A proposed conscience protection act for health care professionals who oppose abortion would benefit both medical providers and their patients, U.S. Catholic bishops said Thursday as they urged support among the House of Representatives.

“The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement.

Cardinal Dolan is chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on pro-life activities, and Archbishop Lori chairs the committee on religious liberty.

Their March 31 statement urged support in the House of Representatives for the proposed Conscience Protection Act, HR 4828.

This bill would protect healthcare providers who oppose abortion, giving them legal rights to defend themselves if discriminated against for their beliefs. Though “modest” in its scope, the bishops said this bill would “respond to past mistaken objections.”

Federal law already protects conscientious objection against abortion in theory, but not in practice, they maintained, since these laws can only be enforced after a complaint has been filed to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the HHS office has “allowed valid complaints to languish, sometimes for years, without resolution.”

Furthermore, they charged, the HHS has already shown favor for grant-seeking health care providers who are open to providing human trafficking victims with abortions.

“When government instead mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to perform life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good healthcare for American women and men,” they said.

This bill would not only serve to protect Catholic and other religious health care providers, but all those dedicated to “an ethical vocation dedicated to the life and well-being of one’s patients,” noting that the “great majority” of ob/gyns are still “unwilling to perform abortions.”

“In short, whether you approach this issue out of respect for defenseless human life, for religious liberty, for ‘freedom of choice’ on abortion, of the well-being of our health care system, we urge you to support and co-sponsor the Conscience Protection Act and help ensure its approval by the House of Representatives this year,” they said.