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House passes bill to protect doctors, nurses, religious groups from aiding abortions

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On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 245-182 to pass legislation that would guarantee hospitals, religious groups and individuals conscience rights not to fund or participate in abortion against their wishes.

Specifically, the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 forbids the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal money from “penaliz[ing], retaliat[ing] against, or otherwise discriminat[ing] against a health care provider” for refusing to perform, pay for, or refer for abortion and abortion coverage.

One Republican, Richard Hanna of New York, voted against it, while three Democrats (Henry Cuellar of Texas, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota) broke ranks to support it. Lipinski and Peterson are two of just four federal-level Democrats endorsed by Democrats for Life this year.

“Whoever you are, whatever you believe, I think this is one thing we can all agree on: No one should be forced to violate their conscience — least of all by the federal government,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in support of the bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy added, “Voting for this bill isn’t voting against abortion. It’s voting against compulsion.”

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Conscience rights have been a recurring concern throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, from his attempts to force religious employers to cover abortifacient contraceptives to his administration’s refusal to defend California churches’ right not to fund abortions.

The bill is not expected to progress far in the Senate, due both to the schedule of the current session and the likelihood of a Democrat filibuster, but even if it does, Obama has already said he would veto it.

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