Trump Strengthens Medical Conscience, San Francisco Sues

By Wesley J. Smith

The Left once honored conscientious objection, such as the civil-rights movement’s campaign of peaceful civil disobedience (who didn’t?) and men refusing to be drafted during Vietnam. But when conscientious objectors refuse to obey policies with which the Left agrees, the screaming, howling, and name calling could shatter eardrums.

Case in point: The Trump administration has finalized a rule that will expand HHS enforcement of existing — not new — statutory conscience protections for doctors, nurses, and other professionals who do not wish to participate in legal medical services — such as assisted suicide, abortion, or transgender medical interventions. Generally stated, the rule prevents employers that receive federal funds (like hospitals) from punishing medical professionals who so refuse.

Prior to the new rule, HHS only focused on enforcing conscience protections contained in three federal laws — and the Obama administration was credibly charged with barely enforcing those. Under the new rule, all federal laws granting medical conscience rights will be vigorously enforced. From the HHS fact sheet:

The 2011 rule provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights by only providing for handling complaints based on three federal conscience protection laws. This final rule implements approximately 25 federal conscience protection provisions, and provides significant tools and mechanisms appropriate for enforcing the conscience protections passed by Congress. These tools are needed in light of the substantial growth in conscience complaints received by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

I suspect this growth came about because medicine increasingly is being put in harness to further ideologically progressive social change, and due to the recent shift from an administration distinctly unfriendly to medical conscience to one that believes in robust enforcement.

The Left — becoming increasingly authoritarian by the day — loathes the message sent when a medical professional says, “No. This is morally wrong. I refuse to participate.” So, of course, San Francisco has sued to thwart the new rule. From the FNN [Fox News Network] story:

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing it of effectively sacrificing patients’ health and lives by expanding “conscience” protections for patients and health care professionals who opposed controversial treatments.

“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” Herrera said, according to a press release from Thursday. “This administration is willing to sacrifice patients’ health and lives — particularly those of women, members of the LGBTQ community and low-income families — to score right-wing political points. It’s reprehensible.”

No. Trump is complying with his oath of office by faithfully executing the law. Herrera is the one making (left-wing) political points.

San Francisco is in the notorious Ninth Circuit — where district judges are fond of issuing nationwide restraining orders preventing this administration from pursuing policies with which the Left disagrees, so in the short term, Herrera may be able to block implementation. But I don’t see the Supreme Court preventing the executive from faithfully executing and enforcing duly enacted statutes.

The Left, Democratic leaders, and the mainstream bioethics/medical establishments believe that doctors, nurses, and pharmacists must sacrifice their own religious or moral convictions as a cost of licensure. Indeed, I believe they want to drive pro-life and orthodox religious believers out of healthcare.

Trump and this writer disagree. In a country as morally polyglot as ours, the only way we can live together is through comity. Vigorous medical-conscience regulatory enforcement furthers that goal.

Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with the author’s permission.