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News Commentary 2009

Vellacott weighs in on Abortion

Letter to the Editor
The Star Phoenix,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

25 November, 2009

Sean Murphy

The controversy surrounding the availability of abortion in Saskatoon appears to have begun with a complaint to the effect that Saskatoon physicians are generally unwilling to perform the procedure after 12 weeks gestation. The article noted that the cut-off date in Regina is 16 weeks.1 Since there is no legal restriction on abortion in Canada prior to the onset of labour, the 12 and 16 week standards probably reflect the views of physicians called upon to provide the procedure.

However, contrary to the impression created by a recent statement by MP Maurice Vellacott,2 it does not follow that these physicians are attempting to prevent women from obtaining the service.

Henry Morgentaler, for example, initially advocated unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In 1989 he was performing abortions on women 16 weeks pregnant, moving to 18 weeks by 1996. He noted in 2004 that he had "ethical problems" doing abortions from about 24 weeks, explaining, that he did not want to abort fetuses after they had become babies.3 In other words, Dr. Morgentaler has always limited the scope of his practice for ethical reasons, but he has never been accused of (or congratulated for) trying to restrict access to abortion.

To put the "cut-off" dates in perspective, doctors at a hospital in Lyon, France, resigned en masse in 2001 when administrators instructed them to implement a new law raising the gestational limit for abortion from 10 to 12 weeks.4 While abortions can be obtained in Scotland up to at least 34 weeks gestation,5 most physicians are unwilling to provide the procedure beyond 15 weeks.6 For the same reason, in 2006 a district health board in New Zealand began subsidies for women to travel to Australia for second trimester abortions.7

Mr. Vellacott comments are, unfortunately, likely to generate unfounded accusations that Saskatoon physicians are trying to "control" their patients and restrict access to abortion. As Dr. Morgentaler's position illustrates, these are unwarranted assumptions. It is far more likely that they share Dr. Morgentaler's belief that the ethics of abortion must take the nature of the foetus into account, and, like Dr. Morgentaler, have limited the scope of their practices for ethical and practical reasons.


1. Sharp, Jenn, "Abortion cut-off date criticized as too early." The Star Phoenix, 13 November, 2009. Accessed 2009-11-25

2. Sharp, Jenn, "Vellacott weighs in on abortion: Saskatoon MP commends system for restricting access." The Star Phoenix, 24 November, 2009. Accessed 2009-11-25

3. Canadian Press, "Quebec hopes to offer late term abortions." Accessed 2009-06-02.; Dunphy, Catherine, Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero. Random House: Toronto, 1996, p. 62-64, 339.

4. "French Doctors Rethinking Abortions in Face of New Law: At One Hospital, Physicians Quit en Masse." Zenit, 7 November, 2001. () Accessed 2006-06-13

5. Foster, Kate, "Hospital Admits Abortion At 34 Weeks." Scotland on Sunday, 10 April 2005. Accessed 2006-06-13

6. Templeton, Sarah Kate, "Private firm plans Scottish abortion clinic." The Sunday Herald, 19 January, 2003. Accessed 2006-06-13)

7. "Royal College calls for conscience decision on second trimester abortions." Radio New Zealand,11 March, 2006. Accessed 2006-03-11

The right not to be pushed around by government

National Post
15 May, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Randy Hillier

Last year, Ontario's College of Physicians and Surgeons came close to implementing a policy that would have made it "unethical" for doctors to decline, as a matter of conscience, to perform controversial medical procedures on otherwise healthy patients. If adopted, the policy would have compelled doctors who consider abortion the taking of innocent life to provide such a "service" themselves or risk losing their license to practice medicine in Ontario.

Fortunately, after an outcry from the public prompted some sober second thought, the College stepped back from the policy, allowing doctors to continue exercising their conscience in the performance of their duties. In doing so, however, it also warned doctors that they could still be subject to prosecution by other quasi-judicial bodies such as Ontario's human rights tribunals.

This is just one of many reasons why I believe that Ontario's human rights tribunals need to be drastically reformed, if not abolished altogether.

Even without out-of-control human rights tribunals, though, there is still plenty of opportunity for government to suppress dissent or prevent citizens from acting according to their own conscience. The temptation for regulatory bodies and activist liberal judges to impose their personal views on society may be too great for them to resist, even in the absence of human rights tribunals.

This is just plain wrong, and elected lawmakers have a duty to address the problem. That's why, as leader of Ontario's PC party, I intend to push for legislation that will explicitly establish and protect the right of all Ontarians to refuse to act in a manner that they consider to be morally objectionable, and as premier of Ontario I will introduce such a law.

