Obama's Attack on Medical Civil Liberties

Sunday, 15 Mar 2009 05:23 PM

By Newt Gingrich and Rick Tyler

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Candidate Barack Obama offered a compelling but formless message of hope and change. Many Americans desiring a new national direction filled his empty rhetorical vessels with their dreams and aspirations. It worked.

But now, obliged by his office, President Obama is giving those words definition and shape bewildering even some of his most ardent supporters.

While the media remain fixated on a slumping economy that gets sicker with each punishing presidential prescription, a different set of defining and similarly freedom-diminishing policy directives emerging from the White House goes dissimilarly unnoticed.

Earlier this month, the President took the first step in rescinding a Bush administration moral conscience regulation which enforces existing legal protections against discrimination and intimidation for doctors and other healthcare professionals who invoke conscience by refusing to participate in medical procedures they believe immoral.

The rule, which was finalized last year placed no restriction upon any legal medical procedure; it simply brought the executive branch into compliance with several existing laws including:

  • the 1973 "Church Amendments" which protect doctors and other healthcare professionals from discrimination due to religious belief or moral conviction;

  • the 1996 “Public Health Service Act Amendment” which prohibits government from discriminating against individual and institutional healthcare providers who choose not to provide abortion services or receive abortion training; and

  • the 2004 "Hyde-Weldon Amendment” which prohibits certain federal funds going to federal and state agencies and programs that discriminate against healthcare providers who decline to offer or refer abortion services.

    Simply put, these three venerable laws passed by Congress and signed by former Presidents protect doctors and nurses from being professionally threatened because they allow their conscience to dictate their professional actions.

    By eliminating the enforcement of these legal protections, the Obama Administration is signaling that it intends to ignore the law and refuse to protect the civil liberties of healthcare professionals based upon religious or moral conscience. Without enforcement, healthcare personnel will have scant legal recourse for intimidation and bigotry rendering the laws intended to protect them meaningless.

    Former Bush Administration Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said the conscience protection was absolutely necessary to confront a growing intolerance in the health field for “individual conscience, certain religious beliefs, ethnic and cultural traditions and moral convictions.”

    Sister Carol Keehan, representing Catholic hospitals as president of the Catholic Health Association said, “We have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other healthcare providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.''

    Efforts to roll back freedom of conscience protections are only the latest in a series of aggressive actions that demonstrate intolerance for those whose conscience is convicted in support of a culture of life:

  • In the first month of his presidency, Obama reversed the established Mexico City policy that kept taxpayer money from being used by international organizations for abortions as a method of family planning protecting millions of American from paying for a procedure that they find morally objectionable.

  • Last week, the President unilaterally lifted embryonic-stem-cell research restrictions.

  • In the President’s recent healthcare summit, groups that support abortion were invited but pro-life groups with a stake in healthcare were excluded.

  • With the President’s support, Congress recently approved $50 million in funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is complicit in China's unspeakably cruel one-child enforcement policy, which employs forced abortion and sterilization.

  • The President’s nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services prompted George Weigel who leads Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center to question whether “conscience-rights protection for pro-life physicians and health-care workers [will] be sustained, amended, or eliminated.”

  • In February, the Administration decided that it would no longer extend hiring protections to faith-based organizations but would instead review on a “case-by-case basis.

    The last Congress passed federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research without hearings in either the House or the Senate, closed the bill to all markups, and bypassed the committee process entirely, we expect the same closed process in this Congress.

    Yet, the most hostile assault against the civil liberties in the medical profession may be yet to come.

    In 2007, Obama promised a Planned Parenthood gathering on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that, as president, he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). If enacted, FOCA would repeal all federal and state restrictions on abortion including the ban on partial-birth abortion. FOCA would force all public hospitals and health programs offering maternity services to provide abortions. Moreover, provisions in state constitutions that protect speech and the free exercise of religion of those whose conscience is opposed to abortion could be invalidated.

    Having no reason to believe that President Obama will not fulfill this radical campaign pledge, some Catholic bishops are talking openly about engaging in civil disobedience to protect Catholic hospitals and their doctors from being forced to perform abortions.

    The chilling effect of the Obama administration forcing doctors and nurses to choose between their losing their careers and being compelled to participate in abortions against their moral and religious belief is incalculable. Not only will pro-life doctors and nurses be driven from the professions, but patients will lose the ability to choose doctors who reflect their own religious and moral convictions, doctors who now help them to make healthcare choices based upon them.

    The fact is, there are doctors and nurses who have no moral objection to abortion. Why then, should some medical professionals be compelled to do something that compromises their conscience? It is one thing to hold fast to the pro-abortion position as a matter of a personal opinion, it is quite another to force someone else to compromise their moral integrity.

    Now the clock is ticking on the thirty-day review and public feedback period where public opinion might change the administration’s direction toward religious freedom. Let’s hope.

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Rick Tyler serves as Gingrich’s spokesperson and is the Founding Director of Renewing American Leadership.

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