A Catholic bishop criticizes the bill that would have guaranteed access to abortion

The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland penned an op-ed criticizing a bill to codify abortion access that failed last week, his first public statement on the issue in two weeks since a bill leaked opinion suggested the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Bishop Robert Deeley wrote that the Women’s Health Protection Act would have removed legal protections for health care providers who refuse to perform abortions because of their religious beliefs. Senator Susan Collins of Maine made a similar point when she voted against the bill last week. But Democrats, including Maine Sen. Angus King, disputed that claim and said the bill would not have forced anyone to perform abortions.

Bishop Robert Deeley, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, leads a prayer during Hands Around the Capitol at the Maine State House in Augusta in January. Participants oppose Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion nationwide. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The bill failed in a vote close to the party line, but the Bishop said he was writing about it now “to emphasize the paramount importance of religious liberty.” Congress will likely consider other legislation to enshrine the 50-year-old precedent into federal law. A spokesperson for the diocese did not respond to an email earlier this month asking for the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion, and the bishop did not address the court’s impending decision in his editorial.

The bishop argued that the bill would have nullified federal employment protections for providers who refuse to perform abortions for religious reasons, so those people could be forced to go against it. of their beliefs in order to keep their jobs.

“The WHPA invalidates federal and state laws that offer religious freedom protections to health care providers,” Deeley wrote. “And these provisions do not only apply to institutions. The WHPA would reduce the protection of the conscience of individuals. This means that a nurse who thinks the abortion is wrong can still be forced to participate.

Proponents and advocates of abortion rights disagreed. They said the bill would not undermine protections that exist in federal and Maine law for health care providers who object to the procedure.

“The bill is written to create a protected right for people who want to provide abortion care,” said Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood Maine Action. fund. “It does not make it mandatory for people who do not want it to be available. It’s a bit like the right to vote where people can decide whether or not they want to exercise that right and vote.

All 50 Republicans and one Democrat – Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia – voted against passing the Women’s Health Protection Act. A spokeswoman for Collins pointed to the Reproductive Choice Act, an alternative she introduced in February with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and said she was also working on a separate bill with the Democratic senator. Virginia’s Tim Kaine.

Bishop did not respond to questions about whether he would support other Collins-drafted proposals that would codify abortion rights but also address his concerns about religious objectors.

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