Defending freedom of conscience through concrete legislative action is no mere abstract exercise. Sincere principled dissent is not just something to be tolerated in a free and democratic society; it's the very wellspring from which our democratic traditions flow. Without such principled dissent, it should be remembered, our society might never have rid itself of the scourge of slavery; women might still be denied the right to vote and Jews might still be barred from entering Canada, as they were for a time under the federal Liberal party's policy of "none is too many."

Democracy is possible only when freedom of speech, association and conscience are protected and private property is respected. A state that can force doctors to violate their conscience, or that can force private business owners to endorse and promote same-sex relationships in violation of their religious beliefs, is a state that can seize private property on a whim with little or no due process. It's also a state that can shut down independent schools and outlaw home-schooling entirely as is now the case in Germany, prosecuting parents who choose not to send their children to government run schools where liberal indoctrination is more important than teaching basic reading and writing skills.

In short, a society that suppresses principled dissent is one that turns its back on genuine democratic principles, even if it holds regular elections.

This is why I am running for the leadership of Ontario's PC party - because I believe that the people of Ontario deserve a clear choice between a Liberal party that is liberal in name only, and a principled Conservative party that understands the connection between its principles and real liberal democracy; a Conservative party that is courageous enough to stand by and defend those principles in the public square, and that is prepared to deliver a legislative and policy agenda that reflects those principles once elected.

Explicitly protecting freedom of conscience is an important part of this agenda.

Some people call this radical - I just call it common sense.

Randy Hillier is the Ontario MPP from Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington and was a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership race in 2009.

Personal conscience strengthens law

USA Today
8 May, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody,
Senior policy analyst,
Christian Medical Association - Ashburn, Va.

Citing revelations of substandard outpatient conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a USA TODAY editorial promotes legal protections for whistle-blowers ("Protect whistle-blowers," Our view, Your right to know debate, Tuesday).

But legal protections alone are insufficient to motivate an individual to buck an establishment that has gone AWOL ethically.

Whistle-blowing requires resolute character and a conscientious commitment to bedrock ethical standards. The absence of such individual character and universal standards breeds ethical malpractice, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment, which deliberately denied penicillin treatment for African-American syphilis patients.

Such lessons from history apparently have not given pause to the Obama administration, which proposes removing a conscience-protection regulation that implements the right of health care professionals to follow life-affirming, patient-protecting standards such as the Hippocratic oath.

Based on three civil rights laws passed over the past 35 years with bipartisan support, the provider-conscience regulation implemented by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services simply ensures that participating in abortion and other controversial procedures remains a choice and not a mandate for health care professionals.

According to two recent national surveys, Americans support the conscience-protection regulation by a 2-1 ratio, and 95% of faith-based physicians surveyed warn that they will leave medicine before bowing to pressure to violate ethical standards and convictions.

The Obama administration can avert a crisis of health care access for poor patients and those in medically underserved areas by simply keeping regulatory and legal protections for health care professionals who remain anchored to ethical standards.

When the political or medical establishment loses its moorings, conscientious physicians remain the patients' last line of defense.

Pharmacists live in fear
Letter to the Editor, National Post
6 April, 2009
Reproduced with permission
Re: The Next Moral Quagmire: Conscience, April 4.

Thank you once again for an excellent and timely article on a very important issue. It was in Toronto that a colleague suggested I leave my beliefs at the door and in Vancouver that a pharmacy manager warned me about "imposing my morality," after which I was let go under other pretexts.

Why is this significant? Because this is a national problem for pharmacists. Pharmacist Maria Bizecki suffered a lengthy suspension from her job for kindly asking a customer to come back for the product she requested the next day -- when someone else would be all too happy to meet her needs.

In Ontario, pharmacist Michael Izzotti merely asked the doctor to fax in a prescription request so that a colleague could take care of it the next day. He was also severely reprimanded when a doctor made a formal complaint to the Ontario College of Pharmacists. Many other pharmacists will not come forward with their stories for fear of losing their livelihood.

When convenience takes precedence over the basic human rights of freedom of conscience and religion, our Canadian democracy is in very bad shape indeed.

Cristina Alarcon, pharmacist,
West Vancouver

Letter to the Editor, National Post
6 April 06, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Based on my informed moral and religious conscience, I am a doctor who refuses to refer for abortions. I refuse to co-operate with intrinsic wrongness.

How do I explain this to my own young children? Last night, I read them Walt Disney's Pinocchio: " 'No, Pinocchio,' she answered. 'First, you must prove yourself to be brave, truthful and unselfish. You must also learn to choose between right and wrong.'

'But how will I know what is right and wrong?' he asked. 'Your conscience will tell you,' said the Blue Fairy. 'What's a conscience?' asked Pinocchio. 'That's the small voice that people don't always listen to.' "

Dr. Rene Leiva, Ottawa.

