On December 8, 2004, President George Bush signed into law the FY 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Included in this omnibus appropriations bill is a provision known as the Weldon Federal Refusal Clause. This provision was drafted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and presented by Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL). It states that any federal, state or local government agency that “discriminates” against any health care entity that does not provide, pay for, or refer a patient to abortion services can lose their federal funding. This would override Federal guidelines that require health care agencies receiving funding for family planning services to make referrals to abortion services. A number of lawsuits (from health care providers and the Attorney General of California) point out that the amendment violates a woman's right to an emergency abortion when her health or life are at stake and the state and federal laws that uphold that right. Federal law does not provide funding for abortion services, nor is any individual health care worker forced to provide abortion services or referrals, but agencies receiving funding currently must provide the referrals if they do not themselves provide the service.
There already are in place conscience clauses that protect the rights of individual health care workers to refuse to provide referrals or services if they determine that providing those services would violate their right of conscience. The Weldon Federal Refusal Clause extends this right to any health care entity, which is broadly defined as: an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan at the same time that it denies individual patients and providers their right to have access to these very same services.
There are several avenues being taken to address this issue. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is sponsoring a bill to repeal this provision, and a vote on her bill is expected in March or April of 2005. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) have filed a petition for a Temporary Restraining Order and will be filing a motion for a preliminary injunction. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (of which the RA is a member) began an educational campaign as of January 2005 to raise awareness of the serious repercussions of this amendment, both its ability to curtail access to needed reproductive health care information and services and its backdoor approach to the destruction of religious freedom and individual conscience in this county.
Religious freedom or freedom of conscience is inherently an individual right, as seen in the Bill of Rights which stated which rights were inalienable for the individual. By extension, religious freedom is held by those organizations formed for the purpose of living out those rights through association, i.e. congregations and denominations. Other organizations, such as insurance companies, do not have religious freedom unless they were formed by people of one faith, to serve people of that faith for the purpose of living out and promoting their faith. Religion, as we know as Jews, is not just about how we pray, but also how we live. Thus the right to make medical decisions or provide medical care on the basis of religious beliefs or conscience, is a right to be held by an individual or those organizations which are formed for religious purposes like congregations or denominations. To give that right to decide which medical procedures or information is moral to non-religious institutions is to tell Americans, and American Jews, to leave their conscience and religious freedom at the door when entering those institutions to receive or provide medical care.
During his first term, 204 of President Bush's nominees to the federal courts were confirmed by the Senate, many of whom have clear anti-choice records (see http://www.benchmarkcampaign.org/php/nomineeArchive.php), further undermining our national commitment to freedom of conscience and access to life promoting medical care.
WHEREAS in Jewish tradition, the practice of medicine is a mitzvah, an element of pikuah nefesh; and a health care professional who fails to provide medical care is considered as one who has shed blood (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh De`ah 336:1); and
WHEREAS halakhah commands the termination of a pregnancy in order to save the life of a mother, and Jews will be prevented from following their religious teachings that mandate abortions in circumstances when the life of the mother is threatened;
WHEREAS Jews in America and America itself have been able to thrive and be a land of relative peace because of religious freedom, freedom that would be undermined by any attempt to remove freedom of conscience from the individual.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Rabbinical Assembly support ongoing efforts to protect freedom of conscience for the individual and informed access to comprehensive reproductive care in all jurisdictions of the United States; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the members of the Rabbinical Assembly residing in the United States communicate with their senators on the issue of reproductive choice and judicial nominations, especially to the Federal Courts, to ensure that judges not be confirmed on the basis of their opposition to reproductive freedom of conscience for women.
Passed by the Rabbinical Assembly Plenum, March, 2005