- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

The House yesterday approved a bill proponents say is designed to protect hospitals and other health care organizations from being forced to perform or pay for abortions.

"Some hospitals and doctors are being forced to go against their conscience and provide abortion services," said Rep. Jim Ryun, Kansas Republican.

The largely Republican-backed bill would also protect health care organizations from being compelled to refer patients for abortion services.

Democrats argued the bill is unnecessary election-year propaganda that would dramatically expand current law and is destined to be killed in the Senate.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said bill proponents simply "want to make it impossible" for women to obtain abortions.

The bill which Republican leaders brought straight to the floor without a committee vote passed 229 to 189, with 24 Republicans opposing it and 37 Democrats supporting it.

"No one, under any circumstance, should be forced to perform an abortion against their will," said bill sponsor Rep. Michael Bilirakis, Florida Republican.

A 1996 federal law prevents health care entities from being forced to perform abortions, train others to do so or refer patients for abortion services. Democrats said this law adequately protects doctors and hospitals who object to abortion on religious or moral grounds and needs no further clarification.

But Republicans said there is a concerted effort by the pro-abortion movement to undermine this law and force hospitals and other institutions to provide abortion services. Among other things, they pointed to a 1997 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court requiring private Valley Hospital to provide abortions.

They also cited efforts in New York to pressure a managed care health plan run by the Catholic archdioceses to provide abortion counseling and referrals.

The bill would clarify that "health care entities" under the 1996 law include hospitals, health professionals, provider-sponsored organizations, health maintenance organizations, health insurance plans or any kind of health care facility, organization or plan. Bill supporters said the 1996 law was clearly intended to cover these groups but has been misconstrued by some courts.

The bill also would expand the 1996 law to stipulate that these entities could not be forced to pay for or provide coverage of abortion services.

"The bill is needed because officials and courts in some states are forcing health care providers to participate in abortions," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. "Unfortunately, the Senate Democratic leadership will probably kill this bill this year, just as they are killing the bill to ban partial-birth abortions."

Opponents said the health care bill would go far beyond simply ensuring that doctors can follow their consciences.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said the measure would allow HMOs and insurance companies to try to save money by telling their health care providers to withhold important abortion-related information from patients.

"This would take away patients' rights to get the kind of health care they're entitled to," Mr. Waxman said.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, said it "denies women access to medically necessary services" and dangerously fails to provide any exception if the woman is a victim of rape or incest or if her life is in danger.

Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland was among the Republicans who opposed the bill. She said it is a "sweeping new federal exemption" that would deny women information and services regarding abortion.

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