Removing Conscience Rights: A Dangerous Prescription in Health Care
The Foundry
9 April, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Randy Pate

America is facing a shortage of qualified health care professionals, including doctors and nurses. The Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA)has identified over 6,000 Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas across the country, with 64 million Americans living in them. According to HRSA, it would take over 16,000 new primary care doctors in these shortage areas to meet the need. The problem is even more acute in crucial specialties such as obstetrics and gynecology. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologistsreports that almost one third of women in rural areas live in counties with no practicing OB-GYNs. Observers predict the current problems will only get worse, with some foreseeing nationwide shortages of doctors and other health care professionals in the next decade.

Many factors affect the supply of doctors, including the aging U.S. population, low reimbursement rates paid by government-funded insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, burdensome paperwork mandates, and high medical malpractice insurance costs. But astoundingly, rather than working to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the medical field, advocates of abortion have gone on record saying there should be fewer, not more, doctors.

The latest proof is found in the debate over the Obama Administration'seffort to overturn the providerconscience regulation. This regulation clarifies and implements longstanding federal laws prohibiting discrimination against health care workers who object to performing certain controversial medical procedures, such as abortion and sterilization.

In a New England Journal of Medicineop-ed written in opposition to the provider conscience regulation, UCLA adjunct law professor Julie D. Cantor argues that, to keep our health care system functioning, conscience rights must be stripped away. She believes doctors who practice life-affirming medicine or who otherwise object to providing abortion on demand should be booted out of the medical profession. In Cantor's view, physicians should be required to provide, counsel on, and refer for "all legal options," even if it violates their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions. So, if you are a doctor or medical student who has "qualms" with performing abortions, Cantor has a simple prescription for you: "do not practice women's care." By Cantor's logic, if you are opposed to euthanasia (now legal in some states) the answer is simply:: do not practice end-of-life care. In other words, if you happen to hold a view on ethical issues that differs from that of the official, state-imposed view-whatever that view may be, now or in the future-your only choice is to leave the profession or else face potential retribution.

Apparently Cantor and others sharing her view are willing to live with the devastating reductions in women's access to medical care, especially in poor and rural areas, that would result from her dangerous prescription. Even a small percentage of practicing OB-GYNs leaving the profession would impose dire consequences on patients. Existing shortages would be exacerbated as students avoided or were turned away from training programs in health fields where their views were unwelcome. Not to mention the fact that much health care in the United States is provided by faith-based institutions like Catholic hospitals, which would be forced to shut their doors or reduce services if conscience protections were removed.

Unfortunately for patients, Cantor is not alone. Others, including The New York Times (which said in aneditorial, "[a]ny doctors who cannot talk to patients about legally permitted care because it conflicts with their values should give up the practice of medicine") have made public statements or taken actions reflecting this disturbing viewpoint . By proposing to overturn regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care providers, the Obama Administration is moving in a very troubling direction on health care issues and leaving doctors and nurses open to attack on account of their beliefs.

No one should be forced to violate their conscience. Now is the time to protect conscience rights and encourage caring individuals of all faiths and backgrounds to seek careers in the health professions. Let the Department of Health and Human Services know of your support for regulations protecting conscience rights in the health care work place by and sending your comment before April 9.

Pro-choice - unless you're a doctor
The Observer
7 April, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Christie Pesavento

One of our most celebrated liberties in America is the freedom of conscience, or the freedom to hold and act upon conscientious judgments. It was the motivating factor in the Bush administration's strengthening of what are commonly known as "conscience" laws that protect physicians and other health care providers from discrimination if they refuse to participate in medical procedures that raise religious or other conscientious objections.

What sort of discrimination? In the past, health care providers who refuse to, say, participate in abortion procedures; have faced harassment, intimidation, and retribution in the form of denials of promotions and educational opportunities, and even the loss of employment.

Such laws have been in place since the 1970s, but the Department of Health and Human Services has done little to enforce them, and many providers remain unaware of their existence. Thanks to President Bush's efforts, these laws are now provided with real executive power. President Obama, however, plans to challenge the letter of the law by eliminating the very regulations that help enforce them.

In an announcement that gained little coverage from our ever-vigilant news media, the Obama administration proposed its intentions to rescind the measures for the purpose of eliminating the potential "ambiguity and confusion." Considering the fact that the Bush administration's new regulation clarified the laws and aided their enforcement, it could very well be that Obama's attempt to do away with the regulation is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to pander to the pro-choice movement. More disturbing, however, is how Obama's position on the matter raises questions about his party's commitment to religious liberty, especially when it conflicts with their agenda to promote ambiguous "reproductive rights."

