Obama Seeks to Remove Freedom of Conscience From Doctors

Many doctors have moral reservations about legally permissible medical practices—such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the distribution of contraception, among other things. On December 18, the Bush administration signed into legislation a bundle of regulations to protect these doctors against discrimination for their moral and religious convictions. Some have called this the “conscience rule.” Under this legislation, hospitals, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers that discriminate against employees because of their convictions will face penalties in the form of loss of federal funding.


The Obama administration announced yesterday that they are seeking to remove these protections. They claim that they do not want to remove the protection for doctors who oppose abortion, but rather that the conscience rule is overbroad, potentially “limit[ing] family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care.” Thus, they want to strike it completely or restrict its language. Life Site News, a pro-life news source, expresses real concerns about this restriction on the freedom of doctors. And although it was released very quietly, it has produced quite a reaction on both sides of the spectrum. 


Given Obama’s pro-life record, this should not come as a surprise. But this is about freedom, not abortion. The administration believes that the religious and moral freedom of doctors to is unacceptable in certain cases. So they are removing that freedom.


This is nothing less than the administration imposing their worldview on American doctors. It says to the doctors: “You are not allowed to make a distinction between what is legal and what is good. If it is legal, then it is good. Thus, if you don’t want to perform it, we are not going to protect you from discrimination.” In other words, “Your religious beliefs are wrong!” To be sure, Americans are not allowed, on religious grounds, to perform a legally prohibited act (for the most part). Nor can we avoid compliance with government prescriptions on religious grounds, such as taxes and draft registration, which are passed by Congress (again, for the most part). But we have always been allowed to refrain on religious grounds from doing something that is not prescribed by Congress. The government is turning that table right now. Doctors aren’t allowed to disagree with the morals of the administration on this one.


I suspect, although it doesn’t necessarily follow, that a materialist (in the philosophic sense, not the consumerist sense) worldview is what underlies the government’s position on this. They believe that only physical and measurable realities have value. It is a view that says: “We can’t see or measure any harm done to you, so we won’t protect you from it.”


We all have to be careful about falling into this worldview. To be sure, many believe that politics can only deal with what the eye can see—they call themselves “realists.” But the reality is that America was founded to protect those areas where the eye can’t see. The establishment clause, the free exercise clause, and the free speech clauses, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, make this clear. 

Introductions: John A. Wehrly

John Wehrly is a law student at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Law and Public Policy. He graduated with a B.A. in economics from Ave Maria University, but spent most of his time studying philosophy and Latin. Mr. Wehrly is a Blackstone Fellow with Alliance Defense Fund, and is currently working on a year long directed research endeavor concerning the tithing scheme of medieval canon law from mid-11th to the mid-13th century. He lives in St. Paul, MN with two great Christian men, and is a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Paul. He reads the Bible and, when he has time, Russian literature.

Ex Deserto enthusiastically welcomes John to the discussion.

Change (not THAT kind)

So we’re making a few changes here at Ex Deserto. A few of our original contributors could no longer maintain their commitments to the discussion, so over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing several new authors. We’re excited about the new additions to the conversation, and we eagerly await their contributions. With the unambiguous attempts at radically changing the American political and social landscape, it remains vitally important for conservatives to continually put forth cogent arguments in opposition and offer viable alternatives. We have selected an excellent, engaging, and thoughtful group of writers precisely for their potential to do just that.

Continued Opposition to the Obama Fiscal Irresponsibility

Though the Democrats won the recent battle over President Obama’s trillion dollar “stimulus” plan, conservative opposition remains critical. Why? More of the same is on the way.

First, the president is set to push through another bank bailout. Second, Obama will soon approve the “Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan,” which will

1) Require responsible homeowners to pay the mortgages (up to $728,750) of irresponsible homeowners (contra the “Affordability” portion);

2) Reward irresponsible lending institutions in a myriad of ways for renegotiating rates with borrowers that the lenders knew couldn’t afford the mortgage payments;

3) Allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgage contracts between lenders and borrowers (undermining the “Stability” portion) ; and

4) Double the taxpayer capital injection (to $400 billion) into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the esteemed institutions of fiscal constraint that are partly responsible for our economic woes.

Here’s what the American People get in return:

1) Nothing. Only a small number of homeowners are eligible: those who secured their loans through Fannie or Freddie, or those whose lenders securitized their loans through Fannie or Freddie. Most homeowners get nothing, except getting stuck with the bill.

2) Another bad-mortgage bailout in the future. Historically, about 50% of homeowners who renegotiate failing mortgages end up defaulting on the new terms.

3) Redistribution of income. The plan redistributes income from 92% of mortgage-holders who responsibly pay their bills on time to irresponsible, reckless defaulters who promised to pay more than they could afford. Some taxpayers will pay more in taxes so that others can pay less for housing.

4) Continued deteriorating economic conditions. The plan will produce mortgage-backed securities based on debt that exceeds the value of the underlying assets—precisely part of the foundation for the current economic trouble.

5) More market instability. The bankruptcy law modifications are particularly troublesome. This abrogation of private contracts undermines the certainty of loan agreements and threatens the availability of credit and market stability.

