It’s Time to Defend the Conscience Protections of Catholic Physicians, or we Will Lose Them

I guess my wife didn’t think I had enough to get worked up over today, so she sent me a link by someone at “RH Reality Check” who argues that doctors should no longer be permitted to follow their conscience when it comes to whether to perform (or refer for) abortions. The author suggests that such physicians should either be disciplined or prevented from being accredited by their chosen medical specialty. 

Do health-care professionals have the right to refuse to provide abortions or contraception based on their “conscientious objection” to these services? Many pro-choice activists would retort, “No way! If you can’t do your job, quit and find another career!” We agree with them, and have detailed why in our new paper, ”‘Dishonourable Disobedience’: Why Refusal to Treat In Reproductive Healthcare Is Not Conscientious Objection.”

Reproductive health care is the only field in medicine where freedom of conscience is accepted as an argument to limit a patient‘s right to a legal medical treatment. It is the only example where the otherwise accepted standard of evidence-based medicine is overruled by faith-based actions.

“Reproductive Healthcare” is not a recognized medical specialty by any accredited medical board. In this case, “Reproductive Healthcare” is used as euphemism for Abortion, which is very misleading. 

Equally misleading is the notion that since abortion is legal, a patient therefore possesses a right to compel a medical provider to perform one.

Citation to “evidence-based medicine” suggests that sound medical bases exists for termination of pregnancy, when only the tiniest fraction of abortions are performed because the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy. 

Even in those small number of cases, other ameliorative therapies commonly exist that would not also terminate the life of the unborn child.

The vast majority of all abortions are elective, performed for reasons other than life or health, and as such, “evidence-based medicine” has nothing to say, other than that every medical procedure, including abortion, carries serious and potentially life-threatening risks.

We argue in our paper that the exercise of conscientious objection (CO) is a violation of medical ethics because it allows health-care professionals to abuse their position of trust and authority by imposing their personal beliefs on patients. Physicians have a monopoly on the practice of medicine, with patients completely reliant on them for essential health care. Moreover, doctors have chosen a profession that fulfills a public trust, making them duty-bound to provide care without discrimination. This makes CO an arrogant paternalism, with doctors exerting power over their dependent patients—a throwback to the obsolete era of “doctor knows best.”

This is like saying that restaurants have a monopoly on serving food when you go out to eat. First, it simply isn’t true. A whole array of medical professionals contribute to delivering care to patients, and in several states (including California), providers other than physicians are legally permitted to perform certain types of abortion procedures.

Second, it suggests that abortion services are presently unavailable unless the monopoly 
is broken. The million-plus abortions performed in the United States each year disproves any such claim.

Denial of care inevitably creates at least some degree of harm to patients, ranging from inconvenience, humiliation, and psychological stress to delays in care, unwanted pregnancy, increased medical risks, and death.

This is another fallacious premise that stinks to high heaven. Whatever “harm” is inevitably caused to patients, it is without question that every “successful” abortion results in the death of an unborn member of the human species.

That one can conveniently exclude the unborn from qualifying as human – or as not to be treated as a patient to whom the physician owes his attention and care – is an erroneous conclusion, but not one based upon fact or sound medical science.

CO in reproductive health care should be dealt with like any other negligent failure to perform one’s professional duty: through enforcement and disciplinary measures, including possible dismissal or loss of license, as well as liability for costs and any negative consequences to victims. Because abortion and contraception are integral elements of women’s reproductive health care, those who would refuse to provide those services because of a personal or religious objection should not be allowed to enter disciplines that deliver that care, including family medicine and the obstetrics-gynecology specialty.

However, all the articles (posted in full here) [that support CO] suffer from a glaring contradiction. Each simply assumes without question that health-care providers have the right to CO, yet each devotes considerable space to documenting the systemic harms caused by the exercise of CO. None of the articles can cite a single benefit of CO in health care, other than respecting clinicians’ “right” of conscience.

According to the logic expressed by the author, citation to five different articles in a single publication means that there are no benefits from preserving physician autonomy. But what we need to know is that the author would not eliminate the “arrogant paternalism” she complains of, but rather conform it to her views and expand it so that both doctor and patient are subject to what she (and people who agree with her) believe is best for both patient and doctor, not to mention the unborn human who also has rights (whether or not recognized at law). So much for the old tired “Between a woman and her doctor” garbage.