But before we delve into the realm of politics, let us examine the reasoning behind opposition to the existence of conscience laws.

Conscience law critics often point to the responsibility that health care providers have to their patients, which they believe overrides any moral or religious beliefs they might espouse. When a patient is in need of a medical procedure, they argue, it is the duty of the physician or hospital to provide the procedure. Conscience laws unfairly disadvantage people who do not have easy access to a variety of medical institutions or practitioners because they may be denied assistance by providers who refuse to partake in procedures on religious or moral grounds.

Yet despite these claims, forcing physicians and hospitals to partake in actions they find morally reprehensible is not the answer because responsibilities to patients simply do not trump constitutionally-supported rights that hold a cherished place in the history of democratic thought. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 1975 ruling in the case of Taylor v. St. Vincent's Hospital, states, "If [a] hospital's refusal to perform sterilization [or, by implication, abortion] infringes upon any constitutionally cognizable right to privacy, such infringement is outweighed by the need to protect the freedom of religion of denominational hospitals 'with religious or moral scruples against sterilizations and abortions.'" Thus no rationale, no matter how sound, can justify overriding a right that is protected by the First Amendment's provision that forbids Congress from making laws that infringe upon the free practice of religion.

On certain issues, the Democratic Party appears to understand the sanctity of the freedom to express one's religious and moral beliefs, in particular those of minority religions. They have stood against measures they believe undermine what they believe should be a strict separation between church and state. Yet when it comes to religious beliefs that they disagree with personally, especially those of most Christian denominations, they have no qualms about creating government mandates that suppress the free expression of these practices, such as bans on school prayer and the removal of monuments displaying the Ten Commandments in public places. If, for instance, physicians of the Muslim faith were bringing up objections to performing procedures that contradicted their religious beliefs, I can't envision the ACLU fighting against measures that would prevent discrimination against these people. The Democrats' commitment to religious liberty is largely conditional on whose religious liberty is at stake.

Furthermore, the added dimension of reproductive issues like abortion complicates the matter. As his Senate record has shown, Obama is an ardent defender of abortion rights, going as far as sponsoring legislation that would allow for the killing of infants who manage to survive and are born alive despite abortion attempts. When combined with his party's inherent tendency to distrust Christian beliefs, it is obvious why he would want to rescind any measures that interfere with the alleged rights of patients to receive abortions on demand. In claiming to be "pro-choice" when it comes to having an abortion, Democrats are surprisingly anti-choice on the matter of doctors and hospitals choosing whether or not to provide them.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, repealing Bush's regulations will not eliminate the conscience laws that have remained on the books for over three decades. Yet it will be up to health care providers to defend themselves against discrimination based on their religious and moral beliefs, a protection that should be the responsibility of the branch of government that enforces the law.

If you would like to voice your objection to the President's efforts to rescind the Bush regulation, please visit before April 9.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Christie Pesavento is in Washington, D.C. and can be reached at
Wrong to rescind 'conscience rule'

Letter to the Editor
The Hill,
28 March, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Joxel Garcia
U.S. assistant secretary for health (2008-2009)
Jacqueline Halbig

Dr. Leslie Chorun was forced to resign from her residency program because she refused to refer women for abortions, believing it was below the standard of care for physicians. Dr. Sandy Christiansen was reamed out in front of her team of residents and medical students for not wanting to be involved in her patient's late-term abortion because of her Christian beliefs.

Reports of discrimination stories like these by healthcare providers and medical and nursing students spurred the Bush administration to enact Health and Human Services regulation now referred to as the "conscience rule." Having been implemented in December 2008, this rule has not had the opportunity to go into full effect and yet the Obama administration has already announced its intention to rescind it.

The intent of this rule is not only to educate and raise awareness about the existing laws that protect the conscience rights, but also to give doctors and medical students a recourse for discrimination complaints.

Discrimination stories are abundant, and good doctors, nurses and medical students are being forced to give up their practices because of their moral convictions.

In a time when baby boomer healthcare providers are retiring at record numbers and a diminishing number of applicants are going to medical schools, we continue to nurture a hostile environment which penalizes healthcare providers who exercise their right of conscience. The result will be a severe reduction in doctors and nurses in places where they are most needed, leaving patients without necessary medical care.

If President Obama rescinds the conscience rule, it's very possible that not only doctors will stop practicing if forced to perform abortions against their will, but faith-based hospitals will also be forced to close their doors. If this occurs, local economies will take a severe hit in loss of jobs and healthcare expenses will skyrocket.

Not exactly healthcare access for everyone, as Obama has promised.

Upon learning that Obama planned to rescind the conscience clause, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), an OB/GYN doctor himself, said that he would rather face jail time than perform an abortion or any other act that, as a doctor, he morally opposes.

