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Conscientious Objections

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

“Always let your conscience be your guide,” Jiminy Cricket used to sing to Pinocchio. Sounds like good advice, but then…Jiminy had his ulterior motives. To his mind, he was the voice of that puppet boy’s conscience – so he himself would be doing the guiding.

That’s pretty much seems to be the philosophy of the Obama administration when it comes to the “rights of conscience” of medical professionals. The team now pulling the strings at the Department of Health and Human Services has decided that preserving religious liberty – much less life in the womb – is a luxury the nation can’t afford.

And they expect health care providers to take their moral cues from the government…not their own convictions.

Just to show who’s running things, the department has moved to rescind a new rule – enacted, after many years of study, during President George W. Bush’s last month in office – that reaffirms the right of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to decide for themselves such things as, say, whether to participate in an elective abortion procedure, or provide the so-called “morning after” death pill to minor girls. (The public is invited to comment to HHS on the bill at until April 9.)

Actually, laws protecting the right of health care professionals to follow their own conscience and religious beliefs have been on the books for years. The new regulation merely gives the federal government a tangible means of enforcing a law that runs to the very heart of what it means to be a free American.

But not everyone is committed to preserving that freedom – even those who’ve made their names pretending to do so. Small wonder then that the legal force behind the effort to take away this most basic religious liberty is the American Civil Liberties Union. What possible interest could an organization that advertises itself as the Great Defender of Personal Freedom have in protecting the right of tens of thousands of American citizens to follow their deepest convictions?

For that matter, what possible interest could Planned Parenthood and its ally, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, have in preserving the health of unborn babies? Not much, apparently, since they’re the ones who filed the lawsuits aimed at denying the right of any medical professional to refrain from helping terminate a human life in the womb. (Groups like Planned Parenthood have a great deal invested in their abortion mills, and they don’t make their tens of millions when women decide to keep their babies.)

Understand, the rule in question doesn’t prevent women who want to have abortions from ending the life of their baby. It just requires them to secure the services of one of the many practicing physicians nationwide who have no moral objection to performing an abortion. If a doctor’s religious beliefs or personal convictions stand against killing a child in the womb, though, he would be free to “just say ‘no.’”

But the ACLU and Planned Parenthood don’t want anyone saying “no” to abortion. To their mind, the right of the individual to follow his conscience is not nearly so sacred or precious as a frightened or unenthusiastic mother’s right not to be bothered with having to call more than one medical clinic, or ask for another doctor. In today’s America, convenience seems to trump conscience every time.

And the practical impact of this assault on personal freedom could be devastating for the medical community – and for patients, as well. It is possible, even likely, that a significant number of the most gifted current and would-be health professionals will find another line of work, rather than continue a career that requires them to ignore the deepest beliefs of their soul.

In fact, an overwhelming number of Americans who receive medical treatment are served by Christian health care providers, often in hospitals owned and operated by religious groups. Catholic hospitals alone serve one out of every six patients treated in this country every day. What will happen if those Catholic medicos and facilities take seriously their church’s directives with regard to abortion?

Why, indeed, do most of the best nurses and physicians go into the medical field in the first place, if not out of a conscientious desire to better the lives and ease the sufferings of others? How do we separate these individuals’ selfless service from the urgings of their conscience? Even if we could do that…do we really want to?

Tragically, from the Obama administration, the answer to that last question has been a fast and easy “yes,” as demonstrated by its immediate and extraordinarily extensive expansion of government funding for abortion, its bland dismissal of any moral or ethical considerations from the debate over embryonic stem cell research, and now its enthusiastic efforts to silence the conscience of those who take seriously their charge to preserve human life.

In the minds of some in this administration, even the deepest moral convictions are mere marionettes to be manipulated on behalf of a relentless anti-life agenda. What we’re seeing, more and more, is a legal Punch-and-Judy show with profound – even eternal – consequences for our nation.

Mr. Obama’s team and its allies are pulling the strings…but it’s Freedom that’s on the ropes.

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