Likewise, CO in reproductive health care has nothing in common with CO in the military. The basic premise of conscientious objection is to refrain from doing harm or violence against others, but this is turned upside down in reproductive health care. Abortion and contraception preserve the health and lives of women, while doctors practicing CO put women’s health and lives at risk. CO in reproductive health care is actually a reflection of stigma against abortion and women’s autonomy, not CO in the true sense of that term. It is an attempt to claw back the legality of abortion and return women to their traditional roles of wife and mother, producing soldiers and citizens for the state. We also see it as a form of revenge by organized religion for its loss of power in a world dominated by democracy, self-determination, and evidence-based science and medicine.

50% of all pregnancies involve the life of an unborn female member of the human race. That is a scientific fact. How does abortion preserve the health and lives of those women?
This is simply baseless unfounded euphemistic doublespeak that sounds good but isn’t true at all.

As our article documents, the obligation to refer is systematically ignored or abused. Many, if not most, anti-choice doctors cannot be trusted to refer because they feel this still makes them “complicit.” Also, their idea of “accurate” information on abortion or contraception may bear little relation to the actual evidence and too often strays into ideology and moral judgment. In terms of emergency care, some anti-choice doctors will let women die rather than do an abortion, regardless of the law or any CO requirements, as has occurred in Poland, Ireland, and elsewhere. Since doctors will express different opinions about a particular woman’s risk of death anyway, it’s easy for doctors to refuse treatment and deny culpability if something goes wrong.

While there are no abortionists who do that, right? How many women died on Kermit Gosnell’s operating table? Or Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s? This is the sort of loaded statement that belies the comprehensive dishonesty of pro-abortion positions. There are always evil doctors waiting in the shadows cackling over the needless deaths of pregnant women, when it’s a noble endeavor to stack bodies of aborted fetuses as though they were garbage, or flush their body parts down the toilet because the abortion mill is too cheap to pay for proper disposal.

Expecting doctors to make the required compromises in their exercise of CO rests on the misconception that they will be rational. But we can’t trust people to set aside deeply held beliefs that have already been deemed strong enough to invoke CO. As soon as we allow any degree of CO, we’ve made medical care contingent on the provider’s personal or religious beliefs, instead of the patient’s right to health care. Further expansions of CO cannot even be opposed with evidence-based arguments since we’ve already ceded the ground to religious doctrine.

It is highly irresponsible to suggest that physicians who do not perform abortions (or refer) do so purely for non-medical reasons, yet this is the premise offered by directly stating that such physicians are irrational and untrustworthy. It’s an intentional smear of the professional judgment of thousands of dedicated physicians. Shameful.


The screed continues, but it’s just that: screed. The position paper plugged by the author contains numerous cites to Planned Parenthood and its “fact” shill the Guttmacher Institute. These entities are heavily funded to churn out data intentionally weighted to support its eugenic programs and propping up the cash cow that is the modern abortion mill.

More than 50% of all pregnancies among African-American women in New York City end in abortion, exactly the way that Planned Parenthood founder (and Nazi sympathizer) Margaret Sanger wanted it.

Make no mistake: there is nothing about compelling doctors to perform abortions (or refer patients for abortion) that has anything to do with true freedom. This is all about slopping the hog and condemning anyone who disagrees.

It’s an astounding thing to live in such an age, where a person can pretend to earnestly argue that for the good of “Reproductive Healthcare” – the most euphemistic of oxymorons – each and every physician who wishes to practice medicine must violate the
Hippocratic Oath.

Please, please, please, take a moment to reflect on what it would mean if no doctor could obtain a medical license to practice medicine unless he or she agreed to perform abortions, or refer patients for them. We are currently locked in a legal battle over whether the government can force a taxpayer to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients. the next legal battle will concern whether all health insurance must cover elective abortion.

If professionals are no longer permitted any conscience protections when they carry out their professional duties, it’s over for Catholics.


3 thoughts on “It’s Time to Defend the Conscience Protections of Catholic Physicians, or we Will Lose Them

  1. I visited the site, and read this comment to the article:

    blfdjlj • 2 days ago
    Can a vegetarian work for a butcher and refuse to do his job due to “conscience”? No.

    There’s no reason why anyone should be allowed to refuse to carry out basic duties.
    32 • Reply•Share ›

    And I thought they were being trolled, but no… well, maybe Screwtape.

    And 32 upvotes! They just can’t hear themselves, can they? What pit have they fallen into.

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