Bush attacks abortion access 

A Guilty Conscience

Buried under the avalanche of the will-she-or-won't-she news coverage about the Democratic and Republican party conventions was a Bush White House proposal concerning stronger employment protections for doctors and health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions due to religious or moral concerns.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Mike Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, told a conference call of reporters on August 21, "The basic idea is that people should not be forced to say or to do things they believe are morally wrong. In particular, health care professionals should not be forced to provide services that violate their own conscience."

Good grief.

To start, there are existing federal legal protections for the above-mentioned medical personnel, facilities, and HMOs that refuse to provide abortion services or referrals. Leavitt is simply the point man for the latest attempt to restrict a woman's access to abortion by applying this proposed rule to medical institutions that receive Title X and Medicaid federal funds.

The rule would require written certification from an estimated 584,000 employers that they are in compliance with three separate federal laws enforcing conscience protections. Failure to do so comes with penalties — in particular a loss of federal funding and the possibility of litigation to recoup previously-awarded federal funds.

Leavitt defended the rule, "Freedom of conscience is not to be surrendered upon issuance of a medical degree. This nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience."

For the last 10 years or so, abortion foes have been using this "conscience" argument and the First Amendment as a rationale for imposing roadblocks to abortion, contraception, family planning, and sex education.

Roger Evans, director of public policy and law center of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the AP there was no explanation of what constituted moral objections and this vagueness could allow other aspects of family planning to be affected.

"By leaving the term 'abortion' undefined, the regulations create all sorts of space for ideology and political views to insinuate themselves into medical practices, emergency rooms, and clinics all across the country," Evans said. "And when that happens, women will suffer."

Evans is correct.

I've never understood how these jokers who scream about government intrusions into their lives can insert themselves into an individual's most private decisions.

I am not for one minute saying that medical practitioners or facilities should be forced into providing abortion services. As I have already mentioned, that is already protected by federal law.

Leavitt and his ilk are very fond of characterizing doctors and other medical personnel who oppose abortion as victims of discrimination if they are required to explain all medically available reproductive options to women.

This characterization, in my opinion, is an even more contemptible form of discrimination because it doesn't allow women of limited resources the access to all relevant medical information.

Slavery, sodomy laws, the exclusion of Jews from neighborhoods, anti-women's suffrage ... the list goes on and on when it comes to morally suspect legislation and social policies that found their rationales in "conscience objections" throughout the history of the United States.

What about denying artificial insemination procedures to a gay couple who wants to have a child? What about a poor woman seeking contraception information from a pharmacist at a public clinic? What about a rape victim denied emergency contraception?

There's a big difference between a rationale and a rationalization. I wish more folks would realize that.

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