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

Service, not Servitude

Re: Abortion Non-Discrimination Act

U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Sub-Committee on Health

Protecting the Rights of Conscience of Health Care Providers and a Parent's Right to Know (11 July 2002 ) 

Ms. Karen Vosburgh *

Prepared Witness Testimony

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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 ethics.

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.