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H.R. 940 / Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Introduced by Representative Diane Black (TN-6) on February 12, 2015, this bill would add a conscience clause to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which would prohibit states that receive federal funding from discriminating against those who decline to participate in abortion or abortion coverage.

This bill is being introduced in response to states like California which recently started requiring all health insurers in the state, including plans provided by churches and other religious institutions, to provide coverage for elective abortions, along with providing other contraceptive services which the organizations find objectionable. Under current definitions, only churches and some schools themselves are typically exempted and other organizations that provide healthcare  or other charitable services are not included under the "religious employer" objection.

The legislation would allow those who are discriminated against for refusing to participate in providing abortion services a private right of action. There may be some question as to whether this is permissible, but the Obama Administration has previously acknowledged that the choice not to be involved in abortion is a civil right. (76 Fed. Register, 9968, 9973-4 [Feb. 23, 2011]) ( http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-02-23/pdf/2011-3993.pdf ) ("The Federal provider conscience statutes were intended to protect health care providers from being forced to participate in medical procedures that violated their moral and religious beliefs. They were never intended to allow providers to refuse to provide medical care to an individual because the individual engages in behavior the health care provider found objectionable.")

According to the sponsors, the bill is constitutionally permissible under the 14th Amendment, section 5.

Note:  A similar bill with the same bill number (H.R. 940) was proposed in 2013 (113th Congress) and the current bill has the same number but was introduced on February 12, 2015.

Outlook 

With 110 cosponsors as of this writing, the majority-led H.R. 940 seems well on the way to passage. However, the 2013 bill had 195 sponsors before it got lost in committee. The pundits at GovTrack.US give the bill a 1% chance of getting past committee and a 0% chance of being enacted. To keep things in perspective, in 2011-2013, only 11% of all bills made it past committee and only 3% were enacted.

Ultimately the only way the goals of the legislation may be enacted is through the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that corporations have rights of conscience in the Hobby Lobby case last year. Also, individuals who are discriminated against for refusing to participate in abortion may still be able to pursue their rights in the courts.

H.R. 940 (114th) can be tracked here:  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr940

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