by Richard M. Doerflinger
December 17, 2004
One apparent result of the November elections is that, even before the end of Congress's 2004 session, long-awaited federal protection for pro-life health professionals was enacted into law. Approved as part of Congress's final omnibus funding bill was the Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment. It forbids federal agencies, and state and local governments receiving federal funds, to discriminate against health care providers who choose not to participate in abortions.
You might think its approval would be a "no-brainer." After all, there are two sides in the abortion debate. One side opposes abortion, and the other side wants to let everyone have a "free choice" on abortion. So this passed without a dissenting vote, right?
Well, no. The movement that once boasted of being "pro-choice" has acquired a new watch word, "access." It demands that government has an affirmative obligation to promote and provide abortion – and to enlist the aid of even conscientiously opposed health professionals in fulfilling that mandate. This coercive campaign has actually scored victories with the help of government officials and courts in some states, which is why the corrective offered by the Hyde-Weldon amendment is needed. The abortion lobby's allies in Congress opposed the amendment bitterly, and say they will try to rescind it when Congress reconvenes in 2005.
That is not soon enough for the pro-abortion group with the euphemistic name "National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association." On December 13, days after President Bush signed the law, NFPRHA filed suit in federal court to have it declared unconstitutional.
In case the prospect of the "pro-choice" movement declaring free choice unconstitutional is not bizarre enough, I invite readers to wade through the twisted logic of NFPRHA's complaint.
A central charge is that the amendment "impedes the rights of Title X clinics and their physicians to provide referral services." This is, of course, the exact opposite of the truth. The amendment forbids the government to punish these clinics and physicians for making their own judgment on whether to provide such referrals.
But wait, there's more: "Physicians who intend that a patient receive a referral for an abortion as part of the patient's health care will have their First Amendment rights to speech impaired by an individual who refuses to provide such a referral." The complaint explains that physicians sometimes provide these referrals by telling a nurse or other employee to do them.
Set aside, for a moment, the obvious fact that a physician is not a government, and so his actions toward his employees (no matter how insensitive) are not covered by a law forbidding discrimination on the part of federally funded government bodies. Also set aside the inherent elitism of what is assumed here about a nurse's status vis-a-vis a doctor. Ask yourself: How could my freedom of speech demand forcing someone else to violate his or her own freedom of speech and freedom of conscience?
The only possible answer is: Because only people who agree with me have rights worth protecting.
If you thought the abortion lobby shows disrespect only for the unborn, watch this law suit and learn an important lesson.
Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.