Doctors Defend Regulations Protecting Conscience Rights

The Catholic Medical Association has joined forces with the Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists to combat what they see as a major threat to the conscience rights of health care professionals. The groups are joining in an effort to intervene legally against lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of eight states, Planned Parenthood of America and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

The suits seek to overturn a Department of Health and Human Services regulation that prohibits discrimination against health professionals who decline to participate in abortions or other medical procedures they believe to be objectionable for moral or religious reasons. Without the regulation, pro-life health professionals would be subject to “the imminent threat of being forced...to perform abortions, assist in abortions, train for abortions and refer individuals for abortions despite their religious, moral and ethical objections to the practice of abortion,” said court papers filed with the U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn.

“Physicians must defend their right to practice medicine in accordance with their consciences,” said John Brehany, M.D., executive director of the Catholic Medical Association. “It’s a very important principle that every physician should support. Without conscience protections, for example, physicians or other health care professionals could be subject to government conscription to participate in the executions of death-row prisoners if the state could not find volunteers to do so,” Brehany said.

The motions to intervene, which were filed by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund and the Center for Law & Religious Freedom on behalf of the three pro-life organizations, also argue that pro-life medical professionals could be “forced to relocate to jurisdictions that respect their rights or to leave the profession altogether” if there were no federal laws protecting their conscience rights. The motions further criticize the “plaintiffs’ baseless allegations that medical professionals exercising their conscience place women at risk of serious injury and even death by failing to render necessary services during medical emergencies.”

“I’m confident that the court will allow these doctors to intervene be-cause they are the ones who will be forced” to perform or refer or train for abortions, said Matthew S. Bow-man of the Alliance Defense Fund. “It’s a direct attack on the only existing protections” for pro-life health professionals. “When they try to strike down a regulation that implements laws in place for 30 years, it affects every pro-life health professional.”

Meanwhile, on Feb. 27 the Obama administration announced it was reviewing a proposal to rescind the regulation. After the review by the Office of Management and Budget, the proposal is to be published in the Federal Register, opening a 30-day period for public comment. In response, the Catholic Medical Association is also initiating an education campaign to raise awareness about the issue. People need to know that even if the regulation is overturned, “there are still laws that protect conscience rights,” Brehany said. “We need to continue to defend and respect and explain the reasoning behind them.”

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