Washington, DC, February 18, 2011 — The 16,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA, www.cmda.org) today protested the decision of the Obama administration to weaken the only federal regulation protecting the exercise of conscience in health care.
Dr. J. Scott Ries, a board-certified family physician and CMA’s vice president for Campus & Community Ministries, said, “The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification. 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.
“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.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicated in 2008 in its final rule, “We have found no evidence that these regulations will create new barriers in accessing contraception unless those contraceptives are currently delivered over the religious or moral objections of the provider in such programs or research activities.”
Dr. Ries added, “The Obama administration’s regulatory action today diminishes the civil rights that protect conscientious physicians and other healthcare professionals against discrimination. Any weakening of protections against discrimination against life-affirming healthcare professionals ultimately threatens to severely worsen patient access to health care.
“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.”
National survey results show that over nine of ten faith-based physicians, who are among the most likely to be serving the poor and those in medically underserved areas, indicate they would rather leave the profession if denied the ability to practice medicine according to conscientiously held ethical standards. Survey results also indicate that 20% of faith-based medical students say they are “not pursuing a career in Obstetrics or Gynecology” because of perceived discrimination and coercion in that field.
Dr. Ries added, “Stories told to me by medical students across the country indicate that the threat of being forced to participate in abortion procedures and violate their moral integrity is enough to steer them in the opposite direction. That means even fewer physicians for women in the future in this specialty that is already facing critical shortages.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Joxel Garcia noted, “Especially in physician shortage states such as Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Delaware, losing just one physician can erase healthcare access for thousands of patients.
“Pushing conscientious physicians out of medicine is a significant step toward a healthcare system controlled by the state that moves away from the ethical roots of medicine. In the new governmental utilitarian model, the ‘common good’ defined by the state supersedes any moral, religious or ethical principle such as embodied in the Hippocratic Oath, which has protected patients for millennia.”
As the second-in-command under Sec. Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), Dr. Garcia oversaw the development and implementation of the conscience regulation and continues to work closely with the CMA and others to protect conscience rights. He currently serves as President and Dean at the Ponce School of Medicine & Health Sciences, where CMA provides a medical student ministry, as it does on over 90 percent of the nation’s medical and dental school campuses.
Dr. Ries’ clinical career has included faculty appointments at Indiana University School of Medicine and Butler University; he has also served as medical consultant to NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC network affiliates.