Healthcare quality exists when there is sound science and open communication between patients and doctors. Should the conscience clause be rescinded, the government enters into the sacred space of communication between patients and doctors, effectively telling doctors what they can or cannot say. Since when in America have we moved into a socialistic system of government?

Doctors should not be required to check their conscience at the door when they provide care to their patients or go through training. It's a matter of freedom and constitutional rights. It's the essence of being an American.

Time to provide conscience protections for pharmacists

Renew America
27 March, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Bryan Fischer

The Idaho House of Representatives will soon take up a bill, House Bill 216 (HB216) designed to protect the conscience rights of pharmacists and pharmacies.

This bill, despite strenuous opposition from the usual suspects such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, passed out of the House State Affairs Committee on a 14-4 vote.

This bill is designed to establish conscience protections for Idaho pharmacists, to insulate them from being forced to dispense drugs that would violate their moral or religious convictions.

This is of particular significance with regard to the so-called "morning after" pill, otherwise known as "emergency contraception" or Plan B. Remarkably, a federal judge has ordered that this high-dosage birth control pill be made available to 17-year-olds without prescription, even though the lower dosage version can't be dispensed without one.

The problem here is that Plan B can cause an abortion at the earliest stage of human development, by preventing the implantation of a fertilized embryo on the uterine wall.

Planned Parenthood ludicrously claims this is not an actual abortion, which it does through deceptive verbal sleight-of-hand. Planned Parenthood simply defines "pregnancy" as beginning with implantation rather than conception, and presto-chango, you get a free pass on the first seven to 10 days of human life.

But a fertilized embryo is in fact a human life at its earliest stage of development, and Plan B can flush this tiny little human being out of a woman's body by preventing its life-sustaining attachment to the wall of the mother's womb.

The conscience implications here for a pharmacist with pro-life convictions are obvious, and are particularly acute for every pharmacist who takes seriously the Hippocratic Oath and the ethical obligation it imposes to "Above all, do no harm."

Pharmacists are drawn to the medical profession out of a desire to assist in therapeutic treatment. They are driven by a desire to heal, not to harm.

No pharmacist should be compelled to violate his own conscience or put his livelihood at risk by being pressured to dispense a drug that can endanger a human life and cause its death.

Our Founding Fathers would agree. They believed that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, and in fact may have considered it the most fundamental of all rights.

Thomas Jefferson said that no provision in the Constitution "ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority."

At another place, he said, "We are bound, you, I, every one, to make common maintain the common right of freedom of conscience."

James Madison, the Father of the Bill of Rights and author of the First Amendment, said, a man's conscience is "the most sacred of all property."

He elaborated: "The particular glory of this country (is) to have secured the rights of conscience which in other nations are least understood or most strangely violated."

George Washington advised all Americans to "labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

Tellingly, and right on point, he also said, "The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness: and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them."

Samuel Adams, the Father of the Revolution, likewise considered liberty of conscience to be an original right.

The United States Supreme Court likewise has affirmed conscience as a fundamental right, ruling in Cantwell v. Conn. that "Freedom of conscience...cannot be restricted by law."

The Court also upheld a conscience clause exempting men from the draft who were opposed to military service due to "religious training and belief," because war involves the ultimate matters of life and death.

My own father served as a medic rather than an infantryman in World War II because our nation granted Conscientious Objector status to those whose moral convictions prohibited them from taking human life even in the cause of a just war.

No pharmacist should be forced, against his own conscience, to dispense drugs that would make him, in his own judgment, an instrument of death.

Of the 50 states, 47 of them provide some degree of protection to healthcare providers who conscientiously object to certain procedures, indicating that it is the will of the American people through their elected representatives that we do not want to force healthcare providers to have to choose between their consciences and their livelihoods.

Among the first obligations assumed by medical professionals who take the Hippocratic Oath is, "Above all, do no harm." Professional pharmaceutical associations have given explicit recognition to freedom of conscience as a fundamental right for healthcare providers.

For instance, the American Pharmaceutical Association in its Code of Ethics includes this statement: "APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist's right to exercise conscientious refusal..."

And the American Society of Health-Care System Pharmacists recognizes "the right of decline to participate in therapies they consider to be morally, religiously or ethically troubling."

No pharmacist with deep-seated conscience convictions, particularly on the subject of the sanctity of human life, should be forced to dispense drugs that in his judgment endanger human life rather than protecting it and healing it.

When pharmacist Jim Ineck gave testimony before the House Committee, he rehearsed for committee members the pressure he felt when hired by a Boise area hospital to dispense medication regardless of any religious or ethical qualms he may have had. He subsequently left that hospital for one friendlier to convictions of conscience.

