By Wesley J. Smith
The abortion lobby want to drive pro-life and Hippocratic Oath–believing doctors, midwives, and nurses out of medicine. One authoritarian tactic is to obliterate “medical conscience,” e.g., the civil right to refuse participation in legal medical procedures to which one has a religious or moral objection.
This assault on religious freedom has already commenced. Increasingly strident calls have been published in medical and bioethics journals urging that MDs be forced to perform abortions when asked, or if unwilling, to procure an abortionist for the patient — already the law in Victoria, Australia.
The issue is also beginning to boil around assisted suicide. Ontario, Canada, already passed a statute requiring MDs to perform euthanasia or refer — upheld by a court despite acknowledging that the law violates dissenting physicians’ Charter rights to “freedom of conscience and religion.”
The issue is also germane to interventions involving people with gender dysphoria, and someday could be invoked if stem-cell treatments are ever derived from human cloning.
The latest attack on medical conscience comes from an international conference sponsored by the International Women’s Health Coalition and Mujer y Salud en Uruguay. From the conference report entitled “Unconscionable: When Providers Deny Abortion Care”:
The global women’s movement has fought for many years to affirm safe and legal abortion as a fundamental right, and the global trend has been the liberalization of abortion laws. Progress is not linear, however, and persistent barriers prevent these laws and policies from increasing women’s access to services.
One such obstacle is the growing use of conscience claims to justify refusal of abortion care. Often called “conscientious objection,” a concept historically associated with the right to refuse to take part in the military or in warfare on religious or moral grounds, the term has recently been co-opted by anti-choice movements.
Indeed, accommodations for health care providers to refuse to provide care are often deliberately inserted into policies with the aim of negating the hard-fought right to abortion care.
Abortion kills a nascent human being. I don’t see why it is honorable to refuse to enter the army to avoid killing enemy soldiers in defense of your country based on religious objections but somehow dishonorable to abstain from abortion when one has a religious or conscience objection to that form of killing.
The drive to destroy medical conscience seeks to transform abortion into a positive right, which would require the state to guarantee access. The only effective way to do that is to coerce doctors to do the deed.
And that is precisely the plan. The “Unconscionable” report wants to require dissenting doctors to undergo re-education classes, coupled with burdensome consequences for those who maintain their pro-life attitudes and behavior despite the propagandizing:
In situations where “conscientious objection” is already codified, create educational programs for providers to learn all about clinical, psychosocial, and public health aspects of abortion.
For those who continue to object, create obligations, for example, requiring them to justify their positions and to perform an alternative service. Similarly, they should assume responsibility for the burdens caused by their refusal to provide services for their patients, their peers, and the health care system by providing adequate and timely information and referrals to women, and by performing extra duties to relieve their non-objecting colleagues.
Freedom of religion and conscience is an explicit human right recognized in national and international constitutions and charters. But that is all going to be trashed in the name of forcing MDs participation in abortion — an effort that is going international. Thus the “Unconscionable” report recommends:
Utilize international legal and regional human rights mechanisms. Advocates can help shape the application and development of international law by engaging with treaty monitoring bodies, raising questions about the use of so-called “conscientious objection” and its implications for women’s rights and health. International agencies and professional organizations can also help influence international human rights standards by documenting the consequences of the refusal to provide care and developing clear standards for health professionals’ obligations.
It’s a very long report and I can’t get into it all here. But the “Unconscionable” report demonstrates that the struggle over medical conscience will ultimately determine whether doctors, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists will retain their freedom, or be required by law to hew to secular progressive values as the moral price of obtaining — or keeping — a professional license.
Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with the author’s permission.