections for health care workers.

“This is break point for Obama and Catholics,” Mr. Donohue said. “The president either means what he says when he talks to Catholics, or he doesn’t.”

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