Mr. Ineck told me after the hearing about a pharmacist friend of his who practiced in Illinois. After Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (yes, Blago himself) issued an edict in 2005 requiring all pharmacists to fulfill all prescriptions regardless of conscience scruples, Ineck's friend was fired from his job, had his license suspended for six months, and was forced to pay a hefty fine. This clearly is far from a merely theoretical issue.

A vote for HB 216 is a vote that puts lawmakers on the side of our Founding Fathers, the Supreme Court, lawmakers in 47 states, and leading professional medical associations.

That's good company to keep.

Pharmacist Jim Ineck gave testimony before the House Committee, and rehearsed for committee members the pressure he felt when hired by a Boise area hospital to dispense medication regardless of any religious or ethical qualms he may have had. He subsequently left that hospital for one friendlier to convictions of conscience.

Mr. Ineck told me after the hearing about a pharmacist friend of his who practiced in Illinois. After Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (yes, Blago himself) issued an edict in 2005 requiring all pharmacists to fulfill all prescriptions regardless of conscience scruples, Ineck's friend was fired from his job, had his license suspended for six months, and was forced to pay a hefty fine. This clearly is far from a merely theoretical issue.

On behalf of all of us in the IVA network, I sent a letter to each member of the Idaho House today, which you can read at the first link below. In the letter, I stress the noble history liberty of conscience has enjoyed in America, and suggest that it may well have been the most fundamental human and civil right of all in the minds of the Founders.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and Samuel Adams all explicitly affirmed the fundamental importance of protecting liberty of conscience in America. Madison referred to it as "the most sacred of all property," and Washington declared that "conscientious scruples" should be jealously guarded, and expressed his wish that "the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them."
Why is there no choice for pro-lifers?

Foster's Daily Democrat
21 March, 2009

Aggie Dowd

What is going on in America, the land of the free? It's not pretty; it's not even practical; and it smacks strongly of anti-Catholic bigotry.

President Barack Obama wants to force the largest not-for-profit provider of health care services in the nation, and all of its employees, to participate in procedures - such as abortion and sterilization - that are contrary to their deeply held moral beliefs and religious principles.

I'm speaking of the Catholic health ministry, which dates back to 1727, includes more than 2,000 hospitals, and serves all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Now, tell me why - in this time of national worry over our medical care system - why would the president want to jeopardize the existence of Catholic hospitals where one in six patients in the United States are treated? There is only one answer: When it comes to those who believe in the sanctity of life, there is no freedom to choose.

President Obama wants to remove the December 20, 2008 Health and Human Services (HHS) provider conscience rule that codifies existing federal statues enacted by Congress in 1973, 1996 and 2004 to protect the role of conscience in health care.

There is not much time to protest.
The "comment" period regarding the removal will close on April 9th.

With bipartisan support, Congress over the last 36 years has enacted many laws to protect the right of conscientious objection for health care providers. The 1973 Church amendment (named after its prime sponsor, Sen. Frank Church [D-Idaho]), declares that receipt of federal funds in various health programs does not require participation in abortion or sterilization procedures; protects the general conscience rights of individuals in federally-funded health service programs; and prohibits entities that receive public health service funds from discriminating against applicants who decline to participate in those procedures because of religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Clear and unambiguous protection for the right of conscience in health care is needed because our religious freedom, specifically guaranteed in the Constitution, is under attack. Abortion advocates state unequivocally that when it comes to abortion, religious freedom must not exist. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) project, "Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights," states that the "law should not permit an institution's religious strictures to interfere with the public's access to reproductive health care."

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Connecticut's ACLU put it this way: "We have long protected religious liberty rights, but not when it curtails basic rights to reproductive freedom."

So those who advocate "freedom to choose" abortion are unwilling to allow those who do not agree with them the same freedom to choose on the grounds that it hurts a woman's access to such services. Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the US Bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat, pointed out to Congress last summer: "If a procedure really elicits widespread ethical disapproval from conscientious health professionals, and must be imposed on unwilling physicians and nurses by force of law in order to be available at all, it may not be as "basic" as pro-abortion groups imagine."

Unfortunately, the statutory policy is relatively unknown, misunderstood and unenforced, which is why the provider conscience rule is needed. For example, the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued an opinion in November 2007 stating that anti-abortion physicians must do abortion referrals. They had to be reminded by the HHS Secretary that such coerced referrals are among the abuses that federal conscience laws have long prohibited.

The Catholic Medical Association noted last week, "The HHS Rule protects a fundamental freedom of all Americans - to religious liberty and freedom of conscience... President Obama evidently thinks you can deny conscience rights on some issues but respect them on others. He is wrong. Denying respect for conscience on one issue will threaten everyone's right to conscience."

