April 9, 2009
On December 19, 2008, after allowing four months for public debate, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation that protected the freedom of health care professionals. Any health care professional who is against abortion on moral or religious grounds, according to this regulation, cannot be coerced into participating in abortions. This regulation happily crystallized and implemented federal laws already existing for 36 years.
Most recently, on March 6, 2009, the federal government formally published a proposal to rescind this policy that protects the conscience rights of health care workers. The publication of the proposal allowed for a 30-day period for citizens aware of this proposal to respond.
This proposal is not an isolated event. In the past decade, laws have been introduced in New York and California to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions and other “services” against Catholic teaching. In 1997, the Alaska Supreme Court forced a community hospital to provide abortions against its will, in the name of greater access to abortion.
Pro-abortion groups have been campaigning to abolish the freedom of those who refuse to take part in abortion. Organizations have been set up to stop any hospital that refuses to perform abortions from merging with other hospitals. The group “Merger Watch” was established for this purpose. While ostensibly arguing for patients’ rights, this group advocates that any institution or provider that is motivated by a moral or religious belief against abortion poses a significant threat to patients’ rights and access to health care.
The facts are otherwise. Today, in our country, there is easy access to abortion and to abortifacient drugs. (This is not something we should celebrate.) For pro-abortionists, this is not enough. Their rhetoric and their money will not stop until they achieve their goal that every hospital and every provider be required by law to perform abortions. A law or government regulation that would mandate unlimited abortion without allowing a “conscience clause” for pro-life individuals or institutions will have three very devastating effects on society.
First, any law that would mandate health care professionals to perform abortions will ultimately force pro-life doctors and nurses out of obstetrics and gynecology. Thus, patients would be denied the care of very competent and moral individuals. Furthermore, hospitals that refuse to do abortions would soon close their doors to all patients.
In the United States, there are 624 Catholic hospitals. They represent the largest single group of not-for-profit hospitals. 84 million outpatient encounters and 5.4 million inpatient admissions take place in Catholic health care entities. Any law or government regulation requiring Catholic hospitals to go against Catholic teaching would force them to close. This would leave one out of every six persons without care. Those, therefore, who would force abortion on all health care professionals would ultimately diminish the health care system itself. Hardly a commendable goal!
Second, there is no basis in law for rescinding the conscience clause for health care professionals. The Supreme Court has acknowledged the right of health care providers not to be forced to perform or facilitate abortion against their own moral principles. If the government were to rescind such freedom by executive order or regulation, such an action would reverse a strong, long-standing and well-grounded tradition in our law. In fact, it would be a studied indifference to the moral principles and the religious convictions of thousands of Americans. At a time when there is need to seek common ground in our nation, such legislation would divide the heart of the nation. It would cause an irreparable cultural division undermining the unity of our great country.
Third, each person has the right to seek the truth and to live according to the truth. According to the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted by the United Nations in 1948, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to … manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Article 18). To coerce individuals to act against their conscience, against their moral principles or against their religious beliefs would violate the very dignity of the human person.
There is an inherent lack of logic in the arguments of pro-abortionists who seek to remove the freedom of conscience from those who disagree with them. How could the proponents of the freedom of choice for those who want abortions logically argue against the freedom of choice for those who do not want to take part in abortion? They favor choice, as long as it is their choice. Clearly, there is no objective standard of truth or morality that enters their argument. The pro-abortionists’ argument for rescinding the freedom of conscience is a thin mask that cannot conceal an anti-life agenda that respects neither the unborn nor the born.
After World War II, the world watched as Nazi war criminals were brought to justice. In the trials, the criminals tried to defend their despicable acts against humanity. They said that they should not be held responsible for their deeds because they were simply following the laws of their nation. This so-called “Nuremberg defense” was not accepted. The judges ruled that individuals were responsible for their own actions despite what the laws of any state or government might demand. By the rejection of the “Nuremberg defense,” the judges were actually affirming the principle of the freedom of conscience.
No matter what laws or governing bodies may decide, each person is responsible to a higher standard of objective right and wrong. What a tragedy if our government would do away with our long-standing recognition of this principle! What far-reaching consequences there would be if those who are opposed to abortion are not allowed to exercise their freedom of conscience. Freedom itself would give way to coercion and our democracy would crumble into the dustbin of history. The future of our country can be made secure only by those who respect the dignity of the human person.