|HHS SECRETARY LEAVITT PRAISED FOR DEFENDING PHYSICIANS' CONSCIENCE RIGHTS|
WASHINGTON—Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was praised for defending physicians' conscience rights by Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson on pro-life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She made her comments on March 19 following a public attack on Secretary Leavitt by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
The attack was prompted by a March 14 letter from Secretary Leavitt to the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), expressing concern about a new ethics opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) calling on conscientiously opposed physicians to perform or refer for abortions. Ms. McQuade's statement follows.
"Secretary Leavitt should be commended for defending federal laws protecting the conscience rights of physicians. The new ACOG ethics opinion calling on pro-life OB/GYNs to perform or refer for abortions is in direct conflict with the policy reflected in federal law since 1973. Indeed, just yesterday, a federal judge in California dismissed a challenge to a federal law protecting physicians in government programs from being forced to do abortion referrals.
"If the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology relies on the ACOG opinion when deciding whether to grant board certifications, hospitals could find themselves illegally discriminating against perfectly qualified physicians who have been denied certification for ideological reasons. Any HHS Secretary should be concerned about the possibility of federal health care institutions placing themselves in conflict with federal law.
"The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRR), formerly known as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, has nonetheless launched a personal attack on Secretary Leavitt for doing his job. RCRR's March 18 news release accuses the Secretary of displaying a 'narrow view of conscience,' 'disregard' for women,' and a 'dogmatic indifference to the patient.'
"But it is RCRR that has a narrow view of conscience – so narrow as to recognize a genuine conscience claim only among those who happen to agree with RCRR about abortion. In fact, women and men, physicians and non-physicians, have a fundamental right not to be forced to participate in actions they believe are gravely wrong, especially actions involving the taking of an innocent human life. Moreover, most OB/GYNs in training today are themselves women, and these women have rights, too.
"The abortion industry -- and its allies in medical groups -- have often complained that so few doctors are willing to perform abortions, but that is no excuse for coercing pro-life physicians to do their dirty work. The movement that used to call itself "pro-choice" is becoming a parody of itself."