Worse, only the bankruptcy law rewrite requires Congressional approval, as most of the funding will come from TARP money. I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t responsible, and it isn’t democracy. Continued, articulate opposition on behalf of conservative solutions is necessary between now and the 2010 midterm elections, or there will be more of this for years to come.

All My Children? Soap Opera Illustrates Mainstream Marriage

Note: After sticking my head out of my law books for a brief instant and catching up with pop culture, I came across the CNN entertainment section. This wasn’t on the front page because, either 1) the article is day old and no longer newsworthy or 2) articles like this become so commonplace that they’ll take a back seat more popular news stories. Regardless, for those that know as much about Hollywood as I do (practically nothing), take note that this soap opera comes to a living room near you.

The soap opera, All My Children, will be airing a wedding that is sure to both anger and please daytime television viewers. While weddings (and their subsequent divorces) may be relatively common – especially on soap operas, this one outdoes them all.

No, not because of the glitter and glamour that that is inherently associated programs of this nature. This wedding crosses the traditional boundaries as two women, Bianca Montgomery and Reese Williams marry one another.

“It’s reality,” said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). “So when we see a lesbian couple getting married on daytime drama, it simply reflects what’s happening in the real world.”

I partially agree with Mr. Giuliano. Lesbian couples getting married may reflect reality. But let’s not also forget that other things reflect reality too: AIDS, divorce, psychological problems, crime, and myriads of other conflicts associated with tearing down the pillars of traditional marriage. After all, if soap operas merely reflects what is happening in the “real world” there shouldn’t be any qualms about including the repercussions should there?

I suppose that this may not be significant transition for programs of this genre. Popularize adultery. Encourage divorce. Promote progressive marriage. When does a program become obscene? Truthfully, now I don’t know. Where does one draw the line between the sacred and the profane, between edifying and destroying? I would argue that there are no lines when we abrogate and relinquish the natural. Everything becomes relative and in time we devolve, in (un)natural course to our own true nature.

Reality? I thought the television was a place to escape it, a relaxing diversion. Apparently it only reflects it.

Principled Opposition to Spending America’s Future

“Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”
— William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Obama/Pelosi/Reid “stimulus” bill—or as some Republicans have called it, “the Generational Theft Act”—is an exercise in absurdity. While the Democrats in Congress, on the verge of blowing through $800,000,000,000,000+, refuse to ponder the magnitude or even potential effectiveness of such a package, or even allow Republicans to see the bill, we as conservatives (or even as non-conservatives, as resisting the idiocracy is a non-ideological affair) should seriously study the ramifications of the proposed bill and strenuously object to the Senate’s assent. Now that the bill has passed conference, our last (long) shot is that the compromise does not satisfy the three liberal Senate Republicans.

Simply, we cannot afford this bill.


Eight years ago, when President Bush took office, our federal budget was around $1.7 trillion. This year, the federal deficit (the difference between federal expenditures and federal revenues) will be over $1 trillion—and that’s before adding the almost $1 trillion stimulus package to next year’s budget deficit. Think about that for a minute. Our deficit will be more than twice what the ENTIRE FEDERAL BUDGET was eight years ago (credit to Rich Lowry at NRO).

Additionally, the cost for this bill will be ladled upon young Americans and the yet-born next generation. According to a reliable estimate based on 30 year bond rates, for each dollar borrowed to pay for the Obama/Pelosi/Reid plan—money that Congress absolutely will borrow, as it doesn’t have sufficient revenues—future taxpayers, our children and grandchildren, will be forced to pay back $2.50 in principal and interest. Over 30 years, taxpayers will be on the hook for $1.28 trillion in interest or $2.063 trillion total.

According to Marc Thiessen, the Republican Policy Committee determined that “for the cost of the Democrat’s spending bill, Congress could provide every American taxpayer a rebate check for $9,460.” If we include non-taxpayers, every American would receive $6,336. Of course, if the Democrats in Congress sent every American a check, there’s the danger that we’d spend our tax dollars in non-approved ways.

Foolish Steadfastness to Disproven Beliefs:

When we’ve borrowed and spent our way into a perilous economic position, only the Pelosi/Reid Keystone Congress could fashion a rescue plan involving more borrowing and spending.

The Democrats are steadfastly, recklessly, and incompetently pursuing this course of action because they are convinced such a brobdignagian level of spending is necessary to jump-start the economy, and they actually believe that the spending will work—despite all evidence to the contrary.

A Congressional Budget Office report has utterly destroyed their assumptions. The Democrat mantra for the last several weeks has been “spend on infrastructure and spend now!” Somewhere between mantra and printer, the bill morphed into a plan that neither spends much on infrastructure, nor spends the little amount earmarked soon enough to make a difference.

In the Democrats’ plan, only about $100 billion will be spent on infrastructure needs, and of that $100 billion, only $26 billion will be spent in 2009. Of $355 billion in infrastructure and other similar expenditures, only $136 billion will be spent by October 2010. Taking the entire “stimulus” package into account, each job “created” will cost us $225,000 per job (numbers are approximate, as no one seems to know the exact numbers, especially the Democrats). Keep in mind that these infrastructure-related jobs are merely temporary.

