Rep. Diane Black Drives Effort for First Amendment Conscience Protection in Omnibus Spending Bill

Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black is driving an effort to add the Conscience Protection Act to the omnibus spending bill to protect healthcare workers who refuse to participate in abortions due to their faith beliefs or moral convictions.

“We’re trying to get it in the omnibus bill,” Black said during an interview with Breitbart News. “We have 107 of our colleagues who have signed a letter that we’re sending to our leadership and ask that they please put this in the omnibus bill. We know that it must be in a must-pass piece of legislation, so we’re asking the leadership to please do this.”

Black observed that the House already passed the Conscience Protection Act in July 2016. President Barack Obama opposed the measure.

“There is a great amount of support for it. It is a bipartisan effort,” she said. “This would be my top priority now because we do have bipartisan support for it. We have at least two Democrats that have signed the letter to leadership. I think we had six Democrats when it was voted on the floor of the House.”

Black noted that, for people who are pro-life, the Conscience Protection Act reflects a desire to save every baby possible from abortion.

“Others, however, who may also be pro-life, are just as much saying it is our right – conscience is in the First Amendment – and there’s a good reason for that,” she explained. “I always love what Thomas Jefferson said: ‘No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.’”

“That’s so true,” Black continued. “If we get to the point where we no longer have an ability to claim the protection of our rights of conscience – and our civil authority can take that away from us – we’re in a really bad place, and so there are people who are stronger about saying, ‘This is a First Amendment right that we have.’”

Black, who is a nurse herself, said she and other supporters of the measure have talked to a number of nurses who claimed their right of conscience in refusing to participate in abortions, and were denied assistance from the Obama-era Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“They sought assistance through HHS, and we actually sat with the former HHS secretary and they adamantly denied there was anything they could do,” she explained. “They said the Weldon Amendment protected these folks.”

The Weldon Amendment is supposed to prohibit government discrimination against healthcare providers who refuse to perform or provide coverage for abortions.

In an op-ed at the Hill, nurse Sandra Rojas writes with Black about her experience with coercion to participate in abortions. When Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois announced in 2015 a merger of the pediatric clinic with women’s services, all nurses were mandated to provide abortion-inducing drugs and referrals to abortion clinics. Rojas was fired when she informed the county of her conscientious objection to participating in abortions.

Black and Rojas write:

The Conscience Protection Act simply codifies long-standing conscience protections that prohibit a hospital or health care facility that receives federal funding from discriminating against a health care professional for their commitment to protecting life. It also ensures that nurses like Sandra will have legal recourse to pursue justice in court if the government attempts to fire or otherwise discriminate against them because of this commitment.

“We’ve shown the Weldon Amendment does not take care of this issue,” Black explained to Breitbart News. “And under the previous administration, when these nurses have been let go, and lost their jobs, and lost their income, they were denied assistance by HHS. Even if you’re not someone who really believes in pro-life the way we do, it still should just be an issue that people can come on to with the understanding that this has taken away our liberties of speech, our liberties of conscience, and it is provided for in the Constitution. So, we have to do something so they can be protected.”

Author of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, Black has been a staunch supporter of the pro-life movement in the House. She said she was particularly happy with one of President Donald Trump’s first acts following his inauguration.

“I’m proud that one of the very first Congressional Review acts was to overturn one of Obama’s really onerous regulations that affected states – such as my state – that had already made the decision to distribute Title X family planning dollars to federally qualified health facilities that do not perform abortions, other faith-based organizations, and our public health departments,” she said. “And that’s really where those dollars should be going. And, so, Obama took that right away from us, and was demanding that we would give our dollars to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions. We, then, were able to get that reversed, and, now, we’re back to where we were in our state for a number of years, and feeling comfortable about where our dollars are going and that they’re truly going to family planning.”

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