Their choice vs. that other choice
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , 15
Reproduced with permission
Opponents of laws like the Conscience Protection Act
suggest that if a health care professional has a moral objection to such
things, she should leave the profession. She can exercise her choice but
only at the price of her livelihood. Cold comfort that. In the world
of the American Civil Liberties Union, virtually every type of
discrimination would be prohibited except that practiced against those with
the "wrong" religious and moral views.
George Orwell wrote, "If thought corrupts language, language can also
Much of our modern political warfare is about language. We bicker about
who is more devoted to individual liberty. Conservatives emphasize the value
of allowing people to choose what to do with their own money and property.
Liberals emphasize freedom in personal behavior.
But the words we use may mask what we truly value. To quote the great
sage Humpty Dumpty, when we use a word, it means just what we choose it to
mean - no more, no less.
Take the "pro-choice" community. So powerful is the lure of liberty that
the champions of "choice" dare not speak its name.
They rarely mention "abortion," using, instead, terms like "reproductive
freedom" (as if there were someone somewhere who advocated compelled
pregnancy) and "women's health" (as if your wife could get something for
that nagging cough at the local abortion clinic). They insist that the
government "keep its laws" off your body. They say that it is not abortion
they favor but freedom. The "choice" is the thing.
Well, not all choices. Some are beyond the pale. Consider the Conscience
Protection Act, passed last month by the state Assembly and under
consideration by the Senate.
Taken together with existing law, the act gives health care workers with
moral objections the right to refuse to participate in abortions,
sterilizations, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia. The law would
permit pharmacists to refuse to dispense "morning-after" pills but probably
not conventional contraceptives.
Neither existing law nor its proposed expansion prohibits any of these
things. The point is simply to ensure that individual health care workers
may choose not to participate if their consciences so compel. Thus, it
serves liberty. Certainly our friends in the "pro-choice" community regard
this as a good thing.
Not on your life. Planned Parenthood, confusing choice with compulsion,
calls it the "Patient Abandonment Bill." The local chapter of the American
Civil Liberties Union, again displaying its rather eccentric view of what is
and is not considered individual liberty, opposes it.
Although much of the current controversy turns on the issue of
prescriptions for contraceptives and abortifacients, the protections offered
by the law are broader than that and so is the opposition.
The National Abortion Rights League, for example, characterizes current
Wisconsin law that permits doctors and nurses who have moral objections to
abortions to choose not to do them as an "anti-choice" law. All of these
groups have supported forcing hospitals and other health care facilities to
offer abortions. Apparently not all choices are equal.
In the parade of horribles offered by the advocates of "choice,"
respecting the rights of conscience of health care professionals will result
in the unavailability of legal, but morally controversial, medical services.
But this would happen only if health care providers regarded a service
(i.e., euthanasia, late-term abortion) as so odious that virtually none
could bring themselves to do it. If that's the case, its unavailability may
not be so horrible after all.
In any event, it is unlikely that every physician, nurse and pharmacist
in the state will suddenly be transported by religious fervor and refuse to
participate in those activities covered by the law. Doctors and nurses have
had the right to refuse to participate in abortions - excuse me, "women's
health care" - for almost 30 years, and there are still "reproductive health
centers" in Wisconsin.
Opponents of laws like the Conscience Protection Act suggest that if a
health care professional has a moral objection to such things, she should
leave the profession. She can exercise her choice but only at the price of
her livelihood. Cold comfort that.
In the world of the American Civil Liberties Union, virtually every type
of discrimination would be prohibited except that practiced against those
with the "wrong" religious and moral views. Roman Catholics, evangelicals
and others with moral objections to the panoply of "choices" that are part
of our brave new world should sweep streets or go into accounting.
As Orwell reminded us, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more
equal than others."
The advocates of choice may want to keep the laws off your body, but they
are quite willing to place them directly on your soul.
Rick Esenberg of Mequon is an attorney. His e-mail address is