It was March 5, 2013 when I first met pro-life operating room nurse Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo. She wiped tears from her eyes and she told an audience about the time she was forced by her hospital in New York to assist in the abortion of a 22-week preborn baby. The hospital knew her longstanding opposition to abortion, yet threatened her job and her nursing license if she did not take part.
As a registered nurse like me, Cathy took an oath to devote herself to the welfare of those committed to her care, but in this instance she was forced to partake in a practice that she, and so many others, believe to be the taking of a human life.
Almost as appalling as this blatant violation of Cathy's conscience rights is the length of time it took for the federal government to resolve her complaint and affirm her right not to perform an abortion against her will: three years.
Cathy's situation is not unique. This government-mandated abortion coercion now spans statewide in California, where the Department of Managed Health Care required in 2014 that all insurance plans under their authority — included those offered by churches and Christian universities — must include coverage for elective abortion.
This edict stands in defiance of a longstanding, bipartisan statute known as the "Weldon Amendment," which prohibits government discrimination against healthcare providers on the basis of a refusal to perform or provide coverage for abortions, but the Obama administration doesn't seem to care.
After I led more than 120 Members of Congress in demanding a Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights investigation into the California abortion mandate, the agency got back to us nearly two years later reporting their findings that no violation had occurred.
While the Obama administration dithered, other states used this failure to enforce the law as license to enact more anti-conscience rights laws of their own. New York has become the latest state to implement an abortion mandate, and others will follow suit if Congress does not act.
President Thomas Jefferson famously said "No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority" — and with good reason. If we do not have a right to live according to our conscience and the dictates of our most deeply held beliefs, particularly on a matter as deeply affecting as abortion, we don't have much left.
President Obama acknowledged as much at a speech at Notre Dame University, when he told the school's class of 2009, "Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion."
Sadly, his words do not match his administration's actions.
For these reasons and more, I introduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2016; legislation the House of Representatives will vote on this week to prevent any government — federal, state, or local — from penalizing or in any way discriminating against a healthcare provider for refusing to participate in abortion. Importantly, my bill goes beyond existing law to provide victims of abortion coercion a civil right of action, so they can have their day in court and not leave their freedoms to the will of a radically pro-abortion Administration.
I wear my pro-life convictions on my sleeve and make no secret about my desire for the day when the barbarity of abortion is a thing of the past, but that is not what this bill will do. Americans should know that this legislation does not change the legality of any abortions. It does not affect access to contraception, nor does it change doctors' and hospitals' responsibility to pregnant women in life threatening situations under existing law.
Democrats in Congress frequently talk about the "right to choose" in matters of abortion. Of course, their argument leaves no choice for the innocent life in the women. But if politicians are willing to defend that "right," it stands to reason that they should protect the other right to choose as well: the right not to be a forced partner in the practice of abortion. This is what my bill would do.
This week, may Congress remember the words of our third president – and, for that matter, our 44th — and vote to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016. The most basic rights of pro-life Americans, and the real life stories of people like Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, demand it.
Congressman Diane Black represents Tennessee's 6th District. She is a registered nurse, a member of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and a member of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.