Question: Under existing law, can a health-care institution run by pro-lifers that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refuse to hire an unrepentant abortionist simply because the institution's administrators believe it would give scandal to the community to put on their staff a person who -- in his own offices away from the hospital -- has killed unborn babies for money?
Answer: probably not.
In fact, it would be an unambiguous violation of longstanding law for a pro-life health-care organization that receives funding from HHS under the Public Health Service Act to refuse to hire an abortionist simply because he is an abortionist.
Sounds crazy, right? It has been the law of the United States since 1973.
The same law, in almost the same breath, also prohibits a pro-abortion health-care organization from refusing to hire a pro-life doctor because a pro-life doctor won't kill unborn babies.
It gets crazier still. The "conscience" regulations that HHS finalized the day that President Bush left office -- and that the Obama administration has indicated it wants to repeal -- do not create any new restrictions on what hospitals and other health-care providers that receive HHS funds may or may not do in dealing with people who will or will not perform abortions.
What the regulations do say is that health-care providers receiving HHS funds must now certify in writing that they are complying with three federal "conscience" laws.
One is the Weldon Amendment, included in the annual HHS appropriation, which denies funding to any program that discriminates against individuals or institutions that do "not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."
Another is section 245 of the Public Health Service Act, which prohibits state and local governments that receive federal funding from discriminating against persons and health-care institutions that do not train people to do abortions or refer people to abortion training.
The third law came together as a series of amendments sponsored by Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho in the 1970s.