ACLU Planning Attack on Religious Hospitals

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is launching an effort to force religious hospitals to provide abortions by asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to strip them of their federal funding if they refuse to comply.

According to an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the ACLU is asking the Centers – which control nearly $800 billion in President Obama’s latest budget – to force hospitals to provide abortions or lose their funding. Relying mostly upon anonymous anecdotes about pregnant women who were denied abortions at religiously affiliated hospitals, they are using this “evidence” to demand that the Centers rewrite the rules of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act to force all health care providers to perform abortions.

“The views of the centers’ administrator, Dr. Donald Berwick, are so controversial that Obama had to appoint him while Congress was in recess,” the Senator writes. “Now he is overseeing the writing of countless new health-care regulations, and the ACLU can’t let an opportunity like that slip by.”

However, attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty say the case stands on “flimsy ground” and have vowed to defend any hospital that comes under attack.

Current law requires hospitals to safeguard “the health or safety of the woman or the unborn child” and makes no demand upon religious institutions to violate their conscience.

But, as Santorum points out, “the ACLU’s lawyers will have an easier time making their case if, as they are asking, Berwick slips in some new regulations that they can cite in arguments before activist judges. If the organization succeeds, it will score two victories: a new path to abortions, and a massive blow to the rights of religious Americans.”

Santorum goes on to say that abusing the conscience rights of Americans has been against the law since the time of the nation’s founding when George Washington respected the pacifist consciences of Quakers.

“Similarly, since Roe v. Wade and under both political parties, Congress has passed laws that respect the consciences of health-care workers.”

In fact, only months before Roe was decided, Congress passed the Church Amendment, declaring that health-care institutions cannot be required to perform abortions to keep their federal funding. The Weldon Amendment, which has been included in appropriations bills since 2005, goes even further by stripping federal funds from any agency that tries to discriminate against hospitals that don’t provide abortions.

“Apart from the dubious legal notions involved, the ACLU is contemplating an action that could eliminate at least 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds – the proportion provided by Catholic hospitals alone,” Santorum states.

“It’s threatening not only to trample the consciences of religious health-care workers and institutions, but to hurt every American through the loss of hospitals, doctors, and nurses who can no longer carry out their ministry of healing.”

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