ACOG Again Denies Conscience Rights of Doctors on Abortion

Opinion   |   Bill Saunders   |   Nov 29, 2010   |   2:02PM   |   Washington, DC

The hostilities toward conscience rights are abundant.  This month the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) reviewed and reaffirmed the 2007 Ethics Committee Number 385, entitled The Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine.

And last week a pro-life nurse was denied the right to sue the hospital where she was forced to participate in abortion. There has never been a greater need to pass comprehensive conscience protection measures than there is now. 

The ACOG Ethics Committee rule requires pro-life physicians to refer for abortions. Furthermore, it disparages the notion of conscience to nothing more than a subjective feeling. It suggests that pro-life physicians should relocate in order to better refer patients to nearby abortionists. And it proposes that patient autonomy trumps a physician’s right to conscience.

These rules get their teeth when they are coupled with the requirements for board certification found in the 2011 Bulletin for Basic Certification in Obstetrics and Gynecology from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). Section III Part F of this Bulletin explains that an individual can have his or her board certification revoked if he or she acts in “violation of ABOG or ACOG rules and/or ethical principles.” This means that refusing to conform to the ACOG recommendations could result in the loss of livelihood for healthcare providers.

Another example of antagonism toward conscience protection came from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals this week, when it denied Catherina Lorena Cenzon-DeCarlo the right to sue Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for forcing her to participate in the abortion of a 22-week unborn child. This nurse asserted her rights under the Church Amendment, the 1973 law designed to protect healthcare practitioners from being coerced into participation in abortion. Unfortunately, the court did not recognize an individual’s right to enforce that freedom. Clearly, there is a great need to strengthen conscience protection laws.

The new Congress has the opportunity to further establish conscience protection for healthcare providers like Catherina DeCarlo from coercive employers or board certifying organizations.  The new Congress should make it a priority to pursue a law that will make the Hyde/ Weldon Conscience Protection permanent.

Hyde/ Weldon prohibits federal, state, or local governments from discriminating against any institutional or individual healthcare entity that does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. This amendment has a broad scope of protection—but Hyde/Weldon is an appropriations rider that is subject to annual renewal. The way to make the protection stronger is (1) to make Hyde/Weldon permanent, and (2) to include an express remedy for healthcare providers and entities, allowing them the right to sue for damages when their rights are violated.