In a Dec. 22 action alert e-mailed to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl urged people to take action to protect conscience rights in health care. He noted a recent full page advertisement that has appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times, that includes the text of a letter signed by more than 400 prominent Catholic leaders, calling on people to take action against proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that force almost all private health plans to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including drugs that may cause an early abortion.

The letter from the Catholic leaders notes that the HHS "preventive services" mandate would force Catholic organizations providing health care "either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services. This would harm both religious freedom and access to health care."

The leaders signing the letter emphasized that they "strongly support access to life-affirming health care for all, and the ability of secular and religious groups to provide and receive such care." The Catholic leaders' letter goes on to say that "the HHS mandate puts many faith-based organizations and individuals in an untenable position. But it also harms society as a whole by undermining a long American tradition of respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience."

To take action to protect conscience rights in health care, Catholics and other people of good will can go to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at this link:

Below is the text of Cardinal Wuerl's Dec. 22 action alert, referring to that letter from Catholic leaders and encouraging people to take action to protect conscience rights:

Dear Friends,

We have all heard much over the past few years about the cause of reforming health care in the United States. Until now, federal law has never prevented Catholic institutions like the Archdiocese of Washington from providing for the needs of their employees with a health plan that is consistent with Catholic moral teachings. However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is currently considering adopting regulations that would threaten that freedom.

Under the proposed HHS regulations, virtually all Catholic hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and charitable organizations would be required to provide coverage for sterilization procedures and contraception, including drugs that may induce abortions, unless they stop hiring and stop serving non-Catholics. The regulations would place many Catholic employers in the untenable position of having to choose between violating the law and violating their conscience.

This is an issue of fundamental, national importance. Yesterday's Washington Post and New York Times ran a letter published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and signed by over four hundred prominent Catholic leaders calling on Congress to reconsider this unprecedented assault on religious liberty. I encourage Catholics and others of good will to join the bishops. No freedom is more precious and deserving of vigilance than this.

With prayerful best wishes, I am,

Faithfully in Christ,

Donald Cardinal Wuerl

Archbishop of Washington