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.