July 6, 2011 Print

Doctors Urge Obama to Protect Conscience Rights, Patients

by Catherine Snow

“Protect faith-based physicians’ ability to practice according to their moral and religious convictions.”

That’s the emphasis of a petition, signed by more than 61,000 people, sent today to President Obama.

According to the Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA) and the Freedom2Care coalition, medical professionals have experienced religious discrimination, coercion and financial loss (read here). The Obama administration rescinded on Feb. 18 important aspects of a Bush-era conscience-protection regulation, which had added “teeth” to existing conscience-protection laws by allowing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action when someone’s rights of conscience were violated.

The new rule — issued by HHS in a 41-page report — eliminated several categories under which health care providers could file a discrimination complaint. So now, Christian pharmacists are no longer protected if they choose not to dispense contraceptives and abortifacients.

Michael A. New, assistant professor at the University of Alabama, was not surprised by the administration’s move.

In a National Review opinion piece, New wrote:

“This decision to rescind the Bush-era conscience regulations might be an attempt by President Obama to shift focus from abortion to contraception, as the effort to defund Planned Parenthood works its way through the Senate. This is a strategy that has been pushed by Cristina Page and a number of other pro-choice activists. Planned Parenthood’s supporters in the mainstream media have done something similar in response [to ongoing bad publicity].”

Regardless of the administration’s motives, Dr. David Stevens, head of the CMDA, said the threat to medical professionals and their patients is very real — especially if Christian professionals are forced to leave the profession. A 2009 nationwide poll discovered that nine out of 10 faith-based physicians would rather stop practicing medicine than be forced to violate their conscience.

In his letter that accompanied the 61,154 petitions, Stevens called for the conscience-protection regulation to be restored and for a law to be enacted, as opposed to an executive order. Finally, Stevens encouraged the administration to educate health care professionals about their remaining legal protections.

“Weakening conscience rights threatens to eliminate vast numbers of life-affirming, conscientious and compassionate health care professionals from medicine. By pressuring life-affirming professionals and institutions out of medicine, removing conscience protections risks severe shortages of health care access–especially harming patients in medically underserved areas and those depending on faith-based health care.”

Read the CMDA letter to President Obama.

April 2009: Two National Polls Reveal Broad Support for Conscience Rights in Health Care.

Review patient petitions sent to President Obama.

Review health care professional petitions sent to President Obama.

May 2011: National poll shows majority support conscience protections, conscience law before Congress.

Download CMDA’s “Protecting Conscience and Patients” handout.