Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Re: The Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine

ACOG Committee on Ethics Opinion No. 385: November, 2007

Christian Medical Association's Presentation to President's Council on Bioethics

Christian Medical and Dental Associations (USA)
Session 7: Public Comments
Friday, November 9, 2007
Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody *

CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: We're at that portion which is the public part of the meeting. We have two people who have signed up to comment, and I would like to ask if there are others who have not signed up, the first opportunity for comment would be to Cynthia Merrill and Jonathan Imbody.

Now, as they get up to the microphone, let me say that we have limited time for public commentary. So as always, brevity and clarity and raising the question as concisely as possible is the best way to advance whatever it is you want to say before the Council. Sometimes people use the commentary to make another speech, but we've heard a lot of speeches today. . .

MR. IMBODY: Thank you, Dr. Pellegrino. I appreciate it very much the discussion and excellent points made yesterday on the issue of conscience, which I'd also like to address and have a practical application.

The way things are going, some would actually force out of the profession those physicians who have moral objections to procedures like abortion, and that loss of physicians, especially obstetricians and gynecologists who, as you know, are already leaving a practice because of malpractice insurance costs, would have a severe impact on the delivery of healthcare.

The committee on ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, known as ACOG, an organization that is officially and politically pro-choice or pro-abortion, depending on which term you prefer, has just issued a paper laying down the rules for when and how and why pro-life physicians may or may not exercise the rights of conscience and mostly about how they may not exercise the rights of conscience. And a few excerpts from this paper illustrate what I see as a war that's being waged against conscience rights, and, also, how far apart are the world views of those who do have conscientious objections to abortion and those who do not?

ACOG says in its position paper, for example, that physicians may not exercise the right of conscience if that might "constitute an imposition of religious or moral beliefs on patients." Well, that would seem to mean that any physician who has religiously-based objections to procedure or prescription would be forced to ignore his or her conscience and simply fulfill the patient's demand like a vending machine.

The ACOG paper also says, "All healthcare providers must provide accurate and unbiased information so that patients can make informed decisions." Well, that sounds great until you realize that ACOG will only apply this rule to make pro-life doctors offer abortion as an option. ACOG has actually gone to court to fight laws requiring abortion doctors to offer informed consent information to patients on the risks and alternatives to abortion.1

ACOG also says, "Physicians have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel they can, in conscience, provide the standard reproductive service that patients request." So according to ACOG, physicians who see abortion as killing a developing baby have a duty to refer patients to a doctor who will do the deed.

And, finally, ACOG suggests that "Providers with moral or religious objections should practice in proximity to individuals who do not share their views." So ACOG rules would actually require a pro-life physician to relocate his or her practice to be close to an abortion facility. And besides the fact that this drastic requirement would only be imposed on pro-life doctors, it would also have the practical impact of removing desperately needed doctors from underserved areas.

These statements from ACOG would seem to illustrate why the issue of the conscience rights of those who provide healthcare should not and cannot be separated from the issue of healthcare delivery. Thank you.


1. American College of Obstetricians v. Thornburgh, 737 F.2d 283, 297-98 (3d Cir.1984).