President Obama went a little farther today in saying that conscience clause protections on abortion coming from his White House will be strong and 'robust". He made the comments to Catholic reporters while discussing his upcoming meeting with the Pope next week in Italy. The Brody File has transcript. Read his comments below.
Q Many of the people who are providing aid through the church, both domestically and internationally, are very concerned about possible restrictions on churches' moral teachings in their work going away -- through the conscience clause -- I didn't articulate that very well. But they're very concerned about the conscience clauses that protect their ability to refuse to do certain kinds of services going away. And it's been a little unclear what direction this administration is going with some of those restrictions.
Can you talk a little bit about where you see the boundary lines between what -- how much the government can limit what happens according to people's consciences?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that the only reason that my position may appear unclear is because it came in the wake of a last-minute, 11th-hour change in conscience clause provisions that were pushed forward by the previous administration that we chose to reverse. But my underlying position has always been consistent, which is I'm a believer in conscience clauses. I was a supporter of a robust conscience clause in Illinois for Catholic hospitals and health care providers. I discussed this with Cardinal George when he was here in the Oval Office, and I reiterated my support for an effective conscience clause in my speech at Notre Dame.
So I think that there have been some who keep on anticipating the worst from us, and it's not based on anything I've said or done, but is rather just a perception somehow that we have some hard-line agenda that we're seeking to push.
We, as I said before, did reverse an 11th-hour change in the conscience clause, partly because it hadn't been properly reviewed and thought through and there were some concerns about how broad it might be and what its manifestations would be once implemented. We are in the process of reviewing the possibilities of any changes to what was then --
Q What existed before that.
THE PRESIDENT: -- what existed before those changes. We've solicited comments from a wide range of groups -- Joshua, if I'm not mistaken, you can probably tell us how many -- how many comments have we received at this point?
MR. DuBOIS: Hundreds of thousands.
THE PRESIDENT: Hundreds of thousands of comments, including from Catholic providers, the bishops have weighed in, et cetera. We will be coming out with I think more specific guidelines. But I can assure all of your readers that when this review is complete there will be a robust conscience clause in place. It may not meet the criteria of every possible critic of our approach, but it certainly will not be weaker than what existed before the changes were made.
Q Before the last 11th-hour one.
THE PRESIDENT: Exactly.