Pro-Lifers: Obama’s Weakening Abortion-Conscience Rule Hurts Doctors

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 18, 2011   |   11:44AM   |   Washington, DC

Several pro-life groups are sending a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warning her of the alarming effects on patients that will follow the Obama administration’s recent move to strip the medical community of key conscience protections on abortion.

As reported in February, the Obama administration overturned some of the conscience protections the Bush administration put in place to protect pro-life medical workers who don’t want to be involved in certain medical procedures.

In 2008, the Bush administration issued a rule that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and health care aides who refuse to take part in medical procedures to which they have religious or moral objections. The rule implemented existing conscience protection laws that ensure medical professionals cannot be denied employment because they do not want to assist in abortions. The administration rescinded part of the protections by removing protections for medical workers who have moral or religious objections to dispensing or giving to women the Plan B drug or other emergency contraception that could act in some cases as an abortion drug.

This week, the Christian Medical Association, Catholic Medical Association, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), and Medical Students for Life are releasing a joint letter to Sebelius and it is calling on medical students and medical professionals to sign onto the letter before it is sent on March 22.

Dominique Monlezun, the National Coordinator for Medical Students for Life, told that “95% of physicians in a recent national poll agreed that they ‘would rather stop practicing medicine altogether than be forced to violate their conscience.’”

“The decision to take away doctors’ conscience rights has tremendous implications on the patients who need their care. Without conscience protections, many faith-based hospitals that provide services to millions have already said they would shut down rather than provide any abortion-related services,” Monlezun said. “Secretary Sebelius must retract the recent HHS policy change to protect current and future medical professionals, and the patients who require their care and expertise.”

Kristan Hawkins, the director of Students for Life of America, which is coordinating the letter, told that the Obama administration’s decision to remove the conscience protections on the controversial drugs “will drive thousands of medical professionals and medical students out of healthcare, stranding hundreds of thousands of patients, especially those in rural vicinities who rely on only a few doctors in their communities” and she worries “health care costs will necessarily increase because of the lack of doctors and medical facilities.”

“We are calling upon Secretary Sebelius to retract the Department’s statement and restore full conscience protections for all current and future medical professionals of faith and conscience,” she said.

Without the safeguard of the full conscience clause outlined by these protections, healthcare access for hundreds of thousands of patients nationwide will be threatened and healthcare costs will rise because a countless number of medical professionals will stop providing care rather than be forced to prescribe abortion-causing drugs, do in vitro fertilization which claims the lives of human embryos, and other morally objectionable activities, the letter contends. The lack of facilities and professionals needed to provide services will drastically fall.

Reacting to the decision, Dr. J. Scott Ries, speaking for the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association, protested what he called a decision to “weaken the only federal regulation protecting the exercise of conscience in health care.”

“The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification,” he told “The administration presented no evidence of any problems in healthcare access, prescriptions or procedures that have occurred in the two years since the original regulation’s enactment that would justify any change in this protective regulation.”

Ries continued: “The administration, for example, contends that a rule change is necessary to protect access to contraception, but absolutely no evidence is presented to justify any such concern. In the process, the administration blatantly ignores the scientific evidence that certain controversial prescriptions that abortion advocates promote as contraception are actually potential abortifacients, ending the life of a living, developing human embryo. This is a critical concern for pro-life patients, healthcare professionals and institutions.”

“Any weakening of protections against discrimination against life-affirming healthcare professionals ultimately threatens to severely worsen patient access to health care,” the pro-life doctor said. “Losing conscientious healthcare professionals and faith-based institutions to discrimination and job loss especially imperils the poor and patients in medically underserved areas. We are already facing critical shortages of primary care physicians, and the Obama administration’s decision now threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care.”

The new regulation goes into effect in 30 days.