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Culture Challenge of the Week: Stifling the Voice of Conscience

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

It’s been brewing for a while, but now it’s official.

Last week, the Obama Administration jettisoned a Bush-era regulation that protected the conscience rights of health care workers, replacing it with a stripped-down version. The new regulations remove conscience protections from pharmacists and other health care workers, and limit the scope of remaining protections. While doctors and nurses still cannot be fired for refusing, on the basis of conscience, to perform abortions or sterilizations – others in the health care field will now be forced to participate in procedures and practices that may violate their deeply held religious convictions.


The Washington Post reported that the Bush protections “led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian's request for infertility treatment, and an ambulance driver in Chicago to turn away a woman who needed transportation for an abortion.”

Under the new regs, those situations become firing offenses—workers must participate in medical procedures even if they believe those procedures are immoral and their consciences forbid them to cooperate.

Similarly, in response to angry complaints from pro-abortion feminists, Catholic hospitals are being investigated for refusing to allow “emergency” abortions in their facilities.

Ironically, the administration’s failure to respect the conscience rights of health care workers is likely to boomerang and result in less care for poor people, not more. According to the Christian Medical Association, over ninety percent of “faith-based physicians, who are among the most likely to be serving the poor and those in medically underserved areas....would rather leave the profession if denied the ability to practice medicine according to conscientiously held ethical standards.”

Good doctors have consciences. And medicine that respects the conscience rights of its providers results in better medicine for patients. (Already, up to 20% of pro-life medical students decline to pursue OB-GYN specialties because of the perceived pressure to perform abortions.)


How to Save Your Family By Answering the Call to Conscience

Whether the new Obama regulations will stand remains to be seen. Court challenges or congressional action, such as Rep. Joe Pitts’ Protect Life Act, may eventually restore or expand those conscience protections.

But it’s one battle in an escalating war. As Charles Colson points out, conscience directs every facet of our lives, so the law must respect religious freedom in every arena, not only in health care.

As parents, we must raise our children to live by the strength of their own consciences. First, we must mold their sense of right and wrong, teaching them to think with the mind of God and to live accordingly. Many government (aka, “public”) schools, in contrast, teach relativism, where right and wrong depends on temporary feelings rather than the immutable law of God.

And just as we respect others’ rights of conscience, we must insist that others---including the government—respect our own freedom of conscience.

Consider adding your name to the Manhattan Declaration, a principled statement on conscience and morality, sponsored by leading clergy and scholars.

The Statement says, in part: “[T]he Manhattan Declaration is a call of Christian Conscience. It speaks to the church just as much as it speaks to the larger culture…. to take a stand on three vital issues: The sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty. Every day new threats emerge to these three core principles of a good and just society. “


The Declaration has been signed to date by nearly half a million people. (Not without controversy, the Declaration had its own App on Google until it was removed because of complaints from the pro-gay lobby.) Reading it with your children- and then taking the step to sign it with them - is a great way to introduce them to the reality that one of the greatest virtues is the courage to stand up for personal convictions. It’s not enough to teach our children what is true – we must also teach them to defend it.

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