Citing the need to be free from religious discrimination, the Alliance of Catholic Health Care today announced its support for proposed federal regulations that would protect hospitals and health care providers from being forced to provide abortions or any other medical services contrary to their ethical or religious beliefs. States that do not respect or enforce existing laws recognizing freedom of conscience could lose certain federal funding, including matching funds for state Medicaid programs (Medi-Cal in California).

The comments came in the form of a letter to Secretary Michael Leavitt, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted on behalf of the four health systems and 53 Catholic hospitals represented by the Alliance. Those hospitals represent 16 percent of California's acute care, in-patient hospitals.

"Our members provide health care services in accordance with the religious and moral tenets of the Catholic faith," said William J. Cox, president and CEO of the Alliance. "Central to these beliefs is a firm commitment to the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and a deep concern for the health care needs of the poor and for those in spiritual need.

"We do not impose our religious or moral beliefs on the people and families we serve," said Cox, "but we do hold ourselves accountable, as health care providers, to Catholic ethical and moral standards."

According to HHS, the regulations are necessary because certain provisions of various federal laws - the Public Health Service Act, the Church Amendments (42 USC 300a-7), the Weldon Amendment (PL 110-161), and others - that would otherwise prevent discrimination against hospitals and health care workers are being ignored or overlooked. As a result, pressure has repeatedly been brought to bear through state legislation, licensing or certification authorities and professional boards to coerce individual and institutional health care providers into violating their consciences by forcing them, under penalty of law, to conduct or receive training in the performance of abortions.

In California, this pressure has been especially acute:

- In April 2000, attempts were made to use the California Medical Assistance Commission (CMAC) to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortion and other reproductive services as a condition of receiving a Medi-Cal (Medicaid) contract.

- In 1999, a bill failed on the floor of the state Assembly (AB 525) that would have required Catholic hospitals to provide or arrange for abortions or lose tens of millions of dollars in annual state assistance and impose restrictions on mergers between non-profit health care institutions if access to abortion might be affected.

- Most recently, in 2005, the California Attorney General sued to overturn the federal Weldon Conscience Amendment on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional infringement on the State of California to enforce its own abortion statutes. The suit was dismissed on procedural grounds.

"These assaults on freedom of conscience not only run counter to our nation's commitment to religious tolerance and liberty, they conclusively demonstrate the urgent need for the proposed regulation," added Cox. "Several of the federal statutes mentioned in the proposed regulations have been in place for more than 30 years, but that hasn't deterred influential California officials from attempting to contravene them."

The proposed amendments can be found in the Federal Register and can be cited as 45 CFR Part 88.

A complete copy of the Alliance's comment letter is posted at

The Alliance of Catholic Health Care represents California's Catholic health care systems and hospitals. There are 53 California Catholic and community-based affiliated hospitals. They represent nearly 16 percent of all California acute care in-patient hospitals. The following Catholic health care systems are located in California and represented on the Alliance Board of Directors: Catholic Healthcare West (San Francisco), Daughters of Charity Health Care System (Los Altos Hills), Providence Health System (Southern California) and the St. Joseph Health System (Orange).

Alliance of Catholic Health Care