The General Counsel for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops summed it up this way: "Refusal to cooperate in a morally evil act is a basic human right which civil law is obliged to recognize and protect ... . Individuals and institutions committed to healing should not be required to take the very human life that they are dedicated to protecting."

President Obama must be reminded that the loss of the Catholic health ministry will be a grave disservice to many Americans. Please, make your voice heard before April 9th by sending your comments to:
Aggie Dowd is the founder of
Conscience clauses provide real choice

The Florida Catholic
24 March, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Pro-choice. Pro-choice. Pro-choice.

We get a little tired of hearing that moniker for the abortion-rights movement, since it isn't very accurate. Those who promote and support abortion on demand, especially those who actively oppose any and all restrictions to it, don't want to hear about informed choices. . .The latest arena in which the "pro-choice" folks want to take away choice is to remove the conscience clauses for health care providers who do not want to be involved in abortion. . . [Complete editorial]

Protecting Conscience
An Obstacle to Tyranny

From BreakPoint
3 March, 2009
Reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship

Chuck Colson

Last week, what the Washington Post characterized as a "terse posting on a federal Web site" set the stage for a debate on just how seriously our society takes freedom of conscience.

The posting announced that the Obama administration was planning to rescind "job protections for health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable." These explicit protections were issued in the last few months of the Bush administration.

Under the current provisions, health care providers can lose federal funds if they don't accommodate health-care workers "who refuse to participate in care they feel violates their . . . moral or religious beliefs."

The regulations covered "state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities." Health-care providers and "abortion rights" advocates were quick to attack the Bush administration for promulgating the regulations. Groups like the American Medical Association said they opposed the regulations because, as they put it, "health-care providers have an obligation" to advise patients "of the options despite their own beliefs."

At the same time, they said that the regulations were unnecessary because "there are already laws [that protect] health-care professionals" who refuse to provide care for personal reasons.

Well, not so fast. The rules were established in response to what the Catholic Health Association called "a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations."

In a country that treasures freedom, what could possibly justify compelling people to violate their consciences? There is a long tradition established in the law and court cases not to do this, as in the case of conscientious objectors not being compelled to serve in the military.

Reportedly, some officials believe that protecting health-care workers' consciences creates a "major obstacle to providing many health services" and even interferes with "scientific research."

It is difficult to imagine what "scientific research" they have in mind-a pro-life researcher is not likely to choose a specialty where the destruction of unborn human life is a pre-requisite.

And by "many health services," what's really meant is "pharmacists." One of the groups leading the charge for rescinding the rule is the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Its members have joined with Planned Parenthood to force pharmacists to dispense prescriptions that violate their religious beliefs, even when the prescription can be filled elsewhere.

In other words, the government is considering undermining religious freedom and freedom of conscience for the sake of convenience. They can't even argue it's necessary. If someone objects, for conscience' sake, to facilitate abortion, anybody is free to go to another doctor or druggist.

Remember-freedom of conscience is the first freedom. And people who can be compelled to act in violation of their most deeply held convictions are not free in any meaningful sense. The good news is that this appears to be a "trial balloon" of sorts. Administration officials are expecting lots of comments on the proposed change. And we shouldn't disappoint them. Let them know that we value freedom of conscience too highly to let it be sacrificed, especially to those driven by ideology and profit.

Because what government officials are regarding as an "obstacle" is, in fact, the very foundation of our freedom-and the first defense against tyranny.
Cardinal George Urges Catholics to Tell Administration: Keep Conscience Protections for Health Care Workers

Hello. I am Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I'd like to take a moment to speak about two principles or ideas that have been basic to life in our country: religious liberty and the freedom of personal conscience.

On Friday afternoon, February 27, the Obama Administration placed on a federal website the news that it intends to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Health and Human Services. That rule is one part of the range of legal protections for health care workers-for doctors, nurses and others-who have objections in conscience to being involved in abortion and other killing procedures that are against how they live their faith I God.

As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we are deeply concerned that such an action on the government's part would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism. Respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression. No government should come between an individual person and God-that's what America is supposed to be about. This is the true common ground for us as Americans. We therefore need legal protection for freedom of conscience and of religion-including freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves.

Conscientious objection against many actions is a part of our life. We have a conscientious objection against war for those who cannot fight, even though it's good to defend your country. We have a conscientious objection for doctors against being involved in administering the death penalty. Why shouldn't our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother's womb? People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures-a living member of the human family is killed-that's what it's all about-and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality.

I ask you please to let the government know that you want conscience protections to remain strongly in place. In particular, let the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington know that you stand for the protection of conscience, especially now for those who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society. Thank you and God bless you.

