Testimony Re: Abortion Non-Discrimination Act
The Committee on Energy and Commerce
W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Chairman
Subcommittee on Health
July 11, 2002
2123 Rayburn House Office Building
Prepared Witness Testimony
. . .the court struck down a state law protecting
hospitals that refuse to participate in abortions, denying the right of our
board to exercise its rights of moral conscience. The court even suggested
that it would not respect the religious beliefs of those who decline
involvement in abortion, saying, "recognizing such a policy as 'compelling'
could violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you for
providing me this opportunity to testify and express my support for
protecting health care providers from forced involvement in abortion.
I serve as a director of the association board of Valley Hospital, a
nonprofit nonsectarian community-based hospital. The hospital lies in an
amazingly beautifully valley, surrounded on three sides by majestic
mountains, with rivers and streams of crystalline blue in Palmer, Alaska.
Palmer is located about 50 miles east of Anchorage. There's another town,
Wasilla, that's 10 miles from Palmer. These two towns and the outlying areas
are known as "the valley."
Valley Hospital is truly a community hospital in that it is governed by
the members of the community. Membership in the hospital is open to all
residents of our community without regard to citizenship, race, sex or
religious preference. The members elect the association board on which I
serve. The association board is responsible for raising funds, acquiring
land, property and equipment for the hospital and for selecting the members
of the hospital's operating board. This board sets the policy of the
hospital. And because the members of the operating board are ultimately
selected from our community, the board truly represents the community. Among
the operating board's current members, for example, are a pastor, a realtor,
an attorney, a teacher, and a physician.
The community both serves and is served by the hospital. The mission of
the hospital is "to enhance the health of those we serve" guided by the
values of honoring the dignity of all people, representing the interests of
the community, and providing the highest level of care within the bounds of
Our small town has an OB/GYN who performs elective abortions. She uses
Valley Hospital for her later-term, second trimester abortions. For the most
part, our community wants abortion to stop at Valley Hospital. So, in the
early 1990's the members elected people to the association board who believe
in respect for human life and who hold the philosophy that hospitals are for
healing, and not killing. The association board selected the operating
board, which passed a resolution reflecting this policy. The resolution
ended abortion at Valley Hospital except in the cases of rape, incest and
danger to the life of the mother---exactly the same policy the federal
government has had in Medicaid and its other health programs for many years.
When the abortionist was told she could no longer perform abortions at
Valley Hospital, she was overheard complaining that abortions were a good
portion of her income. She sued. The trial judge, Judge Dana Fabe, ruled in
her favor, stating that because Valley Hospital received some federal and
state money, it was a quasi-public entity, and therefore has to provide
abortions. The judge's reasoning was strange, to say the least. How can our
receipt of federal funds be used to forbid us to have the same abortion
policy that the federal government requires in all its own health
facilities? I believe, however, that Judge Fabe's opinion was colored by her
personal views on abortion. In 1993 she made the statement that "if a high
school student in this state has a fundamental right to choose his or her
hairstyle, an Alaskan woman must certainly have a fundamental right to
choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy."
Of course, Valley Hospital challenged the decision, and it went before
the Alaska Supreme Court. This five member court is one of a handful of
state supreme courts to rule that state funds must be used for elective
abortions despite the contrary decision of the state legislature. One
member, Justice Bryner, declared that "pregnancy is a disease" during oral
arguments on the funding issue. It was no surprise that the court upheld
Judge Fabe's original decision. The Alaska Supreme Court held that Valley
Hospital was "quasi-public" because of its receipt of public monies. In
addition, the court struck down a state law protecting hospitals that refuse
to participate in abortions, denying the right of our board to exercise its
rights of moral conscience. The court even suggested that it would not
respect the religious beliefs of those who decline involvement in abortion,
saying, "recognizing such a policy as 'compelling' could violate the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment." Valley Hospital Ass'n. v.
Mat-Su Coalition for Choice, 948 P.2d 963 (Alaska 1997).
In response, the legislature sought to reverse the decision by
constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote of our
legislators. Sadly, the amendment failed to garner that two-thirds majority
by just one vote.
This court decision potentially places all hospitals in our state in a
"Catch-22" situation. If you are a non-religious hospital you have no First
Amendment claim of religious freedom, so you must provide abortions. If you
are a religious hospital with a "free exercise" claim, respect for your
right of conscience may be seen as showing favoritism to religion, so you
may still have to provide abortions.
At a time when he was not a member of any religion, former abortionist
Bernard Nathanson once said: "It is clear that permissive abortion is
purposeful destruction of what is undeniably human life. It is an
impermissible act of deadly violence." For those of us who share this view -
that abortion is a form of violence, not a form of health care - being
required to provide and support it is a grave injustice.
I ask for myself and my community, and for any other hospital or health
care provider that does not want to be forced to be involved in killing
innocent human life. Please pass Congressman Bilirakis's bill, the Abortion
Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4691). We, too, have a right to choose -- a
right to choose not to be involved in destroying life.
Thank you for considering my views.