The crack staff of my own home state senator, Jim DeMint—God bless that man—did a bit of digging as well. The DeMint report, recently released at the Heritage Foundation, stated:

“The bill, if it were a country, would have the 15th largest economy in the world–right in between Australia and Mexico, greater than the gross domestic products of Saudi Arabia and Iran put together… The stimulus bill will cost well over $1 billion for every page it is printed on.”

Included in the Democrat Plan:

• $400,000,000 for researching STDs
• $200,000,000 for bike trails and off-road vehicle paths
• $200,000,000 to buy electric cars for government employees
• $34,000,000 to renovate the Department of Commerce
• $75,000,000 for a smoking cessation program
• $250,000,000,000 for entitlement spending
• $200,000,000,000 to bailout recklessly irresponsible states (NY and CA) with money from fiscally-prudent states
• Destruction of the 1996 Welfare Reform
• A secret attempt to create a government agency to monitor private healthcare expenditures

Stimulate the economy? Create jobs? Not here. The Obama/Pelosi/Reid plan is a compilation of 40 years’ worth of liberal pet causes—with some absurdity thrown in for good measure.

As Mark Steyn said, “The ‘stimulus’ package is just politics as usual with a few extra zeroes on the end.”

A New Legal Paradigm?

This blog is typically devoted to all things conservative, but I think the other authors would agree that it is more generally devoted to ideas of all shapes and sizes on a wide range of policy ideas. Thus, this post.

I, like many of my confreres, am in the midst of the summer job search. In past years, the process was rather clear: apply beginning in August/September of your second year of law school to firms that are hiring summer associates for the following summer. That job, if done well, likely turned into an offer of employment after graduation. There was security for you and the employer–they had filled a position with a talented up-and-coming law student and you had secured summer (and likely post-graduation) employment within weeks of starting your second year.
This year, things have changed and many employers have scaled back their summer programs by half or more. Many firms, even here in Arizona, are laying off seasoned attorneys as a way to cut costs.
In thinking about how to market myself to firms that might be going through a difficult financial spell, I wondered if there wasn’t a better way to lawyer. I’ve spoken to others in law school who want to change the business model of law firms as well. The law firm structure is burdened by a heavy overhead: high rents for offices, high salaries for attorneys, etc. The savings for law firms that fire an attorney can be tremendous, about $250,000 per lawyer. Given that roughly 85% of law firm expense comes from rent and personnel costs, cutting the number of attorneys is the most logical–and efficient–way to lower the overall cost of doing business.
Unless you change the model (e.g., Axiom Legal). Why are law firms tied to the traditional model when it seems so terribly inefficient?
In our fall hiring cycle, firms in Phoenix advertised starting salaries between $120-135K/yr. and those in Los Angeles offered $160K/yr. When a wide-eyed law student starts to think of the possibility of making that much money, paying off loans in a flash, and perhaps sticking around for a partnership salary well beyond those starting figures, the traditional firm route may seem like the best option. But the law firm structure seems fundamentally flawed in its conception and operation. The high overhead requires firms to bill clients three times what they actually pay attorneys in compensation. The other two-thirds of the billable hour goes to paying staff, rent, and funding the partnership pot.
I suppose there will come a time, if it is not already here, when clients will not be willing to pay exorbitant hourly fees for a lawyer to work on routine (or even complex) matters. Outside of litigation, perhaps, it seems that the costs of lawyering can be rather fixed. For example: After 10 years of writing contracts, a lawyer is a rather good judge of how long it will take to write a particular type of contract given the complexity of the issues, the type of parties, etc. He can easily come up with a flat fee that would adequately compensate him for his work, but also provide the parties with a cost-effective means of handling the day-to-day business transactions that require a lawyer. An initial flat fee for writing contracts may be based on an hourly rate–such contracts take 10 hours to write, I want $X for an “hourly” rate, so the whole contract cost is $10X. But after the initial calculation, you would know that Contract Type A will cost $10X, Contract Type B will cost $10Y and so on.
This type of arrangement has some distinct advantages: If you were a solo practitioner or not otherwise burdened by firm overhead costs, you could lower your rate considerably compared to firms, thus providing your client with a quality product at a price lower than a firm would charge, and providing yourself with a salary (or fee) that compensates you more than you actually were compensated at the firm. (So, if the firm charges a client $150 for an hour of your work, you are likely receiving $50/hr. in compensation. In my contract hypothetical, you could in effect charge $1000 to write a contract that takes 10 hours to write and you make $100/hr.–double what you made when you were paying the firm. And, there are no six-minute increments to record.) Both you and the client benefit from the lack of high overhead while maintaining the quality of work the client expects. You benefit even more by not being tied to the billable hour and the demands of face time at the firm, client development, etc. (An interesting theological critique of the billable hour is here.)
The current financial crisis is a prime opportunity for the legal world to reconsider its basic model. What is the practice of law all about? To me, it’s about doing interesting work that I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a happy coincidence that such work often pays a very nice salary. But there are other things to life than an 80-hour work week. What is the future of law firms? Will Axiom-like groups take over? I hope so.