Regulation keeps abortion a 'choice'

Letter to the Editor
Toledo Blade

18 January, 2009
Reproduced with permission

The Blade's Jan. 6 editorial, "Health-care mischief" unwisely attacks a modest new federal agency regulation that would finally implement 35 years of First Amendment and civil rights protections designed to keep abortion "choice" from sliding into abortion "mandate."

The regulation is sorely needed, as health-care professionals who still follow the Hippocratic Oath and its life-affirming ethical principles are increasingly discriminated against because they will not perform or refer for abortions. More than 40 percent of our members report being pressured to violate ethical principles. Medical students report shifting out of planned careers in obstetrics because of rampant discrimination in that field against pro-life professionals.

The new regulation simply implements federal law designed to prevent discrimination against both those who support and oppose abortion. It would certainly not be employed, as the editorial incredibly suggests, to "make it difficult for an individual to obtain a test for HIV or AIDS." The fact is that the conscientious physicians protected by the anti-discrimination regulation are the very ones most likely to be ministering to AIDS patients, the poor, and the medically underserved.

The regulation actually protects the interests of these patients, and of other patients who seek life-affirming and compassionate physicians - by making sure those physicians remain able to practice medicine, and that choice does not become compulsion.

Jonathan Imbody
Vice President for Government Relations
Christian Medical Association, Washington Office
Ashburn, Va.

The campaign against conscience rights

26 January, 2009
Reproduced with permission

Nancy Valko

American healthcare workers who oppose abortion and euthanasia could be squeezed out of their jobs

"First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me." ~ Pastor Martin Niemoeller *

President-elect Barak Obama has promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) as his first act after taking office. This benign-sounding law would eliminate virtually every law, legal precedent and rule enacted in the last 35 years to regulate abortion in the United States. Although not widely reported, FOCA would also trump conscience rights for healthcare providers in the area of abortion. The seeds for this draconian measure were planted years ago and, if signed, FOCA will set a precedent with far-reaching consequences.

First, a concerted effort started several years ago by abortion supporters to force pharmacists to supply Plan B (the "morning after pill") without a prescription and over some pharmacists' moral objections to drugs that can cause an abortion. Just like the initial roundup of communists in Pastor Niemoller's quote, there were few public objections except, of course, from the pro-life community. Some states even enacted laws to force Catholic hospitals to supply Plan B to rape victims over their objections.

But the agenda was always larger than just the pharmacists and Plan B.

This was made clear when the Bush administration announced stronger protections for health care providers' conscience rights, protecting them from workplace discrimination. The reaction was immediate: A December 24 editorial in the St Louis Post-Dispatch stated, "Doctors, nurses and pharmacists choose professions that put patients' rights first. If they foresee that priority becoming problematic for them, they should choose another profession." (emphasis added) But if the conscience rights line cannot be drawn at the easily understandable, scientific fact of abortion, what happens when the discussion turns to euthanasia and the whole area of end-of-life care?

Barbara Coombs Lee, one of the euthanasia supporters behind Oregon's law legalizing assisted suicide, exposed the radical agenda behind the war on conscience rights when she wrote in January "Now comes a federal rule encouraging workers to exercise their idiosyncratic convictions at the expense of patient care. Employees who, for example, might exalt suffering, or disapprove of discontinuing feeding tubes or respiratory support have license under this rule to refuse to deliver or support any treatment or procedure." Apparently Lee also believes that healthcare providers who refuse to participate in life-ending decisions because of their moral convictions should choose another profession.

And the proposed destruction of conscience rights for health care providers is not a peculiarly American issue. For example, earlier this month, UK ethicist Baroness Mary Warnock said that doctors who refuse to cooperate in assisted suicide are "genuinely wicked."

But by eliminating conscience rights for health care providers who adhere to traditional medical ethics, we will effectively eliminate future as well as present ethical health care providers from the health care system. And with a healthcare system solely populated with healthcare providers who are comfortable with ending life, will medical ethics devolve even further into mere issues of legality and finances rather than principles?

Thus, Pastor Neimoller's wisdom about the consequences of silence comes to its logical end with this campaign to end conscience rights: First they came for the pharmacists, then the nurses, then the doctors. And in the end, without this thin white line of ethical caregivers who refuse to deliberately end lives, there is nothing standing in the way of a conscienceless healthcare system terminating any of us at any age and with any unfortunate condition.

This is not a mere unintended consequence and we remain silent at our own peril.

* Lutheran theologian and pastor who opposed the Nazis.

Nancy Valko is president of Missouri Nurses for Life and a spokeswoman for the National Association of Pro-life Nurses.